Sunday, November 27, 2016

Dear Zindagi



The Furniture Shop

I am the kind of movie watcher who waits for Facebook updates and ‘word-of-mouth’ reviews before venturing into a cinema hall. I convince myself that the movie is worth standing in a queue to pee during interval, worth adding adipose form buttered popcorn and worth tolerating kiddo kicks on the rear of my seat.

But there was a problem. Dear Zindagi was emitting mixed signals. Some said it was a memorable movie, others said it was one boring psychotherapy session. And yet, I mustered enough courage to enter the cinema hall to revel in the sweat and farts of fellow movie watchers. Mixed bag, again. Seated in the last row, I saved myself from kiddo kicks. But the fatty next to me ensured that his wobbly bottom brushed past my nose as he trundled out of the row for a piddle.

Lights off. Fade in. The movie begins.
‘Aaa, aaa aaa…. Kya Karoon Hai Kuch Kuch Hota Hai’ ditty plays with the credits.

Far away from the perspective of a middle aged, much married Sridevi in English Vinglish, Gauri Shinde portrays the mental conflict of a young urban girl, Alia Bhatt. It’s a simple story. And simplest stories are hardest to tell. No song and dance. No highs and lows. No car chase and no villain bashing. And no life altering journeys.
So?

First up, it’s the screenplay. It's almost non-existent. The first half of the movie meanders like a river with a languorous urban rhythm. The role of Kiara, played by Alia Bhatt plays musical chairs with her love life. Like many young girls, her heart does a flip flop. It says ‘yes’ but she says ‘No’. When a vacant chair presents itself, she refuses to sit but when the chair gets occupied, she wants to sit.  Her dilemma neither engages, nor entertains. Actually, the film goes nowhere.
While Alia is muddled up, her friends appear sorted. They tell her to not mix professional with personal but our baby gets a rash every time her boyfriend tries to bare his heart and every time she receives a call from her parents.
An hour into the movie and I’m unable to grasp the enormity of Alia's problem.The director disappoints but Alia holds me back. Even in the utter craziness of her acts (hurling a stone at boy in love), Alia’s glowing freshness doesn’t let me leave the cinema hall.

Things perk up past interval. Shah Rukh as doctor Suave Rukh Khan lights up the screen with his understated charm. Dressed in linen pants and a blazer, he exudes an air of confidence in contrast to Alia’s youthful impetuosity. When he speaks you feel his honesty, his intensity. As a psychiatrist, SRK is a man of few words but what he says or does propels the movie.
Enter Ali Zafar as a new chair (read boyfriend) in Alia’s life. I never thought Ali Zafar could look so drool worthy or sing as beautifully as he does in this movie. It’s a short cameo but he makes his presence felt as a very eye catching chair.
This is when Alia Bhatt bares her heart. And yet her issues fail to moisten my eyes (believe me, I cry easily). However, I do want to cuddle the girl looking for love.
 For me the shortcomings were a limp script and the absence of witty dialogues.It appears as if the director is justifying Alia's crankiness by going into her unconvincing past. Why would any parent not reply to their daughter's letters? 
The highlight is undoubtedly, brilliant acting by sassy Alia and suave Shah Rukh Khan. That some nuggets of wisdom are presented in a subtle manner adds to the flavour.

Anyway, if you think I’m being harsh on the movie, let me tell you it has nothing to do with the fact that Alia Bhatt’s maid in the movie is called Alka. In fact, she was absolutely adorable. 


Finally, we have a Queen moment. The protagonist achieves her dreams not because of the men, erm...chair's in her life but without them.Thanks to Dr Suave Rukh Khan for gently untangling the knots. The lesson? Parents are human too. Little point placing them on a pedestal and judging them.

The verdict? Mixed bag, again. No memorable watch this - just a pleasant forgetable movie. An eye pleasing furniture shop with some catchy chairs. If you love Alia's effervescence and SRK's understated charm, go watch it. Else, wait for it to grace your television.

