Two Indias: No laughing matter

Acclaimed stand-up comedian Vir Das, who recently performed a sketch called ‘I come from Two Indias’ at the Kennedy Centre in Washington DC to a standing ovation, seems to have found himself getting quite the opposite reaction in his own country.
Comedian Vir Das (File Photo)
Comedian Vir Das (File Photo)

Chennai

His monologue has generated controversy with some political leaders demanding a jail term for the funny man, who ‘dared to insult India in a foreign land’. To give Das his due, many liberal leaders viewed the said video in its entirety and came out in support of Das who seemed to be training his critique at those who seldom made news, such as the common man and woman, who slave and sweat the skin right off their bones, just so that they could land up as immigrants in a First World nation and take up menial jobs. He also spoke about political dynasties, where the current generation is still at a loss for ideas on severing the umbilical cord from the past.
Even the newsmakers, i.e. members of the journalistic community did not get a free pass as Das pointedly called out the overt dramatisation of breaking news, while detailing an array of topics depicting the duality of a nation like India. Our questions are simple – where is this outrage coming from, who is it being really directed at, and more importantly, was there anything in the sketch that had not already been recorded in the public domain in the past, either through the written word of newspapers, through members of the polity and general public, or even through media such as books, cinema, or the online space?
Our underlying misogyny and bigotry have been fodder for primetime TV for several years now. Repeated news reports of crimes against women have done little to improve the security and safety of women in their own homes. Images of farmers being run down by a cavalcade of SUVs carrying politicians and their henchmen were splashed across newspapers. But one can barely recall the agitation staged by the so-called patriots in the aftermath of such ghastly crimes. Our inherent distrust of those who are unlike us, that has been dividing people along the fault-lines of religion, caste, sect, and sub-sect make for Op-Eds in national dailies, every day. That the logic of such pieces is lost on the mob hasn’t escaped the scribes, but they keep at it.
Several comedians working within the confines of the Hindi stand-up scene have put forth even more scathing rhetoric on the ruling dispensation and the parties in Opposition. Not that this is an invitation to level these comedians with the selective indignation of those who are too fragile to take a joke. Madhya Pradesh’s Home Minister seems to have even gone so far as to say that Das won’t be allowed to perform in the State unless he apologises. Interestingly, MP happens to be one of those few States in India that has clear-cut legislation that prohibits love jihad.
However, in all the rhetoric around Vir Das’ hard-hitting piece, one should not lose sight of the underlying appeal where he urged everyone to turn our ‘backs on hate and make India great’. And if we miss that message in the face of perceived insults, it won’t be a laughing matter.

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