How did we fail to see this coming? How did we allow this to happen? More importantly: can we fix this or is it too late? Can we really un-Drumpf the world? YES WE CAN!
I’m not qualified enough to write political posts so this is not going to be that. I am writing this because I believe the reasons for the upside down we have now entered, the Black Mirror that has become our reality, the fucked-up island on which that the collective airplane we seemed to be cruising on has crash landed, is *nothing* to do with politics and everything to do with who we are as the ‘swipe-right’ and ‘move on’ generation. The bubble we’ve been living in has burst, and perhaps this was the much-needed jolt that would hopefully stop us from spending our lives staring at our phones.
Here’s what’s happening right now, even as a misogynist, racist, fascist homophobe is taking over purportedly the “most powerful nation in the world” and the “land of the free and fair”: the shock wave that is rippling through every tweet, every status update and every snap-story is not just about the tragedy that Donald Trump has won, but more to do with the catastrophe that WE have lost.
How did WE let this happen? “WE” – who had shared all those 9Gag memes, all those hilarious Buzzfeed posts and Facebook gifs, who had liked loved the hell out of every (not so much pro-Hillary but) anti-Trump article, video and status, who had waited for Last Week Tonight with John Oliver to see Donald being Drumpf again, we, who had retweeted *every* celebrity and stand-up comedian tweet that represented well-reasoned sanity – how could WE be so wrong? SO WRONG?
‘WE’ may not be American, may never have stepped foot in America and may never even intend to (or get allowed to now!), we may be Indian, European, Australian, or from any other nationality that always, in our heart of hearts believed that America is stupid but didn’t know it is to THIS EXTENT, ‘we’, the progressive, liberal, educated, internet-savvy millennials who have prided ourselves in our balanced opinions and our broad-minded worldview, and have generally been the force of nature that’s showing the world the light: how did WE fail to see this coming? HOW THE HELL DID WE ALLOW THIS TO HAPPEN?
Here’s how: ‘We’, our generation at large, are less the citizens of any country with well-defined borders, but more those of the bubble that is the internet, that we log on to every morning on our devices and spend the entire day rallying behind, with all the nationalist pride that soars in the hearts of the right-wingers for all the wrong reasons, according to ‘US’.
We are to blame
We go to sleep at night at peace with ourselves after partaking in every trending topic, every popular hashtag and every viral news story of the day by jumping to the most-reasonable conclusion that the smartest people on our timelines have come to. Our knee-jerk likes, shares and comments do not wait for tonight’s television coverage, tomorrow’s newspaper, or this week’s news magazine. They are swift, immediate and final, and come from a sense of inherent duty that if we don’t do our bit RIGHT NOW to further the cause of the liberal rationale that the world so badly needs, we would have let us all down.
Except that the internet is *not* the world. Facebook doesn’t in any way represent the aspirations of the common man on the street who is suffering from issues we don’t know and can’t even fathom; Instagram is so fantastical that it does not even truly represent our own worlds with the inevitable lows that it sees outside of the highs we choose to showcase, and Twitter is so far gone that it has led itself to believe that it really does have the power to change the world through its white eggs and blue ticks.
Yes, of course, the internet can sway a certain section of public opinion, especially when it comes to entertainment, but that’s about all the influence it exerts. Because the internet comprises but a tiny, only sometimes-significant part of the world’s population that is unfortunately so loud, vocal and self-agreeable that it does not even bother to factor, in any of its conclusive pronouncements, an entire middle-class that has more critical worries in its life than a status message not getting enough likes.
We are the bubble
Our social media accounts are carefully curated by us to represent the voices we want to hear, the opinions we find compliant and the thoughts and ideas that concur with the ones we have deemed appropriate. And whenever there is dispute, disagreement or dissent, it strikes as such a false note in our utopian realms that our immediate response is to term it reactionary, dumb, illiterate or worse, trolling. We unfriend, block and report abuse, but we do not understand, we do not empathise and we do not engage (and if we ever do, it’s only to slur back).
We have been living and thriving in this self-created bubble for so long; we have been so passionately dissing anything that challenges our statuses and status quos; we have been so far removed from the reality that exists beyond our screens on either side of us that multiple tremors were only seen as aberrations. It would’ve taken a tornado to burst this bubble, and it looks like Donald Trump is that tornado.
So yes, in essence, we are fucked and it seems like we have brought this upon us. So now what? Well, the good news is: this is an end of the road, but not the end of the road. It is perhaps the end of a road where everyone (of a certain kind) was driving on the same side and was often deliberately dismissive – and sometimes ignorant – of the other side. But it is only the beginning of a two-way road, where all kinds of people from both sides are driving alongside, well in-sight of one another, co-existing peacefully at first, and maybe, one day, meeting at a crossroad to become one road again.
Can we fix it?
And what did that bullshit traffic metaphor above mean? In essence: let’s not be so self-involved within our own timelines and our own devices that are far removed from the truths around us that it becomes fashionable to ‘not give a shit’. Let’s not look down upon anyone with an offensive opinion or one that we dislike but engage with them, let’s not show snark at anyone less-informed but inform them, let’s not call out anyone with vulgar but desensitize them, let’s not be contemptuous of those unlike us but comprehend them.
It’s not going to take one person and it’s not going to take one day. But if we view this moment in time as that crucial turning point of our history that it needs to become – for all the right reasons – and come together to be less seemingly elitist, less self-absorbed, less intolerant people who can stay put and take action than swipe right and move on to the next armchair battle, there is hope yet.
So let’s be gentle to that old relative or grandparent who believes homosexuality is a disease and explain to them why they are wrong, let’s have a one-on-one with that colleague that passes off sexist comments as banter, let’s have a dialogue with the deeply conditional house help who inadvertently champions patriarchy and let’s tell a racist friend why the world cannot – and should not – be segregated into religions or colours. Let’s have the patience and resolve to talk it out with everyone who is only just a few well-meaning conversations away from broadening their perspectives.
And let’s LISTEN. Let’s listen without judgement to the woes of the people who fear their jobs being taken away by immigrants, let’s understand without discrimination those people who believe in prejudice, let’s empathise with everyone who is unlike us, and let’s engage. Let’s engage with *everyone* who does not hold our outlook because the fact is: there is no such thing as a right or wrong views, but there is context and there is perspective. And if we understand the other’s and explain to them ours, maybe – just maybe – there is a meeting ground in the middle for both.
Yes WE can!
If WE, the generation that has had, unlike its predecessors, the opportunity, luck and benefit of being aware of the world beyond our neighbourhoods, communities, cities and borders thanks to our devices and the very same phenomenon that is the internet, come together to engage, to listen, and to be kind… WE can work together at making the best out of the trumping we’ve received today as collective denizens of an idyllic world that can hopefully someday be reality.
