As I write this piece, I can hear the raucous strains of a TV talk show on the same subject that my wife is watching in the bedroom. For the last few days, I too have been exposed to a number of these shows and bothered by a million questions. Much that I dislike writing on the subject though, I simply can’t resist going public anymore over my reactions.
Each one of the guests present for the TV shows that I have watched expressed grief, horror and shame in connection with the Nirbhaya incident. To summarize their opinions, they were all reduced to speechlessness by the heinous crime. Yet, speech was the last thing they seemed to dispense with. They roared and screamed, till the anchor stopped them at regular intervals with the inevitable announcement that the discussion on this deep rooted social evil would resume soon after a commercial break.
And then a long series of advertisements would follow, some involving scantily clad, shapely girls singing paeans to something as unrelated as fruit cakes perhaps, some showing a muscular man in his briefs chased into a ladies’ room by young girls competing with one another to cover him up with lipstick marks, or some, the least revolting ones, revealing bald headed moustache wearing men, frying jilebis in outsized cauldrons, but ending up, mysteriously enough, advertising a detergent powder in the end. And so on and so forth. Without exception, and this is the most important point to note, every single advertisement involves people, men as well as women, grinning or giggling with a gay abandon.
The spate of advertisements over, the grim faced social commentators reappear to growl and howl over the state of their speechlessness in response to the barbarism that is tearing apart our very social fabric. The speechless people continue to speechify endlessly, some moving on from one channel to another and then to yet another to spread the news about their loss of speech over powerful audio equipment. And wherever they go, the inevitable commercial breaks keep interrupting their speech-ful speechlessness, entertaining viewers with brightly smiling people displaying their super white teeth brushed by the latest toothpaste revolution.
This is a vicious circle it might seem. To ensure that people, moved to distraction by the horrors of the world, may express righteous indignation by gnashing their teeth, the eyes of the audience call for intermittent massaging so to speak, by half-dressed, teeth flashing nautch girls, chaperoning people to catch the fastest train to El Dorado. But this is not the end of the story. Having participated in these shows on several occasions, I have seen the panelists disappearing outside the studio for a smoke till the advertisement break is over. Since I do not smoke, I have often been a part of programmes in which even the anchor left, leaving me to watch brainless machos riding roaring motorcycles in the inevitable company of the you know whos.
I cannot help asking myself how we should express our revulsion concerning the Nirbhaya event or other events of a similar nature, including ones that discuss the dire poverty in which more than half the country lives. When I am faced with such dilemma, I end up quite inevitably remembering the Father of the nation, Mahatma Gandhi. What would he have recommended as a form of penance during times such as these? I suspect that he would have advised the people driven to speechlessness and shame to practise reticence. He might have even requested the channels to stop broadcasting inane serial shows at least once a week as a sign of mourning.
Perhaps he would. Yet there is a paradox here. The media cannot run without advertisements. And if it fails to run then thousands of boys and girls would lose employment. In the absence of employment, criminal propensities will almost surely rear their heads with renewed vengeance and that brings us back to square one. And of course, the electronic media needs to be congratulated for its good work, keeping the public informed about the atrocious events plaguing our society. Here then is the rub. The media cannot carry on with its good work unless business houses advertise in its channels. And how can you watch an advertisement unless a pretty girl regales you with moronic grins as you sink in mournful gloom?
In fact, Mr. Gandhi had never recommended an industrial revolution for India. He wished us to turn ourselves into simple village folks, devoted to the spinning wheel or cows to till the land. Large scale industrialization leads to large scale income inequality he believed, quite rightly, as posterity has shown. Such inequality in turn deprives people of basic education, the pillar on which civilization is supposed to rest. But he too had to depend on funding by an industrial leader to build his austerity ashram in Gujarat.
I am not sure where we are headed, but I think I know that civilization hasn’t progressed too far in this country since the day we won our precious independence.
To make this point, let me quote from Freedom at Midnight by Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre:
“The warring communities seemed to rival each other in savagery. A British officer of the Punjab Boundary Force discovered four Moslem babies ‘roasted like piglets on spits in a village raided by Sikhs’. Another found a group of Hindu women, their breasts methodically mutilated by Moslem zealots, being headed for slaughter.”
True, the root cause of the ferocity above was the partition. But it is not the cause that concerns me now. What stupefies me is the extent of mindless cruelty humanity is capable of. And cruelty has two faces. The face that we saw in the Delhi bus and the faces that we watch in the hypocrisy ridden advanced technology age, those teeth gnashers in the idiot box.
If we really mean business, it is time to replace the advertisement breaks by breaks for introspection. I think Mr. Gandhi had called upon us to do just this, but his pleading had fallen on deaf ears.