Thursday, June 23, 2016

Calling a spade a spade

Rational discourse is standing on its last legs. After all, it is such a drag in front of impressive intellectual outbursts, especially when directed against somebody well-known. Calling oneself smart is cleverly understood to be in bad taste, but hey, there's an easy fix - calling others imbeciles is fine! It obviates the need to explicitly state how you're so much more evolved. Unfortunately, this quickest road to eternal smarts is gaining widespread traction. Who needs to do the hard work of understanding complicated policy implications, when calling Rahul Gandhi a pappu suffices, never mind your own secret failures at telling stare from stair.

 Let me state my disagreement with the extent of slamming Salman Khan, the bollywood actor, is facing for comparing his physically damaging routine while shooting for Sultan, a movie where he plays a wrestler, to rape. I'm no Salman Khan fan, but I'm a fan of trying to understand things in their context. Level-headedness and humility demand that one weigh their conclusions and metaphors before spewing them out to fawning followers. And that is also why I think the comparison Salman Khan drew was ill-advised. But the same preference for carefully weighing what you say is now surprisingly amiss, also, in those who castigate him in every possible way, for what was in all likelihood more a conversational gaffe than the all-out assault on women power it is now being portrayed to be.

 Intellectual heft, today, increasingly depends on identifying the prevailing fashions of the intelligentsia and magnifying that rhetoric in passably good prose. Thinking for oneself is a minority sport, and objectivity is for losers. By his admittedly imperfect usage, did Salman Khan really mean to "trivialize" rape, or did he mean to intensify his expression of the debilitating nature of his wrestling sequences? The answer to this question is not determined by morality or sentiment, but by plain old verbal comprehension. Yes, that boring thing that we only care about when preparing for CAT. Approaching it thus, Salman Khan used a simile - and similes don't have to be perfectly logical, or perfectly concordant. In a simile one often compares A to a more widely understood thing B, often to aggrandize the effect of A. In Hindi we refer to it as Atishyokti alankar - in English, I guess, one would call that hyperbole. As far as my comprehension serves me, in comparing his training/stunts to rape, he grossly over-aggrandized, and which I'm not defending. What I intend to bring forth, in fact, is that it was much more an aggrandizement (excessive, yes, and definitely unwarranted) of his stunts, than a downplaying or trivializing of rape. Efforts to understand and portray it as primarily the latter, in my opinion, distort the reality.

 Let me take the example of the talented singer Sona Mohapatra, of whom, unlike Salman Khan, I actually am a fan, and who took to social media recently to lambaste Salman Khan, calling him stupid, nasty, dangerous and an imbecile, for trivializing rape. Except that when you call a functioning individual an imbecile, you trivialize the hardships faced by the mentally challenged. "Ah, that's silly, you're twisting her intention." Well, maybe. So how about a song of hers she posted the very same day, titled qatl-e-aam, with its recurring "aap ki aankhon mein warna aaj qatl-e-aam hai". As heinous as rape obviously is, I'm sure qatl-e-aam, or mass murder, is just as bad. So is she trivializing murder when she compares it to some arbitrary dude's eyes, insensitive to all those whose loved ones have, in the long bloody history of time, been murdered?

 "Come on, now, you're making no sense - you're just pissed with Sona Mohapatra" you might be tempted to say at this point. And I would whole-heartedly agree - that the reasoning I provide can only be considered spite with Sona Mohapatra, not a cogent advocacy of victims of mass murders. I've already made up my mind on who I want to put down, and I'm stretching things way out of context to prove my point. Alas, that is precisely the point I've been trying to make.

 In a world full of politically-correct bandwagon-jumping, calling BS is a public good. Happy to do my part. Check her song out though, it is pretty awesome:

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