If we come together, this too shall pass. If we come together, we can save the world…
So here’s the background: I was invited to give a TEDx Talk at TEDxSRCC in October at Delhi. It was one of the coolest things that ever happened to me so I wanted to speak on a topic that… matters. Conventional wisdom meant speaking on ‘the road not taken’, ‘following your passion’, or ‘stay hungry and stay foolish’, but I thought of it this way: If this was the only time I ever got a chance to speak on any platform as prestigious as the TEDx stage, what thought, theory, or idea, would I want to leave people with? Given the fact that the theme of TEDxSRCC was ‘Food for Thought’, I decided to speak upon a topic that I believe is more basic, more human and more important than success, hard work, passion or anything else: KINDNESS. For the distinct purposes of sounding cool, I named the talk ‘Don’t be an A**hole’. The talk is online now, but I’ve put out the full text below too:
(Including some points I missed in the video)
Please note two things:
1. It was an 18 minute talk so this is a LOOOOOOOONG Read. Like WTFHOWLONGISTHIS read.
2. This is not an article, it was a talk, so some of the humour written was specifically meant to be funny to the audience watching me speak and it may come across as lame. It probably came across as lame to them as well, but hey, don’t say I didn’t warn you!
So there we go:
DON’T BE AN ASSHOLE!
I want to start by clarifying one thing – for those who saw the description these guys had put about me on the Tedx page, there was this thing where it said that I’m a blogger for MTV Roadies. I promise you – that is not true anymore. I promise. If it was, the title of my speech today? It would make NO SENSE. This would then be a talk at TedxIRONY.
Having said that, I want to tell you guys a story. A few years ago, I travelled to Egypt on work. On the last night there, I went to a souvenir shop to buy a bunch of stuff for my family. The shop-owner of that place was a guy called Ahmed and Ahmed, for some reason, really LIKED the fact that I was buying stuff for my family. So much so that he offered to take me to his nightclub and show me belly dancing. Not HIS belly. And then just before I left he said – DON’T TRUST ANYONE IN EGYPT.
That should have been strike one right? But here’s the thing. I was incredibly boring back then. The wildest thing I had ever done was spike my hair – and that was because my mother has requested me to start being cool. So I called up Ahmed and told him that I’m ready to be wild. And then I left a note in my room saying ‘I’m going out with an unknown man named Ahmed. His shop is this his number is this, if I don’t come back please tell my mom I loved her.’
Strike two was Ahmed’s shady car. Strike three was him getting lost and not being able to find his own nightclub. I mean by this point I had basically realized that I was going to die tonight and that could be the BEST case scenario of what would happen to me. But when we eventually did reach the nightclub, I didn’t escape. That could probably be because I had nowhere to go to – but it was also because I really wanted to see how this would play out. WHAT DID AHMED WANT! I stayed as Ahmed got drunk, got loud, got emotional. And on the way back he almost started crying about how poor he was and how he was working hard to get his family money. That’s when I realized – he wanted money for me. This was going to be awkward. So I paid no attention to him and started figuring what’s the right amount to give him. I waited for him to ask the whole way back. He didn’t. We reached. As I awkwardly tried opening my wallet when he dropped me SAFE and SOUND – he said, thank you so much, I just thought you looked like a kind person and I hope we have more guys like you. Please stay friends.
I couldn’t sleep that night – I was not kind that day. He was the kind one. I was, in fact, an asshole. Someone who had been so ingrained to not trusting ANYONE being kind that I just naturally assumed anyone showing empathy was a liar. One of the great American writers, George Saunders, recently gave a keynote address where he spoke of how the only thing he regrets are “failures of kindness”. I failed to be kind that day too, and I tell this story today because while I talk about assholes, what I really want to tell you guys about is kindness.
THE THEORY OF KINDNESS
But before that – I want to tell you guys some statistics. That’s because I’ve seen a lot of TED Talks to prepare for this – yesterday night, basically, because after all, I’m still an engineer at heart – and I realized that the best TED talks have some amazing statistic that makes the audience go WOAH. So I’ll be kind and give you TWO:
There is something called the World Giving Index, that measures 130 countries on how kind they are. It’s basically about how kind we are. India ranks 93. Behind – I kid you not – IRAQ, PAKISTAN, BANGLADESH, AFGHANISTAN. I mean – these countries have NOTHING to give, how are they still giving more than us!?
The second statistic is my favourite: It has been scientifically proved that if you are kind – if you are not an asshole – the chance of you getting rich, famous and getting laid are basically a 100%. Yes, of course, I’m the one who proved that through my life. Well, not the getting laid part. And not the.. rich part.. and well, not the famous part either.. but that’s not the point.
Okay, so let’s not call what I just said a scientific fact but a theory – but this is a theory that I truly believe in with all my heart and soul and I’m going to spend the next.. 12 minutes.. in trying to convince you on why it works and why you should believe in it too. The theory is simple: The universe works in your favour if you are kind.
I genuinely, wholeheartedly believe that if you are kind to people
you know, to people you don’t know, to yourself, to the environment, to your body – okay I shouldn’t be talking about that – but if you are kind in general, you are going to be happy and successful. When I say kindness, I don’t mean a vague concept of politeness… or being ‘nice’. Gulab Jamun is ‘nice’. This spotlight is ‘nice’. Naveen Kasturia’s hair is ‘nice’. But I’m talking about ‘kind’, not ‘nice’. Kindness is about caring. It’s about compassion. It’s about empathy. It’s about giving a shit.
GEN D (DOESN’T GIVE A SHIT)
I mean I really don’t understand how it became cool to NOT GIVE A SHIT? I mean, I’m appalled – yes that’s how strongly I feel about it to use a word like appalled – I’m appalled that I come across so many people who ‘don’t give a shit’? You must have met them too. ‘Hey there was an earthquake the other day’. ‘I don’t give a shit bro’. ‘Hey people are dying of hunger and poverty’ ‘Talk to the hand’ ‘Hey you are an ASSHOLE’ ‘LOLZ WHAT A FUNNY WHATSAPP FORWARD HAHA’.
So when did this become cool? To not care?When did it become cool to wear earphones on purpose so no one would try and talk to us? When did it become alright fake texting people when going in elevators instead of smiling and saying hello? When did it become ok to be so self-involved and self-obsessed that we can’t even comprehend the pain and suffering around us, much less share it or be of help?
Let me put this in perspective. Let’s go back in time and imagine if Thomas Edison didn’t give a shit? ‘Kya yaar, who’s going to put in all this effort in making a light bulb… waise bhi I’m scared of the dark.’ Or if Alexander Graham Bell didn’t give a shit? ‘Ugh connecting people? Ugh why would anyone ever want to do that? People are stupid and I don’t give a shit.’ What if – and here’s an idea that will horrify you – what if Mark Zuckerberg didn’t give a shit? What would we LIKE then huh? How would we ever show our support to poor hungry children in Africa by liking their pictures and sharing their memes? But in all seriousness – if the guy who invented fire and the girl who invented the wheel was just like this generation and didn’t give a shit, we wouldn’t HAVE this generation. We’d still be half apes – which, when you think of it, may just be better than who we are today.
WE ARE ASSHOLES!
Because let’s be honest, we are assholes. We are people who quickly close an elevator quickly even when we see another person just about to enter it. We are people who walk in the middle of the road showing their hands to stop cars like we’re Ironman or something – that if YOU hit me it’s on YOU. And when we drive, oh man… we would honk and honk and honk in a traffic jam as if the guy in the car ahead is PURPOSELY not moving the car.. and when it’s our turn, we never EVER let another car overtake us because… tu jaanta hai mera baap kaun hai? We litter in public when no one is watching – and sometimes when everyone is – we pee on the road, we spit on the road, we park our vehicles wherever the hell we want, we are the people who will KILL one another to get into a Metro train!! I mean what kind of a species jumps queues – queues make us HUMAN!