Image Courtesy: From here
Image courtesy: From here

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Money, Money, Money



At a time when the country was debating dinner choices, PM Modi’s announcement on demon-etization tightened the purse strings of one billion people. In a flash, a penny saved was a penny earned. Which politician, in his right senses upsets his core vote bank of traders, businessmen and the middle class? But the formidable risk taker called Modi (remember his unscheduled Pak stop?) indulged in a calculated gamble. In fifteen minutes flat, Modi did what Anil Kapoor did in 24 hours in the movie Nayak.

Wait, don’t run away, I’m not going to plague you with economic lecturebaazi. Relax, I’m mathematically challenged. Moreover, enough opinion makers have cashed in their chips by presenting different sides of the coin.

As for me, the first thing I did was to scurry towards my drawer and check for the 500s and the 1000 rupee notes. It’s rather embarrassing, but all I had was ten 500 rupee notes. For once, I was laughing all the way to the bank.
In the aftermath of Modi’s gambit, we witnessed Pied Piper grade queues outside banks. As the tide ebbed, those who were swimming naked were exposed.
The following day, Hashim, my carpenter tells me that he had saved 15 lakhs for the marriage of his three daughters. No marriage can be performed in less than five lakhs, he says. It’s strange, how we give into societal pressures. We must be the world’s most hypocritical people. Else how does one explain the desire to curb corruption on one hand and the display of lavish weddings on the other? We condemn corruption but are in awe of its dividends.
The lack of communication from the government led Hashim to believe that all his savings were bust, barring 2.5 lakhs. I tried to tell him that the money in his account was not going anywhere but he wasn't convinced. I persisted, “They clearly said so on the television news. Don’t you listen to the news?”
“Who believes TV didi? They say one thing today, another tomorrow.”

I didn’t feel like giving up. “I write for magazines and newspapers, I know.” To which he said, “But my local MLA said all my money is gone. He also gave me cash to deposit in my account in lieu of helping me with my daughter’s marriage later.”

Suddenly, I was reminded of the ABBA song, Money Money Money. It’s a rich man’s world.

Though most daily wagers, farmers and vendors were suffering, they gave Modi a blank cheque, calling the idea a masterstroke. However, many questioned the methods and implementation.
It was telling that the common man stood patiently in serpentine queues, but a united opposition protested. ‘A penny for your thoughts Mr Modi’, they said. ‘We will not let you survive on blood money.’ Chipping in, Akhilesh Yadav said black money helps in tiding off recession and put his money where his party’s mouth was. Of course, there is no need to bet your bottom dollar on whether most of them were worried about the common man or their own political future.

The truth is that neither absolute approval nor absolute rebuttal makes for a rational debate. What is amusing however is that the taxman with hitherto doubtful credentials has been given the stick!

I hope as hell that mathematician Modi is able to solve this complex economic equation after what the nation has gone through. As they say, money doesn’t grow on trees. So the ghost of demon-etization will hover for six months to one year, but once it’s gone, the real proof of the risk taker Modi will be tested when he reforms election funding. 

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Good is Bacterial, Great is Viral






The story unfolded like a fairy tale. But with a twist. This time it was not about a princess, but a young boy. Oblivious of his looks, the boy earned his living by selling tea, fruit and vegetables at a Sunday bazaar. He had no phone and did not know how to read or write. And yet, he dreamt of helping his poor parents. One day a fairy clicked his picture and posted it on Instagram. The picture captured the imagination of the world. The hot chaiwala morphed into a cool model. He appeared on television, graced magazine covers, bagged modeling contracts and walked the ramp. Dizzying, isn’t it?

Welcome to a world where one picture holds the potential to change the story.

This is what happened to eighteen year old Arshad Ali Khan, an ethnic Pashtun in neighboring Pakistan. Neither reason nor logic applied to the mass hysteria that followed. His picture was shared more than 30, 000 times. Lucky chap, for none of his seventeen siblings had such fortune. Yes, 17. Deal with it.

Arshad, however, was unfazed. “I came to know this morning that I am very good looking,” he said. I don’t know if his charm resided in his innocence or blue eyes, but what I know is that he was a buttered toast for social media.

