Movies · Time Pass

The Nostalgia of Antakshari

Does no one play antakshari anymore?

antakshariPlaying antakshari is one of the simple pleasures of life I miss these days. It is the remnant of times when you didn’t have 24/7 entertainment available and had to find ways of entertaining yourself. Perhaps also a remnant of times when people’s sphere of interests were limited and similar. Evening family gatherings in the inevitable absence of the treacherous electricity, cousins getting together during weddings and functions, and the attempts to enliven those homesick evenings in the school hostel – they are all associated with a lively game of antakshari. And who didn’t like Hindi movie songs?

Even though I call it a simple pleasure of life now, boy, was it a complicated affair? Rules were difficult to agree on. Are the “non-filmi” songs allowed? If allowed, just how far are you allowed to go? Can you go beyond the Hindi language? Albums? Bhajans? That classical song you learned in your music class? School prayers? Folk songs usually sung during weddings and functions?

And even after those boundaries were established, how would you know you were staying within those boundaries? Endless debates:

“You can’t sing that. Aye maalik tere bande hum is a school prayer, not a real song.”

“Idiot! It was sung in a film first. You school picked it up from there.”


“That song doesn’t start with ‘ha’.”

“What does it start with, then?”

“‘na’. It’s ‘Na jaane mere dil ko kya ho gaya…'”

Does an obscure sher before a song count as the beginning of a song, or is it to be ignored as a dialogue? What about all those “ho ho” or “aa ha aa ha aa ha” before the songs? Are Gulzar’s songs even songs?

As someone not very socially adept otherwise, antakshari worked for me. I excelled at it. I could pull out my special reserve of old Hindi movie songs to challenge the opponents of my age and win the approbation of the elders. For many of those songs, I knew nothing about them other than the first couple of lines, just enough to use them in this game. Years later, when I saw the picturization of some of them on YouTube, I was aghast. My mental model of what those songs should have looked like on screen was wildly different.

Two of my latest memories of playing antakshari are almost a decade or more old.

We played it in Lucknow, after our wedding, with a group of cousins. We stayed up almost all night. I and a younger cousin-in-law were pitched against each other, I with my repertoire of old songs, she with her collection of the latest ones. Almost nobody could challenge any of us on the correctness of our songs. We couldn’t challenge each other either. I had no idea that the songs she was picking up actually had any lyrics. And she didn’t know anything about the ones I was picking up.

Before that, I had played antakshari with my colleagues at Google, during a bus ride for a company offsite. The game ended when my own partner accused me of making up the songs I was singing! The song that triggered this betrayal went like this:

Ganga maang rahi balidaan
Yamuna maang rahi qurbani,
Aaj watan par jo mit jaye
Wahi hai sachcha hindustani.

Even today, I can’t find this song on YouTube or any other online sources. So, I can’t prove that I wasn’t making this up. I may misremember the lyrics, I definitely misremember the tune. But the song is real. I had heard it on Doordarshan – some old black and white movie.

At Navodaya, our teachers would rather have us play antakshari with Hindi poetry – not with those inappropriate “filmi songs” that corrupt the young minds. But poems were easy to run out of. And too academic. We always had other plans.

Whatever reserve of older songs I had, the first line of attack always consisted of those cringe-worthy, tacky songs of 90s. I suppose it is always the ones you grow up with.

With the light social gatherings focussed on parties and serious ones focused on books, antakshari has been pushed out of my life. The cosmopolitan nature of my friend circle also means that not everyone is a Hindi movie song buff. God knows I am not a language chauvinist, but antakshari doesn’t lend itself to language egalitarianism without spoiling the fun!

But if we do ever have a face-off in antakshari, do be prepared for songs like “dulhe ka sehra suhana lagta hai” and “roop suhana lagta hai, chaand purana lagta hai”. And remember “ho gaya hai tujhko to pyaar sajna” doesn’t start with “ha” and “sandeshe aate hain” starts with “ho o o o”, and hence with “ha”. Also, try not to descend into “Maine Pyaar Kiya” antakshari sequence.

Feminism · Thoughts

क्या #MeToo का जवाब भारतीय संस्कृति है?