These are just a few quick examples – but raise your hand if you have been one of these people. Hey, it’s okay, for the longest time, I was an asshole too, you should check out my twitter feed from 3 years ago. And to be honest, on certain days every month when I’m stuck on Western Express Highway between Kandivali and Andheri in traffic, I still am! Because it’s really hard to be kind – but just like all things hard, kindness is WORTH IT.
Because that’s the thing about kindness – kindness not only makes others happy, it makes YOU feel happy. And since happiness is really what we are all trying for, why would anyone be anything but kind? I believe *everything* and I really mean it when I say that – *everything* that makes the world a better place – or at least OUR world a better place – can be tied back to kindness.
EVERYTHING IS KINDNESS
Think about it: Why do we love our parents so much? Really THINK about it. It’s not just biology or their money that we love them for – well, at least most of us – it’s because they are kind to us. Their hearts beat for us. And we love that!! We love them because they CARE. Take the example of your BFF – why do you love him or her so much? Because when everything and everyone sucks, they say something kind and cheer us up! ‘Don’t worry it’s okay’ – that’s all you want to hear. A kind word. What do we love the love of our lives? Our better halves? Because they know EVERYTHING about us and YET they are kind to us!! So think about it – it’s actually kindness that we seek in everyone and it’s kindness that we really thrive on.
Think of the person who instantly puts a smile on your face – the most warm person in your life. Are they kind? Of course they are! Why would you smile thinking about someone who kills ants for pleasure? Even thinking of someone kind can put a smile on your face. I’ll give you a Bollywood example. Who is the most successful director in Bollywood today? Raju Hirani, who’s collectively made over 1000 crores from his movies. You know why his movies are so successful? Because they are about kindness! Jadoo ki jhappi is about kindness, gandhigiri is about kindness, ‘All is well’ is indirectly about kindness. This reminds me – I just saw Shandaar and they have this dialogue, ‘Everyone is sindhi’ – and I feel like I’m saying something similar in ‘Everyone is kind’. But hey, my message is better, right?
Because think again – religion! What do all our individual gods and religions really preach – at the core… at their deepest core… at their core core… Everyone really talks about kindness. Dalai Lama has said that kindness is his religion. Imagine a world like that – if kindness was the only religion and where *everyone* would be kind? There would be no left wing vs right wing – because we’d be kind enough to let everyone have their own opinion. They would be no straight vs homosexual – because we’d be kind enough to let everyone make their own decisions. Heck, there would be no BANS – because we’d be kind enough to let everyone live their own lives.
I truly believe that we can alter the course of the world, of someone’s life or even our own, if we are kind. Because Kindness begets kindness! I believe in the spiritual aspect of kindness. I believe in energy – I believe that if you are kind, and you spread that kindness, good things will happen to you. And I will tell you another story to prove that.
ONE MORE STORY & THE HELPER’S HIGH
I was in Turkey. Yes, somehow, all my stories today have international destinations in them…travelling is nice (not kind). So I had gone to turkey – well I was stuck in turkey on a layover. It was the start of a Eurotrip me and my brother took. We decided to kill time so we booked a cab to the nearest tourist spot. My father told me that he’s heard that Turkey cab drivers are scamsters so when it was time to pay the driver, I was very careful in calculating the exchange rate since I had to pay him in dollars. Turns out that this guy actually was charging less, so I decided to be kind and gave him more instead. He was a nice guy! On a completely different yet connected note, just before we had got into the car, I had told my younger brother that it was I who would keep both our passports because a) He was younger so pffft, obviously he was irresponsible, and b) I had bought a cool pouch for passports and I wanted to keep the passports in it with me.
So you know where this story is going right? Yup, I forgot my ‘cool pouch’ in the cab after getting off, along with my iPhone, my iPad, and miStuff. It’s a really long and funny story but in the interest of time I’m going to get straight to the end. After two hours involving Turkish police, a VERY angry sibling and more, I got a call from the place where the cab driver had dropped me off. The driver was back with my pouch and wanted me to come there to collect it. I profusely thanked him and asked him why he returned – he said because I was kind. Maybe older Arab gentlemen and I have some strange cosmic connection or perhaps the truth is – kindness is awesome.
Kindness is so infectious and that’s been scientifically proved. Not by me this time but by actual research, that says that there’s a phenomenon called Helper’s High, where every time you help someone or are kind, feel-good chemicals or endorphins are released in your body. Look it up –I have researched this before coming because, as I mentioned before, this is Tedx, so I wouldn’t come unprepared, right? So it turns out that recipients of kindness always pay it forward. It could be something as simple as – you know my mother travels alone sometimes and like all mothers has these HUGE suitcases and bags that she carries with her because she’s Indian. And it’s a fact that tells me that all is not lost in the world that each time she’s travelling there’s always someone who is kind to her and picks her bag. And because it happens to her, I ensure I do the same each time I travel and see someone older. In fact, I actively look for older people to help!!
Kindness can be cultivated like this. If people are kind other people see them and want to be kind too. I’ve been teaching college students for five years now, and every year, at the end of my semester I have this one class where I ask my students to be honest. I tell them to let their guards down and just talk about something that you really truly care about. That you feel for. That’s my favourite class of every year. These 20 year old kids have said some of the nicest, most beautiful, bravest things in those classes – from why praying is important to why homosexuality is not a sin. The reason I do this class is because in today’s age, we know everyone through their Facebook pages more than ever trying to get to know them. And this class is about showing people that there’s so much more to us than our names. If you *know* people you are going to be kind. It’s an exercise in compassion. You know how many people have come back to me and said – the other student used this private information against me? NONE. You know how many people have come back to me and said kindness is awesome? TONNE(S). ..Hey, that rhymed!
THE CULTURE OF DISCONNECTED TROLLS
I mean that’s really the thing that’s turning us into assholes isn’t it? The fact that because of the internet and technology and all these buttons we can hide behind, we don’t ever get to really know people – or think of them as real human beings with feelings. It’s amazing how the more the world gets connected, the more disconnected we get with each other. I mean if it was only indifference that would be one thing, but it disturbs me how we have moved towards being a culture of mean-spirited bullies.
Social media, instant messaging where the meanest comment gets liked, the loudest troll gets retweeted and the biggest asshole has the most fans, has turned us into assholes too. On the internet, we only see words, and not people. People who haven’t ever had the courage to step out and do things on their own are today sitting behind a computer screen and laughing at people who do, however good or bad they might be is besides the point. ‘Hey you SUCK’. ‘You can’t sing’. ‘You can’t act’. ‘You are ugly’. Who are we to judge someone’s talent? Who are we to judge? Social media gives us the power to be judge and jury but strangely, we don’t need facts to give any sort of verdict.
Take the very recent example of the picture of the drunk police officer in a Delhi metro that was being shared on Facebook with everyone calling him all sorts of names. I’m not saying here that he was a good person or that a police officer in duty clothes should be let go scot free. But my question is – how many of us knew ANYTHING more than the fact that this was a drunk officer in a metro? What if he had lost someone that evening and he was getting drunk to grieve? I’m giving an extreme scenario because the fact is, if we don’t know this to be true, how could we assume the other to be true – that he was, in fact, a drunk, alcoholic, asshole cop? There are so many times that we don’t know anything, then why are we unkind? Who are we to say someone’s way of living life or someone’s right to an opinion or someone’s way of expressing themselves is any better or any worse than someone else? We are now a culture that is quick to pull others down because they don’t meet *our* expectations of how *they* should lead their lives.