Don’t we just love social media? Every tweet and update is a tribute to ingenuity. Once the topic goes viral, we feverishly engage in outsmarting each other until the virus is eliminated. So, for some Arshad became Pakistan’s latest nuclear weapon and for others - a dove. If one wanted to ‘make tea, not war’, another tweeted, “A chai wala from Pakistan is now famous on Indian social media. This is truly aMan kee aasha.”

And then there were angry birds who love rivalry. Hand on heart I’ve never heard such comparisons. “My Chaiwala is more handsome than your Shah Rukh Khan,” chirped a pretty little thing. Really? Okay kiddo. We will talk when your Khan wins the ‘Koffee with Karan’ hamper for a fourth straight time.

Another abiding feature of social media is the ‘like mentality’ - an unsaid social media compulsion. You like what your friends do. Dosti ki khatir. Obliged by social media, smitten girls flocked ARK’s tea stall to click pictures. With full make-up and blow dried hair, they pouted and posed. It was a matter of ‘like and death’. Oh, common, be fair. Who clicks selfies with a chaiwala unless he was a PM or a social media sensation? 
Thereafter, all the chatter segued into some talk about reverse objectification. For once it was the girls who were lusting after a good looking boy. Thank heavens for the fact that women refrain from specifics, even if it’s locker room talk. Girls went as far as becoming a chai addict and dreaming of being served some ‘kadak’ chai. That’s it.

Just when I thought that the storm in the tea cup had subsided, I saw a tweet from a cute little sparrow in heat. ‘Arshad, will you marry me?’ Dear girls from Islamabad to Moradabad, sorry to burst your steaming hot bubble. The Chaiwala may be your cupcake but how long can you look at him? What if you want to discuss demonetization and carbon emission?

Regardless, the objectification charge was silly. Meaningless actually. After all, the camera was simply a catalyst in a win-win situation.

But wait. Let’s get serious. Arshad Ali Khan is not the only viral sensation. The stupefied picture of a Syrian child, Omran sitting alone in an ambulance comes to mind. Likewise, the haunting picture of Aylan Kurdi, a drowned toddler. Far away from Instagram and way before Twitter, the 1984 portrait of Sharbat Gula, the Afghan Girl’s piercing eyes had shaken our soul. Perhaps it was those intense eyes - a tapestry of tragedy and pools of grief. Come to think of it, her image was etched in our memory without the clutches of social media - no re-tweets, no likes and no shares.

For positive tales like Arshad, social media can be a fairy Godmother. But the only thing shorter than public memory is public attention. Overnight fame can provide a fillip to a muse or a cause, but it does little to change stories. What exactly are we doing for other Omrans being rescued from the rubble? Is our heart bleeding for the Afghan Girl  who was arrested in Pakistan for forging national identity card? 

Yes, we love the Chaiwala’s rags to riches story. In fact we love fairy tales - not because they tell us about monsters but because they tell us that monsters can be overcome. That there is hope. Compassion. But social media is fickle and news ephemeral. And yet, if viral images help a cause or a muse, it is a welcome part of digital times. We are ready with our likes, shares and re-tweets. 

Image Courtesy: Image from here
Also in Diplomacy& Beyond

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Intellectual Big Boss




I was in the midst of Diwali festivities when the fireworks about Arnab Goswami’s quitting Times Now lit up social media. After the initial disbelief there were a series of crackling tributes from  viewers. Someone said, “This is the best Diwali ever. It signals the end of the worst phase of television journalism.” To which another said, “Enjoy the quiet while it lasts. He will start his new venture.” Yet another added, “Thank God the noisiest bomb has been diffused.”
Amidst all the speculation, there was a studied silence from his peers who had witnessed Newshour sit at the top for eight straight years. The bespectacled enfant terrible had emerged to unsettle the smug club. After all, don’t we die a little when a friend succeeds? Moreover, the reality of a cut throat media is that your success is not as important as the failure of others. 

