You know how, when somebody recites an Urdu couplet at a kavi sammelan, the listeners dutifully chorus wah wah, wah wah? Like at every pause, and at the completion of every line?
And how, on some TV shows, there is that canned laughter track that always kicks in? So that somebody seems to be cracking up at the jokes, no matter how unfunny they are?
Real life has become like that nowadays.
‘Demonetisation is a success,’ declare the PM and the FM, and #DeMonetisationsuccess faithfully echoes Twitter, making the hashtag trend at number 1. No matter that every economist, desi and international, has declared it an ‘Epic Fail’. Twitter is saying it is a hit, so it must be a hit, na? And, Truth is what trends on Twitter. Everybody knows that. And, so Swachh Bharat is a hit too, and of course every single beti in India has been bachao-ed.
It’s scary—almost dystopian even; how the rich and powerful are living more and more in an alternative reality, with their own personalised ‘wah wah’ track playing on a constant loop inside their heads. Because they know that if you pay enough, say enough, say it loudly and consistently enough, and if you hire big lawyers and threaten, and intimidate and bribe enough, your version of the truth will stick. Hoardings will scream the same message you are screaming, papers will repeat it, and so will a thousand WhatsApp messages. And, a Rs 4,000 crore Shivaji statue will magic away the city’s appalling roads, and the state’s appalling farmer suicide rates. (The real world will continue to exist, of course, but outside your bubble, and as your bubble is big enough and air-conditioned enough, and provisioned with everything from caviar to Vimal Pan Masala, why would you venture outside into the stinky, polluted real world, anyway? You might catch encephalitis!)
And, so everybody has become delusional. They are wandering about without any sort of reality check whatsoever. It has become a sort of epidemic. There’s no longer any debate, any democracy or any kind of respectful intellectual differences. People either agree sycophantically with their superiors, or spew incoherent hate anonymously in mobs or on the internet.
This refusal to confront the nakedness of our emperors (and our own nakedness, too) is the main reason for our woes. That is why the opposition continues to be in the doldrums, unable to fill the void at its centre. Because a ‘wah-wah’ chorus can’t stand up to the ‘High Command.’
That is why our biggest movie stars are churning out ghastly films. Because a canned laughter track can’t bluntly tell the hero that he is an egomaniac.
That is why ‘Godmen’, with crores of devotees think they can get away with rape, murder and fraud, and Hrithik Roshan thinks he can issue intimidating legal notices to an inconvenient ex-girlfriend, re-write history and muzzle her for life.
The really scary part is that the people who order and pay for the propaganda seem to have started believing it themselves. And, that way lies complete insanity.
I will let this wise old Soviet era peasant have the last word:
A big shot inspector from Moscow comes to visit a state farm during a potato famine. However peasants on the farm were warned not to say anything negative to him as it would be disloyal to Mother Russia and would ‘affect the public morale.’
Finding an old peasant idling behind a shed, the inspector asks him if the potato harvest has been good.
“Ah, comrade!” sighs the old peasant ecstatically. “The potato harvest is so good, so good, that if all the potatoes are heaped one on top of the other, they would reach the knees of God himself!”
“But, comrade,” whispers the scandalised inspector, “you know there is no God!”
“And comrade,” replies the peasant drily, “you know there are no potatoes.”
Anuja Chauhan is an author and advertiser.