THE SCARY THING ABOUT BEING AN ASSHOLE The problem gets more grave and has a socio economic angle too. Yes, I went there. I now have the distinction of using the word ‘Roadies’ and the phrase ‘socio economic angle’ in the same talk. When we are not kind to people we become apathetic towards them and as a consequence, we are disrespectful or impolite or rude and sometimes contemptuous too. And this first comes out especially to those who are considered ‘weaker’ be us because of caste, creed, colour or class. Think about it – we would never go into an Armani store or a Zara story and haggle for discounts right, even when we are buying thousands of rupees worth of stuff? But we are ready to insult the poor hawker on the road for Rs 5 less on vegetables worth Rs 50 or the rickshawwala who doesn’t have change? We get SO UNKIND when the auto rickshaw driver doesn’t have change but we are ready to pay Rs 500 as service charges on food worth Rs 600 in expensive restaurants. We are unkind to beggars, to eunuchs, to anybody providing service to us like a watchman or a driver or a sales clerk, because they are considered ‘weaker’. Heck, we don’t even know their names! No one likes to be called ‘waiter’ or ‘driver’ or ‘watchman’ but that’s exactly how we address them! Do we genuinely believe that our lives are so tough so we don’t have time to be kind?
What a shitty excuse that is! How much time could it possibly take to be kind!? To say ‘thank you’ to someone or even smile back? If we think our lives are hard IMAGINE how hard the lives of people lesser privileged than us must be. And you know what the socio economic consequence of this is? When auto rickshaw drivers refuse to ply to us. The carpenter you called to your house takes more time than necessary to get things done. The house help steals something every now and then. It’s not on them – WE are to blame. The larger picture is that some of the horrible crimes that happen in our country – and especially in cities like this where the class divide is very obvious – those crimes are violent crimes. They are crimes that stem from anger. Because WE have created a circumstance where a lesser privileged person feels humiliated and ashamed that they are lesser privileged because WE are unkind and we selectively choose to be nice to people who come from money.
I mean, what a shame. We’d rather be assholes and see the world around us descend into chaos than just be kind. And I have also noticed how it’s become unfashionable to be kind. Kind people are boring – unexciting. ‘Oh he’s ‘nice’. What an idiot!’ We are scared to be kind because it’s looked down upon!!! If anything, it takes courage to be kind in today’s uncynical world. It takes bravery and a certain kind of heart to GIVE a shit when no one else around you really seems to care. It takes a certain kind of good crazy to NOT ‘move on’. And it’s not uncool at all – because kind people are always more successful than unkind ones. Because people WANT to be around people who make them feel good about themselves. People are generous to those who have shown them generosity.
KINDNESS IS AWESOME
Take it from me: I’ve been standing here in front of you for the past 17 minutes and doling out LONG gyaan, because I’m probably considered successful by the organizers of this event because my ‘CV’ has ticked off certain check boxes that add up to ‘Tedx speaker’. And I can tell you first hand, while many others in my field strongly believe in ‘networking’, I believe in being kind to people and being actual friends with them – and hey, I’m both happy and I guess, ‘successful’ in the conventional way. A lot of this success has to do with the fact that I’ve worked my ass off, sure, but the secret is: that the other part of it is because I’ve been a kind person… and hence, the universe has worked in my favour.
The fact is, life is not about what you do as much as it is about how you go about doing it. People will forget your work, your degree, your bank balance, but they will always, always remember how you made them feel. Especially if you were kind.
So I’m going to go back again and implore you all: be kind. Believe me, when I say that, I don’t mean I want you all to go donate your kidneys. It can be little things you do, that will go a long way in making you happy and in making this world a better place. Little things! For eg. Say ‘Thank you’, when you are given a service by anyone – the rickshawala, the waiter, the bai. Say ‘Thank You’ anyway. Thank yous are nice. I send a thank you mail at the end of every year to everyone who was kind to me – you know why? Because acknowledging those who are kind is ALSO kind. Give someone a compliment. Tell people who are awesome that they are awesome. Ask your sabziwala to keep the change. Hold the door for the person who’s coming behind you. Open a door for someone else! Keep the lift open if someone wants to enter. Give 20 bucks to the guy who’s come to deliver a 1000 Rs order. Smile at a stranger. Smile anyway. Smiling is awesome. Treat a kid begging on the street to some junk food. Find out the names of all the people who are giving you a service! LIKE a happy post, SHARE a kind post and RETWEET those who ask you to care. Be respectful, be polite, and really, start giving a shit. Don’t be an asshole – there are already too many of them in the world.
Today marks seven years since I came to Mumbai. Tomorrow will mark seven years since my first full-time job. I came as an engineering graduate with zero ties to the ‘industry’ (and zero clue on how I’ll ‘make it’ except hopeless optimism), and through Hindustan Times, MTV India and now, Yash Raj Films, I have worked on some of the most fantastic projects (thank you, good universe) with some of the most fantastic people (thank you, good people). There’s been some not so fantastic projects and some not so fantastic people too, but as in the movies, good always wins over evil.
Any way you look at it, the truth is, this has been a dream, and I’m very scared of waking up from it and being told, ‘Ch**tiya banaya, bada mazaa aaya’. If you’d have told me seven years ago, in Room no 307 of Eklavya Bhavan of NITK Kurukshetra that this would be my life for the next seven years, I’d have said, ‘Zeher mat faink, behenc**d’ and then touched wood and said a quick, sly prayer on the side for it to come true.
Looking back, I’ve had ups, downs, and many, many days of sames, but I’ve counted every day as a blessing because even when I’ve had a horrible day, at least it’s a horrible day I’ve had on a job I love doing. And that’s really been what it’s all about – taking that first step and keeping at it: the decision to have left the engineering life, to never look or go back or do an MBA (because that’s generally the secret to winning at life), and even when life gave lemons, to collect those lemons and wait for the prices of lemons to go up, and *then* make lemon juice.
But here’s what I’ve learnt:
1. It’s really not about networking as they say… it’s about relationships. People matter, friends matter more, family matters most; and as long as you’ve got your priorities straight, even when the chips are down, at least you’ll have wonderful people to… umm… eat them with (and stay fat, dammit!).
2. No matter what people say or do or are, as long as you’re nice and good with everyone and in general, and believe in the niceness and goodness of everyone and in general, nice and good things will eventually happen to you (and in general)!
3. You may not be the most talented guy or the smartest guy in the room, but you can do well if you simply outwork them :).
So here’s to many more years of ups, downs and sames, and to many more awesome friends and projects. Kyunki picture abhi baaki hai!
This is not a review of Bombay Velvet. Because whatever I say about Bombay Velvet doesn’t matter to you at all. You’ve already made up your mind about how you feel about Bombay Velvet, evenespecially if you haven’t seen it, because you have read gossip about the film’s edit issues before its release, or you’ve read Komal Nahta’s tweet about how two shows of the film got cancelled in the morning, or you’ve read a review of the film by critics who were ‘let down’ by this film.
For that matter, you have decided that no matter what others say, you will like this film because you are a Ranbir fan, an Anushka fan, or an Anurag Kashyap fan (are there any left though?). You may like it because everyone’s disliking it and you are a hipster, or you may like it because of the amazing irony of how a Rs 100 crore budget film has become an underdog. You may just like it because your expectations were lowered by the reviews of critics or your friends, and now you don’t find the film *that* bad.