Anyway, paeans have been written about Arnab and his style of journalism. The question is, what exactly drives this sort of noisy tele-tyranny? 
While I’m a news junkie, I don’t like shouting. And I don’t like being shouted at. And yet, I have to admit that I am tempted to catch glimpses of Newshour. Note that ‘glimpses’ is the key word, okay? Those who watch the entire show have nerves of steel. Erm, rather ears of steel.  So why do I watch a raucous show? Perhaps, because Arnab asks questions that no other news anchor dares to. Perhaps because watching Newshour is like watching an intellectual Big Boss. In fact there are multiple drivers.

Recently, I was presented with a Twitter poll - do you watch news because you want to know what’s happening or do you watch news for entertainment? An overwhelming number voted for news as infotainment. Is it any surprise then that Wrestlemania trumps all?

Rewind to 1998 when Arnab Goswami presented Newshour on NDTV, he was a pale shadow of his current thundering typhoon persona. His popularity grew when he joined Times Now in 2006. So I’m not sure if his power comes from the Times Group or his verbal pyrotechnics, or both, but what I know is that power does different things to different people. In case of Arnab, it brought out the love for his own voice. And the masses loved it. Much like Chetan Bhagat’s novels, Arnab’s Newshour catered to a new demographic that sneered at the privileged. Given that the product had become bigger than the brand, the wise had seen his resignation coming.

This brings me to what Vinod Mehta wrote, “When I began my career, our mandate was to bring sunlight to the wrongdoing. Once that was done, other democratic institutions would take over the baton. ‘Activism’ was a dirty word in our lexicon. Now it is a virtue, indeed a necessity. Ironically, some of our anchors who hurl fire and brimstone from Monday to Friday are the gentlest creatures off the screen. They shed their pugnacity and become normal immediately after the show." 

So this fire breathing dragon-esque demeanor is all a pretense. Moreover, unlike his NDTV colleagues who belong to an erstwhile privileged club but were scarred by controversies (Radia tapes and cash for vote scam) Arnab continues to wear a nationalistic halo. So when  he plays dinner time orchestra, pulls the harps, bangs the drums and blows his trumpet, it sounds like symphony to his viewers. Whether it is the bashing of Pakistani guests, sneering at Bollywood’s cocktail circuit or milking the common man’s outrage, the fireworks ensure spectacular viewing. While the elite criticize his jingoist pounding and narrow identity journalism, his contemptuous questioning of the powerful empowers the common man.



As for me, the one thing that unnerves me about Arnab is that he comes with a notion that he is always right. So where is the scope for debate? Anyway, given the political agenda of news channels, television debates complicate issues instead of resolving them. And it’s not that the future of democracy depends on the outcome of these debates, right? 
The truth is that viewers get what they want and not what Arnab wants. He knows that infotainment is a shared joy because there is no Arnab without the viewer and, of course, there is no viewer without Arnab. Since TRP is the only moral, inherent drama and riveting action make for compulsive viewing. 

But hang on. While I contemplate peaceful dinner nights here on, I see Arnab judging wrestle mania, jerking his gelled hair and nudging the two politicians to gorge out each other’s eyes. Was the ‘I quit’ bomb a damp squib? All bluster? After all, our man from Assam, the son of a retired Colonel is known to have the last word, right? Even if he moves on, he will ensure that he has the last word. That is a given. 

In his farewell speech, Arnab is seen as saying, “The game has just begun.” Well, bring it on.
It is not Arnab who loves infotainment. It is the viewer.

Image Courtesy: From here

Saturday, October 22, 2016

A Merry Wink and a Warm Smile




An idle pastime of mine is to watch old movies and reflect on the current mood of the nation. It may seem like a silly indulgence because I’m not even sure if movies imitate life or otherwise. But the idea is to observe gentle winds of change. 

Look around and what do we see? Acid attacks, groping, stalking, harassment and molestation. Given that the world is not a friendly place for women, it is somehow comforting to observe any silver lining that beams through ominous clouds of reality. 

There are many ways to go about it. One of them is to observe the characterization of women against diverse social backdrops. How and what characters say is equally effective. As is the theme of the movie.

