Tuesday, October 19, 2010


The fine balance that Mr. Rohinton Mistry so enigmatically asseverates in his book of the same name, where characters from seemingly incompatible backgrounds somehow meet in the city of Bombay and together vie for a semblance of dignity within their respective visions of the idea of India, is in danger of being permanently upset amidst the din from the latest uproar over another book of his.

Adjustment has always come easily to us Indians; it is patently impossible whilst living in this country to not feel that your neighbor is entitled to a little of what you can rightly claim as yours, simply because he is so obviously worse off than you. By the dint of this reasoning, apparently antithetical: religions, sects, ideas, ideologies and all their strident followers are so easily accommodated within this heterogeneous society - a capacity so universal in India that even the most disaffected visitor can never seem to stop marveling at it. And this culture of compassionate appeasement has also been able, so far, to accommodate the local breed of misanthrope – those unwilling to tolerate the passing beggar, the poor servant, the elderly vagrant or the migrant laborer. And following the course of all right-wing extremist movements, they have tried to stamp out what they do not appreciate around them and while doing so seem almost organically to have built a following from amongst like-minded bigots. ‘It’s all par for the course – if we can give rise to men such as Gandhi, we can also stomach Bal Thackeray’, is what the average Indian thinks. But as all foundations built on the principle of opposing forces, the delicate stasis behind this lateral accommodation of what constitutes an individual’s beliefs and principles and his/her understanding that its diametric opposite can also exist within the same milieu, begins to give out when we start to deny the freedom of expression. It has been threatened before and has occasionally even been temporarily abjured, but it has never been vanquished and the jungle of opinions (the Buddha’s expression) has continued to thrive over millennia and through periods of acute existential crisis in India’s history. In accounting for and tabulating the vast array of conflicting opinion throughout the region’s known and most colorful history, the nobel laureate Amartya Sen’s ‘The Argumentative Indian’ is arguably the most authoritative non-fiction work in recent memory in this regard, and there are many writers today who constantly strive to offer the other side of the Modern India Shining story and draw us portraits of the encumbrances and braces that weigh that seminally corrosive idea of India down, just when we seek to only highlight our consumerist rise in the modern world.

The right that allows a person to say a thing and another to dispute it is so fundamentally ensconced in the Indian tradition that Barack Obama himself, when he comes visiting next month, should take back to the U.S. the lesson that what defines us as Indian is not so much our system of education or our innate discipline as it is our right to dispute what everyone else says even when the tide is so firmly against what we think. Evidence of the futility of our education system is most firmly brought out when one reads with wonderment that the person most responsible for the mess behind the book burning of Mr. Mistry’s ‘Such a Long Journey’ is himself a student of history at one of the country’s oldest educational institutions in a city that was founded by immigrants.

The preponderant importance of the tolerance towards other people’s forms of expression and the mode in which they carry it out cannot be understated in these times of seemingly unending conflict, especially when we see our giant neighbor China, another nation whose modern history is so fractiously ridden by the consumerist story, so obviously wilt when the pressure that a largely inconsequential light shone on an obscure academic is wrought on it.

1 comment:

  1. It's been quite a tradition in our country when there's nothing to talk about, build one. The Book was a part of the curriculum since years and had to be debated upon only when a spotlight of the Booker fell on it, mighty enough to provide some cheap publicity to the Moral Brigade's scion. The shambolic system keeps popping up again and again, proving it's ineptitude to take worthwhile actions. And more disgusting is when you try to sell your reasons for your actions that stands absolutely illogical. It's an inherent mentality that's there in all of us. The so-called intellectuals of the society brood over the issues, loathe at, put in a lot of words, but at the end of the day, a Hussain, a Jose Pareira and for that matter, a Mistry still happens. When will we wake up???