It’s beside the point that I loved the film and its characters and its setting and the outstanding music, it’s pointless reviewing Bombay Velvet because invariably, I must belong to one or more of the sects I mentioned in the previous paragraph, perhaps without even knowing it. Because clearly, no one’s reviewing movies anymore, everyone’s reviewing their expectations of it.
Expectations vs the Film
Let me attempt to explain: When was the last time we walked into a movie theater without any expectations from the film whatsoever? Even if we didn’t have high expectations of the film, we certainly didn’t have no expectations else why would we spend your hard earned money and our precious time watching the film?
The reason we had these expectations (as little as they may be) is because we liked the trailer of the movie, or we like the actors in it, or the director of it or because it came recommended to us by a critic or a friend. So the film ultimately either lived up to these expectations, or fell short of them, and our opinion on the movie is an outcome of that. That’s largely how it’s always been when it comes to movie watching but ever since social media has happened to our lives, our expectations have started getting skewed much more sharply than ever before. With the groundswell of opinions on every movie, especially if they are STRONG and LOUD (whether positive or negative), our expectations have *become* our review of the movie. Think about it, we now rarely feel any different after watching a movie from what is being said about the movie, or the opinion we formed about it beforehand.
We already liked Piku before we entered the theater to watch it because EVERYONE LOVED IT. We were already impressed by the excellence of Court because EVERYONE WAS IMPRESSED BY IT. We were already disappointed with Detective Bymokesh Bakshy because EVERYONE WAS LET DOWN BY IT. We were already blown away by Fast and Furious because EVERYONE WAS BLOWN AWAY BY IT. Perhaps you are one of the rare people who felt the opposite for every movie I mentioned or you genuinely liked/disliked the previous movies and that has nothing to do with ‘everyone’. The truth, as they say, is probably somewhere in between.
The curse of being Anurag Kashyap Let me put it another way: What if Court was made by Anurag Kashyap? What is Piku was made by Sajid Khan? What if Byomkesh Bakshy was made by Chaitanya Tamhane? What if Fast and Furious was made by Michael Bay? What if Bombay Velvet was made by Anand Gandhi? Just think over this for a second. Would we still feel exactly the same about these movies? More importantly, would the *critics* feel the same way about them? Of course we wouldn’t. Because somewhere, we can’t disassociate the filmmaker from the film and that is true even moreso for critics.
Prove me wrong by showing me a review of Bombay Velvet that does not talk about Anurag Kashyap’s ambitions with this film, the film compared to his other work, the film with respect to other gangster film, the budget of the film, the expected box office, the negative buzz around it, etc etc etc. You’d be surprised if you find a review that only talks about the film and nothing else but the film because Anurag Kashyap is intricately linked to this film, but is that really fair? Why isn’t it only about the film anymore?
If you completely disagree with me on this, here’s another perspective: What if Woody Allen, who has been accused of being a pedophile, gets convicted? You’d certainly not be inclined to revere him as a person but would it have any bearing on what you think of him as a director? But that’s actually immaterial, to be honest, because the only question that matters is: would it change the way you feel about his films? Will Annie Hall make you feel any differently or will you love Midnight in Paris any less, knowing that the director behind him may not be a very good man? It won’t and it shouldn’t because it *really* doesn’t matter who has made a film. Only your connection to it matters.
Internet criticism But that may not be true in the case of critics in the internet age. I read the reviews of a few critics who found Akshay Kumar’s Gabbar mildly enjoyable and gave it around 2.5 stars. I saw the film and it definitely didn’t suck as much as every other south remake but 2.5 stars? Bombay Velvet has got 2.5 stars. Byomkesh Bakshy got 2.5 stars. Are Gabbar and Bombay Velvet/Byomkesh Bakshy at the same level in ANY way? I’m not trying to be a condescending asshole or a cacophonous fanboy (although that’s beside the point too because you’ve already made up your mind either way, haven’t you?). What I’m trying to say is: Did Gabbar make you FEEL for even one second? What did you take back home after watching Gabbar? On the other hand – are you saying NOTHING in Bombay Velvet or Byomkesh made you feel? You took back NOTHING after watching them?
I’m not at all comparing popcorn films with ‘cinema’ and trying to draw a fail parallel. Because I LOVE popcorn cinema. Absolutely LOVE it. Because the best popcorn cinema also makes you FEEL – it could any feeling from awe and joy to aww and joy. (If you get the time, please do read this piece by Sady Doyle on popcorn cinema; possibly the best written article on cinema this year: http://www.wired.com/2015/05/marvel-killing-the-popcorn-movie/). Gabbar didn’t make me feel, neither do any of the umpteen other South remakes. Avengers (not part 2) did make me feel though, as did The Fault in our Stars in the same way that a Dhoom 3 and 2 States made me feel *something*. They are the epitome of popcorn films but I took away something back home after watching them. I took away something from Bombay Velvet and Byomkesh too, but nothing from Gabbar. Yet they are all given a star rating of 2.5 stars and to be honest, that blows my mind.
I am not calling out critics too (I believe everyone is entitled to their own opinions and how am I to say my opinion is better than yours?) but I do have a problem with criticism connected with expectations. Because I fail to understand how ratings can be flexible according to expectations. The reason Gabbar got 2.5 was because the reviewers went into theaters expecting to see an absolutely horrible film but were surprised that it didn’t suck THAT BAD. On the other hand, Byomkesh got 2.5 because the reviewers were expecting to be blown away but that didn’t happen; and Bombay Velvet got 2.5 stars because the reviewers expected to be let down and that’s exactly what happened. I admit, some of this is informed from my understanding of criticism because I was a ‘critic’ for a while for Firstpost.com and to be honest, I occasionally suffered from the same issues too.
It may have been JUST me and perhaps I wasn’t qualified enough to be an opinion-giver (‘critic’ is too strong a word to my liking), and I may be ENTIRELY wrong and presumptuous about internet criticism (because criticism without the support of the internet today does not exist). But the truth is, it was only after I left my opinion hat at home and started watching films as a filmbuff that I began to see them for what they are. My feelings towards any film, now, are based on what I feel *because* of the film, or if I feel because of it at all. It has nothing to do with the perception of the film or the cast and the crew.
Why Bombay Velvet cannot be left to die I loved Bombay Velvet. I didn’t connect with it in the first thirty minutes at all, but then I was slowly pulled in by it and by the end of it, I had been wholly consumed by all the complexity at play – the class divide of Khambatta and Balraj, the love story of Johnny and Rosie, the angst of Balraj to rise above his so-called aukaad, the loyalty of Chiman, and all else. The music was the true champion of the film and Amit Trivedi’s OUTSTANDING score interpreted on film is reason alone to watch this film. I loved the world of the film created by its superlative cast (Ranbir, Anushka, Satyadeep, Karan and Kay Kay took my breath away) and crew, and contrary to what many have said, I felt that the film didn’t reach its full potential because of the edit, done by the great Thelma Schoonmaker and Prerna Saigal.