Long ago and far away, Nasir Hussain, the quintessential filmy dad of the sixties and Aamir Khan's uncle used to admonish his salwar kameez clad daughter, “Raat ke nau baj rahe hai, ye koi time hai ghar aane ka?” The guilt ridden heroine would hang her head in shame and rush upstairs. We have come a long way to Amitabh Bachchan in Pink where he says, “Hamare yahan ghadi ki sui character decide karti hai.” As an aging father figure, Amitabh goes on to rip several bogeys in his signature stealth style. “If the girl is at a rock show, it’s a hint but if she’s at a temple or a library, it’s not a hint? Will the venue decide the girl’s character?” 

Change. It’s inevitable. I’m fairly certain that even Amitabh cannot identify with his Mohabattein lecture of ‘Parampara, Pratishtha and Anushasan’ delivered sixteen years ago. 


Growing up in the late seventies and eighties, the leading lady used to be ‘paraya dhan’ and not a kudi who would insist on ‘Saturday-Saturday’. It was a time when the widowed sister and the blind mother were captured for final negotiation (Karz). Cinema that revolved around women was either so called ‘parallel cinema’ (MirchMasala, Arth) or directed by the likes of Basu Chatterjee and Gulzar. In Naram Garam (1981) directed by Hrishikesh Mukherjee, AK Hangal keeps repeating, "Ladki kya hai, gale ka kanta hai. Na andar jata hai, na bahar aata hai." And the girl in question was Swaroop Sampat, a Miss India. Imagine Priyanka Chopra playing that role?
It was also a time when the heroine’s character remained untouched by any ambition to walk up the corporate ladder or desire for sexual fulfillment. And if the leading lady ventured into grey areas (Tabu in Astitva), the immorality of her act was painstakingly justified.

It is telling that the song belted by Kangana in the recent movie Queen (Maine hothon se lagayi to hungama ho gaya) was picturised on Helen – the bar dancer in Anhonee. Because the monsters of drinking, smoking and dancing in pubs used to claim the evil women, not the sanskari girl. 
Why, even two decades ago in ‘Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge’ when Shah Rukh opens a bottle of Cognac, ostensibly to beat the cold, a dazed Kajol says, “Sharm nahi aati ladki ke samne sharaab peete hue?” This was 1995 when Gurgaon had not heard of fresh breweries, when pub hopping was restricted to Brigade Road in Bangalore and when Deepika Padukone had not had her moments of cinematic tipsiness.

Change. It’s inevitable. Today we have Pink where Amitabh says, “Sharab ko yahan kharab character ki nishani mana jata hai, ladkiyon ke liye. Ladko ke liye nahin. Ladkon ke liye ye sirf health hazard hai.” But wait. Wait. This is not to say that young girls should drink but to underline a social shift of sensibilities. 


While most leading ladies continued to be decorative items in the nineties, there were intermittent sparks of Rajkumar Santoshi’s Damini and Prakash Jha’s Mrityudand. Later, with the success of diverse stories like Chak De India, Fashion and Kahani, directors realized that women-centric movies were commercially viable. As for me, the landmark movie where a woman was unapologetically ambitious and unabashedly vocal about her sexual urge was Aitraaz, followed by Dirty Picture.

As India began celebrating women characters, a slew of movies like Queen, Mardaani, Piku, Pink and Parched became mirrors of a new world. This is a world where characters point towards changes that define new boundaries. Even as I write, glimpses of Aamir Khan’s upcoming Dangal indicate that women in his sport based movie are fierce protagonists unlike pretty cheerleaders of Jo Jeeta Wahi Sikander (1992).

Another minor, yet significant change that has unobtrusively seeped after the Nirbhaya incident is the gradual demise of the customary ‘item song’. While rapes and murders continue unabated, the public anger against Nirbhaya incident ensured that film makers tone down the objectification of women. The bust heaving item song like ‘Shiela ki Jawani’ or the pelvic thrusting ‘Munni Badnam’ have paved way for foot thumping party songs like ‘Ladki Beautiful’ and ‘Kala Chashma’.