In the first thirty minutes, to give the film a certain pace and atmosphere, what I felt were crucial scenes of romance between Rosie and Johnny weren’t allowed to breathe and were cut off just when they needed that little pause for us to feel deeper. The uneven pace of the film throughout is its biggest downfall and somewhere, there is a director’s cut which could be 3 hours long but which I suspect I may love more. But I still love Bombay Velvet, but as I had mentioned upfront, what I think of the film doesn’t even matter.
The more time spent on the internet consuming about movies before watching them, is killing the experience of watching any movie for what it is. Remember the unparalleled pleasure of being in a cinema hall at one with a movie, and discovering it unfold one scene at a time, before the onslaught of teasers of teasers and trailers 2,7,10? Before Twitter and Facebook told you EVERYTHING you didn’t want to know about the film but would have liked seeing or deciding for yourself? Before opinions were jammed down your throat because you live on the internet and opinion-givers do too?
Hence my opinion of Bombay Velvet is immaterial. What matters is what *you* think of it. And the only way for you to decide is not by reading snarky comments about it on the internet but by going to the theater and watching it yourself. Watch it not because I or anyone else liked the film, but because such an intricately created and painstakingly mounted film is certainly worth your time – at least worth more than reading all the gossip about it. Whether you love, like or dislike it, watching a movie of this scale, design and feel isn’t an experience you get often in India cinema, and will certainly not get anymore if this film is doomed by the wrath of the internet and the curse of being Anurag Kashyap.
Do not let the internet kill Bombay Velvet. Do not let the internet kill movies.
In Bahrain (at home) for the next 3 months or so. This next phase of my life will be called ‘The Pursuit of Happiness’ . This sabbatical from my career and the madness that is Mumbai has been taken due to certain circumstances to do with the heart than the mind, but having had some time to reflect in the 2 weeks since my last day at MTV, I have come to realise this is possibly the most important decision I have taken in my life since the last one six years ago, when I decided to switch from engineering to media after graduating from NIT Kurukshetra.
I have always had trouble understanding why we conform to the notion of ‘the norm’ defined by our elders, or peers, or our education system, or our culture and traditions, or just generations of people doing the same thing over and over because it ‘works’, against the much underrated desires of our heart, and consequently, against better sense. Because when you think of it, what our heart ultimately desires is the various and glorious ways of finding happiness, whether through momentary joy from the fulfillment of a little wish or the complete and irrepressible exhilaration from achieving a big dream, or the continued and blessed bliss of being in the company of the people you love, or spending your days doing the things that are your life’s passion, the things that you care about and the things that somehow still matter in the chaos of all that is the world today. And if that doesn’t make sense, what does?
July marks six years since I shifted to Mumbai seemingly against all better sense or judgement, as defined by what constitutes ‘the norm’. I didn’t know anyone in the city, I had no ‘contacts’ or ‘network’ or any real understanding of how to go about getting what I wanted – and to be really honest, I didn’t even know what I really wanted. I wanted to write and create and ‘executive produce’ a TV show full of awesome, because Aaron Sorkin did that, but I didn’t even know what an executive producer does; all I knew was that it must matter somehow because Sorkin does it. I wanted to do something related to movies, because that was the only thing that ever come close to the definition of what constitutes ‘magic’ to me, but I didn’t know what I could possibly do because I never believed myself to be a magician. And I wanted to write, because when I write, I realise the full extent of what it is to be alive, to live, to breathe, to be; but I didn’t know what I wanted to write, or even if I really did want to write, because writing was what artists do, and I was a product of a system where conventional thinking teaches you that you will die poor and lonely and hungry, if you take up art.
I didn’t know what I really wanted to do, but I was pretty determined about what I didn’t want to do – and that is to spend the most magnificent hours of the day of my life in front of a computer in a cubicle, somewhere in an office filled with computers and cubicles, only because everyone else does it, because it is safe, because it pays, because someone told me to, or because it is ‘the norm’. Trust me when I say this, there were several times in these six years, where I lamented the fact that I wasn’t born as one of those fortunate enough to enjoy the 9 to 5 life because it fulfills them or because they actually have a passion that involves a computer and a cubicle. There were many times I regretted not being wired in a way where I could earn an honest living doing what so many others do, because I had got placed in two companies in NITK, and it would have been so easy to take up on one of those offers and spend a well-planned life in a well-planned way as part of a well-oiled machine that sees the life and death of so many others just like me, and none of them really ever seem sad. But my problem was, I didn’t want to live a life not being sad, I wanted to live a life being happy. And most importantly, I didn’t want to live a life with the regret that not only did I not have the balls to do what my heart really desires, but that I robbed someone who wanted the same life I didn’t want because that’s the life that would give them happiness, only because I took up their seat in that company I was placed in, just because it is THE NORM.
The six years since that decision have been the most fantastic years, because even when I had a horrible day at work, or a horrible week, or a horrible month or phase, at least it had happened in the midst of doing something I love, and that was always a reason to find a way to overcome it. But of course, these horrible times have been few and far between, and the universe has generally been overwhelmingly kind in these years, and even though I only had a vague idea of what I really wanted, I have somehow miraculously (to me) managed to create, write and executive produce in television and in the movies, and it has only led me to believe that if you listen to your heart and do what you love, you may just get what you really want.
But you know what’s funny about all this? I didn’t have these epiphanies about happiness during most of these six years because during this time, I was only following my heart because it made sense to me. And so, the achievement of these dreams at times was almost like a ruthless goal that I *had* to fulfill because I had many things at stake, and sometimes different things fuelled me at different times – that I had a degree I had no use of, that I had made a promise to my parents, that my batchmates were doing well in the field that I had left, that I had to pay the bills, that I had to ‘settle down’ at some point, and sometimes, just the fact that I had a lot of pride and not doing well wasn’t an option. All these things inspired me, yes, but it was only recently that I realised that while I did attain this intangible ‘happiness’ at the end of achieving a goal, all the time in between seemed lost to me. At one point of time, I had almost completely stopped being social, stopped speaking to or meeting friends, stopped giving time to my close ones, didn’t give a shit about my health (I ADMIT), because I was so driven to ‘achieve’ happiness, I didn’t really care much about being happy in between. Happiness seemed to be some sort of a destination to me, and I had to just focus and spend all my time and energy in trying to get there. I was really moving from one goal to another, one stop to another, doing all the right things, but for some of the wrong reasons.
So now, I want the reasons to be right too. There are many, many things I still want to do, and hopefully, I will someday get to do those things too, but right now, I am taking this break because I’m horrified at the thought that my parents and the majority of their generation all but chugged along from one goal to another, without a larger perspective of the things that really matter; just like I had been doing since the past six years because without realising it, I had somehow still managed to succumb to the norm in some small way. So I’m going to use these months away from the chaos of Mumbai taking care of my mother, spending quality time with family, working on my fitness (finally!!), planning the wedding (because it happens only once so it should happen properly and not for two weeks in between work projects) and of course, writing, writing and writing some more, because these are the things that really do matter. In the middle of all this, I’m going to try to accomplish little things that make me happy: like finishing the IMDB 250, getting back to reading fabulous books into the night, taking long walks and discovering new music along the way, blogging, reconnecting with old friends, ORGANIZING MY COMPUTER & MAIL, possibly learning a new language, taking in the sights and sounds of Bahrain again, and making sense of all the many things that I have really not had the time to understand all these years – from taxes to politics to shares to FCP to the macbook to what women really want (I’m prepared to fail). The six films I did at MTV will be releasing along the way and I’ll resume my journalism gig, but mostly, and as may be obvious from the length of this post, I’ll be writing a lot, so there’ll still be lots of updates from my end.