To say that women have broken all ceilings would be presumptuous. Because eventually it’s the story that clinches the deal. Nonetheless, the audiences have evolved. And so have the directors and script writers. That they are brave enough to emphasize on a woman’s freedom of choice indicates that the concept echoes with the audience. No wonder the iconic Pink dialogue 'No....means no’ blazed into history, right?
Amidst all the gloom and doom, these sparks do leave a merry wink and a bright smile. And for this reason alone it’s fun to indulge in my pastime. It gives me hope that like all Bollywood movies – end mein sab theek ho jayega

Image courtesy : From here

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Data-giri




With the launch of Reliance Jio, 'Mukesh Returns' is now playing in the Indian telecom theaters after a gap of eleven years. Jio has promised cheaper data, 4G network, free voice calls and faster internet speed that will change the face of India’s telecom industry. Now that Mukesh Data-bhai Ambani has cast his network far and wide, his rivals are going weak in their signals. The new release has ensured that the Triple Play of Airtel, Vodafone, and Idea is  compelled to change the rules of the game. You can’t sit and watch Reliance broadband-bajao you in public, can you?

With an investment of Rs1, 50,000 Cr, Jio is said to be world’s largest startup. Truly wirelessly yours. Given that Jio announced lifetime free calling at a time when 70% of the revenues come from voice, how is Jio going push the boulder up the mountain? Too good to be true, eh? 

For one, Reliance has built humongous digital infrastructure (designed to handle 5G and 6G) and has enough bandwidth to assert its Data-giri. This is where China comes into the picture.  Reliance has picked VoLTE (voice over LTE) 4G compatible Lyf phones  from China that come with a Jio SIM. Moreover, the real story hinges on the Jio apps that are currently free for you to get addicted to.
While Reliance has created a capacity to take 100 million customers, initial users say Jio is in its beta stage where the speed is faster than Usain Bolt but the connection erratic. Once the initial interconnect glitches are surpassed, we will know if Jio is able to assert its Data-giri or end up revising plans. Or find itself in a hotspot. Only time will tell if Jio Bullet is able to beat the Airtel Rajdhani, Voda Shatabdi or the Idea Express! Where's  BSNL, you ask? Well, the market is big enough for the the passenger trains to chug along. 



According to Mr Ambani, “Two hundred years ago it was electricity that changed human life. Fifty years from now when you write history, one technology that would have changed civilization would be mobile internet.” He’s right. Humans have never engaged in an activity as dedicatedly as they have in mobile internet. 


The arrival of  Jio will change the telecom landscape in myriad  ways. If voice calls are free, we could face a scenario where landlines become as ineffective as typewriters. With unlimited data and 4G speeds, what is an average Indian residing in say, Lakhimpur do? Watch movies, download songs, engage on social media, but then what? There are limited avenues to fritter unlimited data!
With the telecom mavens promising a gradual but eventual shift to 5G by 2018, cheaper and faster data will create a new band of consumers. While the upper middle class users of Netflix, Wynk, and YouTube will continue to use data for shopping and entertainment, the lower middle class Hindi speaking consumer will demand content that suits his palate. 


The probabilities are immense, the market huge and the potential beyond imagination.

But before that there is politics. And technology and politics seldom go hand in hand. While Jio promised the moon, politicians began singing the age old ditty of roti kapda aur makaan. Targeting the PM, one killjoy said that the poor need Atta (Wheat flour), not Data. Well, damning technology is unlikely to provide Atta. Embracing it can. But who wants an informed voter? An informed, connected voter is a politician’s worse nightmare.Thus began the suit boot jibes and the condemnation that the government is only for the rich. When it comes to technology, neither politics nor condemnation make for meaningful debate because the first doesn’t translate into good economics and the second is an outcome of the  first.

Regardless, politics cannot stop an idea whose time has come. Reliance Jio can be a formidable brand if it creates value for customers and does not fizzle out like it did in 2005. Even though the name Ambani has long been the very definition of success, the prudent are holding the champagne. They will say cheers in January 2017.