I don’t know when I’m going to go back to a ‘conventional’ job again, because over the next few months, even after this break, I want to ideally spend some time in figuring out what I can accomplish on my own, without having a brand to leverage. The possibilities are endless and I’m already excited at the thought of going back and finding a worthy cause to get consumed by, and for all I know, I may find the cause even before I go back. But whatever I do from now and everything I do from now, I know for a fact: it will be in the Pursuit of Happiness
I hate assholes. Those assholes who walk in the middle of the roads showing their hand to stop cars like they are Ironman or something. Those assholes who thrust their shopping carts in front of yours at supermarkets pretending they had no idea where the line is (Of course you wouldn’t, you are a DICK!). Those assholes who will inch their cars in front of you in between a traffic jam so they can overtake you when the light is green (And then I inch forward mine because, you know, Fuck you!). Recently, this one asshole came close to hitting a pedestrian because he was reversing and hadn’t cared to look in his mirror if anyone was behind him. And to top it all, when the pedestrian started shouting at him, the asshole started shouting back saying it was his fault!!
Umm.. that asshole was me. After the pedestrian moved on, I realised that because of the assholes around me, I’ve become an asshole too. I do my ‘Thank you’s to everyone who does something nice, but I am conveniently not nice enough myself, because ‘why should I be when no one is, right?’ Well, that’s a really shitty way of looking at life and I liked myself better before the city made me an asshole too. So I started this personal experiment.
From that day on, every time an asshole is stranded on the road because he/she is crossing in the middle of traffic, I stop and let them go. Whenever someone pretends that they didn’t know where the line started, I let them go ahead of me anyway. Whenever someone shoves their car in front of mine, I actually reverse my car a little so they can go straight ahead.
At first, I found it amusing to watch the surprised expressions of those people who would just be confused and perhaps even suspicious at what’s happening. ‘Why is this asshole being nice? That makes no sense!’ But for every one person who’d not care about someone being nice to them, there’d be three people who’d smile and say a polite ‘Thank you’. And you know what, there’d also be that odd person every once a while who’d actually feel guilty for being an asshole, and be nice back to me and let me go ahead!
Seeing them, I realised that just like me, they were being assholes because they too think that the only way of getting something done in this city is by being one. That there’s really no point in being nice anymore, because you’d ‘finish last’ like all nice guys do. But you know what? Just like me, they are wrong too. And I know that because they smiled. And I know that because I smiled back. And I know that what started as a random ‘altruistic’ experiment is now actually a very selfish one, because I feel SO GOOD by seeing them smile! I feel awesome every time I’m nice because not only when I give out a little goodwill, I’m getting quite a lot back.
And strangely, I’ve now started enjoying those frustrating drives in traffic jams. I’ve stopped losing my shit every time someone breaks the queue. I’m generally happier and calmer now because my mood does not depend anymore on whether people around me are assholes. Because I know it’s not really their fault: by being assholes ourselves, we have been breeding assholes in our city, and in our society.
I don’t know how long this will last (or if it’s the side effects of the drugging – all this started much before though), but I’ve started enjoying life in this ever-busy, overcrowded, always-in-a-hurry city just a little more. Give it a try… the world already has enough assholes.. and being nice is actually quite a lot of fun!
Note: This post was first published on September 24, 2013.
I don’t know if there’s anything I can say that hasn’t been said yet, but I do want to say it, because if we really want change, each one of us WILL have to speak out and demand it.
There is nothing that has depressed me more over the course of the past one year than the rape of that brave girl in Delhi and the events that followed – the never-ending apathy of politicians, the so-called “youth icons” of the country whose only contribution to the state of the country was posting fucking tweets when the girl die, the disgusting police that beat up young protesters, including women, for trying to raise their voices, and then the bloody ridiculousness of the debate against Honey Singh and the entertainment industry that has achieved absolutely NOTHING except successfully diverting attention away from the real issue.
Since then, I have read tens of accounts of girls and women from across our ‘mahaan’ country, who’ve admitted to being molested multiple times at multiple junctures of their lives by both unknown and known men. And I have felt ashamed, so very ashamed, and, at times, even guilty of being a man. Or at least being a man living in India, the country that celebrates the “spirit” of the people for moving on after every catastrophe, every tragedy and every setback, and has never in history confronted the damn problem.
Why do we move on? It can’t be because we *actually* think that we can’t do anything about the state of affairs? Of course we damn well can! If EACH one of us raises our voices in protest against every wrong, every crime and every injustice AT the time we see it happen in front of us, we CAN change things! When we see something wrong happen right in front of us, why do we naturally assume that if we intervene, we will get screwed in return and no one will come to our rescue then? Maybe, if we intervene, then 10 other people who were thinking the same thing will also intervene and we can together STOP wrong from happening? Maybe, if we intervene, then the person committing the wrong will never attempt at doing it again because the only reason he does it is because NO ONE EVER INTERVENES? Maybe, if we intervene, then the next time something wrong is happening to us, someone will intervene and save US?
But we still don’t intervene. Because we are scared that if something happens to us, what will happen to our families? Because if we turn a blind eye towards wrong, then perhaps, the moment we step away from the place it was happening, the world will become a beautiful place again and no one will ever do wrong? Because it’s not happening to us? Or because we have become a nation of sadists – we ENJOY it when something bad happens to someone else?
It’s not great living in India unless you are really rich, and even if you are, you still face issues like too much traffic, bad roads, WAY too many people, bureaucracy, nepotism, uncleanliness, harami politicians and the like. Very rarely do we find happiness on a day to day basis. And naturally, if there’s just SO much to be miserable about in our own lives, it’s good to know that the lives of others are just as miserable. Initially, it could be the small things we enjoy – if someone got stuck in traffic for hours, if someone trips and falls, if someone got pick pocketed, etc. But then, as we get older and we realise that the mess in this country isn’t really going to go away anytime soon, and we feel trapped and suffocated, this little harmless sadism starts manifesting itself in unhealthy ways. If someone is in a bad relationship and we aren’t, we are alright with it. If we someone got into police trouble and we didn’t, we don’t care. If someone loses their job and we don’t, we laugh behind their backs.
And this sadism is perhaps the strongest reason that when someone is getting beaten up, molested, abused, wronged right in front of us, the feeling we have is not one of pity or sympathy – it’s one of RELIEF and HAPPINESS – that ‘Thank God, thank the universe and thank our stars, that isn’t happening to me.’ We DON’T GIVE A SHIT about someone dying, instead we are HAPPY that we are getting to live on for another day.
We have become SADISTS, we have become INHUMAN, we have become HEARTLESS, INSENSITIVE, CRUEL, VICIOUS AND RUTHLESS. And we don’t bloody realise this, but in some way, OUR sadism is one of the biggest underlying causes of the crime, the wrongs, the injustice and the misfortunes that we go through as a collective culture and country. The brave girl may have been alive had an auto rickshaw driver agreed to take them when they were stranded. Or if a passerby had offered them a lift. Or even if, after she and her friend were abused on the bus and thrown out, a kind soul had stopped and taken them to a hospital. Or if, hypothetically, someone had stood up to the rapists the last time one of them had passed a lewd comment on a girl in front of us, maybe they wouldn’t have been so encouraged to go to such a length. Our sadism and apathy may not be the only cause that the brave girl met that fate, no, but it IS a cause and it is upto US to change it around. And there is NO DOUBT that things WILL change if we just… become more human. CARE. Be kind. Be nice. Be generous. Be compassionate. Or just, stop being be assholes.