Image Courtesy: From here
Entire article in Diplomacy&Beyond

Monday, September 5, 2016

My Way or the HighWay




Every once in a while, a controversy washes up our shores and we take positions on opposite sides of the fence. A minister said this, a celebrity said that. A film depicts this, a book quotes that. A news anchor tweeted this, a politician tweeted that. Whether it is a socio- political debate or a controversial comment - social media discourse ensures that there is little space for nuance.

Soon the prickly discourse boils down to ‘Us’ versus ‘Them’. More often than not, our response is not for other people or their logic, but for their political affiliations. Since we are more vicious and angry in the virtual realm, we want our opponents to shut-up and disappear.

And suddenly the idea that there can be two sides to a story seems far-fetched, too complicated to be true. What opinion, after all, holds true if it does not have roots in a rigid belief? What argument makes sense if it finds some merit in a dissenting voice?
This mocking the ‘other side’ is a worldwide phenomenon ranging from Trump versus Hillary to Salman versus Shah Rukh. The outright rejection of those who don’t feel the same way as we do is reflected in reactions when friends respond with, “How could you? Never imagined you were his fan?” Which essentially translates to, “How can you like someone I don’t?”

Given that Twitter trends decide the national narrative and vice versa, the news anchors too have fallen for the ‘either-or’ trap. If one pompous anchor invites a dozen odd panelists and begins his show with a pre-conceived notion that he is always right, the other is unwilling to engage with those who disagree. If one reduces nationalism to shouting over neighboring guests, the other eulogizes separatists by sympathizing with anti-national voices. If one is ordained by the TRP compulsions to be always right, the other is a member of a powerful cozy club.

What if I don’t agree with both?

Vinod Mehta, the Outlook editor hit the nail when he wrote, “A television anchor’s nightmare guest is one who takes, ‘on the other hand’ kind of positions. Complexity, subtlety, an effort to explore grey areas is positively discouraged. If you recommend street hangings and public floggings you are likely to do well on television.”

With shortened attention spans, one hundred and forty characters set the agenda. While brevity has advantages, it does little to address complex issues. Besides, it’s so much fun to mock 'them'. Paint them all with one brush. All Sanghis are illiterate abusers. All Liberals are pseudo-sickulars. All Pakistanis are evil. All journalists are presstitues. The pot-shots minus Marijuana add kick to our everyday mundane niceties. Wicked is fun, abuse liberating. Politeness is pretense, civility weakness.

The question is:
Why have we become so opinionated and polarized  about simple  issues such as an advertisement, a campaign, an opinion or a silly comment?
 
Let’s for a moment refuse to take a strong judgmental stance and meekly resign to an acceptance that everyone is entitled to their views. Wouldn’t it be a lazy acceptance of live and let live? Worse, our restrained stand could embolden extreme voices, shoving the already shrinking moderate voices down the silent valley?

On the other hand, what if we continue to call our opponents ‘stupid’ and refuse to engage with ‘them’? Wouldn’t our refusal to engage with 'them' push them away? Shouldn’t this refusal be seen as intellectual smugness to get to know the ‘other side’? Isn’t this refusal the very thing we rage against the ‘other side’?

There are no easy answers. For one, engaging with rigid minds requires patience. And ours is a generation that sees little merit in delayed answers.Who has the patience for a contextual explanation? What’s reassuring is that most issues that get us riled up on social media have little to do with our everyday lives. Who mocked our sportsmen or our hero are not the issues that really matter. Also because when we meet a flesh and blood person, we respect the boundary of ‘agreeing to disagree’. 


So who am I if I take an ‘on the other hand’ stance instead of a blanket Yes or No? Who am I, if I’m mostly conservative, oftentimes moderate but occasionally liberal? Confused? No. While I have a stand, I’m willing to listen and reflect. I am willing  to leave a small window for the thought that the ‘other side’ could possibly have some merit in their opinion. Can you?


Image Courtesy: From here