When even the Indian middle class feels oppressed, can you imagine what the economically backward class must go through EVERY SINGLE DAY? With our many luxuries – the ACs, the clothes to keep us warm, a good meal every day, the ability to afford a movie in a multiplex, the ability to afford auto-rickshaws every day, the ability to afford a doctor or a hospital when we need it, the ability to live life in a way we generally don’t require a doctor or a hospital – even with ALL these luxuries, we fucking hate our lives. Then can you possibly imagine what someone who can’t afford even these basic things goes through? Can you possibly imagine HOW MUCH THEY HATE THEIR LIVES? And how badly they would want to change it all by hook, trying for years at end by toiling every single day, or by crook, when circumstances and situations sometimes just go out of control? And as if their pain, their despair, the bleakness of their existence isn’t enough to drive them crazy and possibly consider the option of SNATCHING happiness through “wrongful” means – WE TREAT THEM LIKE GARBAGE.
When was the last time we were kind to the beggar on the street? Or the eunuch?
When was the last time we asked your society’s watchman how he is, or smiled at him, or said ‘Thank you’ to him for staying up every night keeping you safe?
When was the last time we bothered to even ask the name of the person who came to deliver something we had ordered and thanked them for their service?
When was the last time we did NOT haggle for Rs 5 or 10 with your auto rickshaw driver or your sabziwala – and instead were happy to give them Rs 10 extra, because Rs 10 won’t make a difference to us but can *actually* help him?
When was the last time we behaved nicely and understandingly with the sales clerk in shops or stores, who would have obviously served you early but has multiple customers at every given moment, instead of being rude to him for “wasting your time”?
When was the last time we acknowledged someone who comes from a financially-backward household, for a job well done?
When was the last time we gave a good tip that we KNOW we could easily afford to someone who’s served you well?
When was the last time we forgave a genuine mistake by someone who is serving us not out of choice but because he was born in a home that wasn’t as affluent as ours, instead of abusing him/her?
When was the last time we were kind in general? Or nice? Or sympathetic? Or helpful? Or generous? Or compassionate? The last time we smiled at someone less prosperous than us, for no reason at all? The last time we acknowledged their efforts? The last time we said a mere ‘Thank you’ to them?
Now think of the last time we were in a luxury store or a five-star restaurant. What do we do when they fuck up? How do we treat the staff of these places? Do we abuse them or haggle with them or give small tips? Do we disrespect them or are impolite? NO. Because these are “respectable” places and we behave exactly in accordance to the norms of behaviour at respectable places. We want to show that we belong there, and hence, we are fucking gentlemen/ladies. But we are also the SAME people who’d not mind humiliating someone at a place without AC if they screwed up. Because “they deserve it” and because we don’t have the time or inclination to be nice to someone who we think is “lesser” than us. Why? Because “how does it matter?”
IT MATTERS. Not treating a fellow human being with respect or kindness or even basic politeness, is the FIRST step in the scheme of things spiralling downwards that result in heinous crimes. Disdain, disrespect and contempt for the service class may not make us bitter or unhappy or change our day or lives, but it may do exactly that for them. Each time we act like assholes, they would naturally wait for the time when the status quo has reversed and then THEY can be assholes to us. Why does the auto rickshaw driver refuse to ply? Why does the carpenter take SO much time to repair something? Why does the maid steal small things every now and then? It’s not THEIR values that are at fault here, it’s on US. And every once a while, these continued cases of treating the service class with derision will manifest in an unhealthy way in that one person, who has had enough, and there’ll be a crime that we could have avoided in the first place – a crime that is ON US. Respect is possibly the one thing ANY human being would strive for as much as money. If we can’t show basic humanity to everyone around us, then all the shit that happens around us – it’s on US. WE are to blame. If we are insensitive, inhuman and apathetic, WE ARE to blame. If we think of only ourselves when something wrong happens to someone else, WE ARE TO BLAME.
Because really, IT’S NOT HAPPENING TO SOMEONE ELSE. IT’S HAPPENING TO US. When the fuck will we understand that?! Every little thing that goes wrong around us that makes the world just a little worse, is fucking the future up for US. WE are now unsafe. OUR FAMILIES are in danger. Our children, our coming generations will suffer. If we don’t stop it, if we don’t speak out, if we don’t protest, if we don’t even LIKE, SHARE OR RETWEET something that is stark, hard hitting and depressing but can make someone less ignorant and if WE don’t change, we are putting OUR tomorrow at risk.
We could have stopped that brave girl from getting raped, had we not created the circumstances that led those rapists to believe that they can rape her and get away with it. It’s on US. We are to blame, and we need to take the responsibility and if we ACTUALLY give a damn, we bloody need to change RIGHT now, each one of us. We need to:
– TREAT our fellow human beings with respect, if we want the same from them.
– TEACH our children and our loved ones the importance of respect, towards everyone be it of any caste, community, background or gender.
– RAISE OUR VOICES whenever someone’s doing something wrong in front of us. If we are scared about what will happen to us, INFORM other people and RAISE OUR VOICES.
– STOP BEING indifferent. Our opinion MATTERS. If we think that something is wrong, we need to SAY IT OUT ALOUD. Put it on our statuses. Share it. Retweet it. Discuss it with everyone around us. MAKE OUR VOICES HEARD. The more people know the CLEAR difference between right and wrong, they will start changing too. OUR voices can help make people less ignorant and more aware of WHAT IS WRONG.
– THINK FOR OURSELVES. It’s really not that difficult!! If WE think that it is wrong to disrespect, abuse, slap women or treat them like shit, we need to STOP DOING IT. Even if we are in a place where the majority thinks that way or where people believe in some archaic traditions or superstitions or way of life that’s disgusting. Even if we are in the minority but WE know what we think is right, DO RIGHT. And then try to make others realise it is right too.
– STOP being an asshole to the service class, for any reason. They deserve our best behaviour as much as anyone at the same level or at a higher level than us does.
– BE NICE. It’s good to smile at others . It’s the least we can do to ease the pain and frustration that life routinely hands out to everyone. Smile, and we shall get one back, and great moments like these will make life better.
– BE KIND. Give away Rs 100 every day. It won’t kill us but it may make someone’s life a bit better. Open the door for someone. Carry someone’s bags if they can’t do it. Offer our seats to someone if they need it more. Give our old books or clothes away to the needy. Compliment someone if they deserve one. Be chivalrous. Be gentle. Kindness is infectious.
– SAY THANK YOU. Acknowledge everyone who’s done something for us. Don’t call people by their profession – no one wants to be called ‘waiter’ or ‘watchman’ or ‘driver’. Find out their names, greet them, find out about their lives if we can and wish them well. Don’t treat a human being who is not as affluent as us, as anything OTHER than a human being.
It’s a shit excuse that we can’t do anything to change the world. If we change ourselves and become more compassionate, and if each one of us does the same, then slowly and steadily the world WILL become a better place. And a brave girl would never again be subjected to a death so brutal. And A good place to start is: BE HUMAN.
Note: This article was first written on January 5, 2013