ट्विटर पर #MeToo ने कहर मचाया हुआ है। कुछ लोग खुश हैं कि आख़िरकार हमारे समाज का भयावह चेहरा सामने आ गया है और आगे कुछ बेहतर होगा। कुछ लोग बहुत ही परेशान हैं और इन सब आरोपों के सबूत ढूँढ़ते फिर रहे हैं। कुछ लोग #MeToo में भाग लेने वाली महिलाओं को ग़लत साबित करने में, उन्हें गालियाँ और तरह-तरह की धमकियाँ देने में व्यस्त हैं। लेकिन थोड़े लोग ऐसे भी हैं जो कि बड़े आत्मसंतुष्ट हैं। ये संस्कारी लोग हैं। नहीं, नहीं, मैं आलोक नाथ का बिलकुल भी मज़ाक़ नहीं उड़ा रही! ये वे लोग हैं जिन्हें भरोसा है कि दुनिया में जो भी समस्याएं हैं, वे इसलिए हैं कि हम भारतीय संस्कृति से दूर होते जा रहे हैं। इसलिए उनका मानना है कि जो ये यौन शोषण और उत्पीड़न की घटनाएँ सामने आ रही हैं, वह भी इसलिए हैं कि हम अपने संस्कारों से दूर होते जा रहे हैं।

तो इसलिए मैंने सोचना शुरु किया कि क्या भारतीय संस्कृति के पास वाक़ई #MeToo का जवाब है?

(दरअसल मैंने अभी सोचना नहीं शुरु किया है, काफ़ी समय से सोचा हुआ है। लेकिन कुछ लोगों को शायद अच्छा लगे कि उन्होंने किसी को भारतीय संस्कृति के बारे में सोचने पर मजबूर कर दिया। इसलिए ऊपर ऐसा लिख दिया मैने।)

तो क्या भारतीय संस्कृति #MeToo का जवाब हो सकती है? कई पहलू हैं। एक-एक करके विचार करते हैं।

यत्र नार्यस्तु पूज्यन्ते रमन्ते तत्र देवताः

ऐसे कुछ-एक श्लोकों के साथ हमारा दावा यह होता है कि भारतीय संस्कृति नारियों की पूजा करती है, वह उनका अपमान नहीं कर सकती। अब इसपर शास्त्रीय बहस हो सकती है कि जो लिखा गया उसका क्या मतलब है? और क्या-क्या लिखा गया? उन सबको मिलाकर उस ज़माने के समाज की क्या तस्वीर बनती है। लेकिन मैं इस शास्त्रीय बहस में नहीं जाना चाहती। बस एक तुर्रा छोड़ देती हूँ कि जरा यह सोचिए कि नारियों के लिए खास कर के ऐसे श्लोक लिखने की आवश्यकता ही क्यों पड़ी? कई अन्य श्लोक भी हैं जिनमें नारियों को खुश रखने की गुज़ारिश की गई है। क्यों करनी पड़ी ये ख़ास गुज़ारिश? शायद इसलिए कि नारियों की हालत उस समाज में भी अच्छी नहीं थी।


लेकिन अगर मेरे तुर्रे से आप सहमत नहीं भी है तो कोई बात नहीं। क्योंकि तब क्या था इससे मुझे फ़र्क़ नहीं पड़ता है। आज श्लोक सुनकर किसका पेट भरता है? और पूजा किसे करवानी है? ढोंगी बाबाओं को अपनी पूजा करवाने का शौक होगा। एक आम इंसान को, स्त्रियों को भी, आम जीवन में सुख, शांति, खुशियाँ, स्वतंत्रता, सम्मान और जीने का हक़ चाहिए होता है। किसी जीते -जागते इंसान को देवी-देवता बनाना और पूजा के कमरे में बंद कर देना उसके साथ नाइंसाफ़ी ही होगी। भ्रूण-हत्या करने के बाद, ज़िंदा रहने दिया तो क़दम-क़दम पर उन्हें पीछे खींचने के बाद, उनके आने-जाने पर रोक-टोक लगाने के बाद, बाहर निकली तो उन्हें शर्मिन्दा करने के बाद, श्लोकों में नारियों की पूजा कर के हम कौन सा धमाल मचा देंगे?

नारियों की पूजा करने से नारियों का कोई भला नहीं होता है।

संस्कारी भारतीय पुरुष नारियों की रक्षा करते हैं।

क्यों करनी पड़ती है रक्षा? आप कहेंगे कि आज-कल ग़ैर-संस्कारी लोगों से करनी पड़ती है। लेकिन संस्कृति तो पुरानी है ना? और जिन जगहों पर सब पुराने संस्कारों वाले लोग रहते हैं, वहाँ ये बात और भी ज़ोर-शोर से कही जाती है। क्या दर्शाता है यह हमारे समाज की स्थिति के बारे में। पहली तो यह कि स्त्रियाँ सुरक्षित नहीं है। दूसरी यह कि उन्हें अपनी सुरक्षा करना सिखाया नहीं जाता।

इस विचारधारा का परिणाम ये होता है कि अगर कोई पुरुष नहीं है उसकी रक्षा करने के लिए तो ये मान लिया जाता है कि नारी खतरे में पड़ेगी ही। तो ये नारी की गलती हो जाती है कि बिना पुरुष की सुरक्षा के उसने कुछ किया या कहीं गई। नारी को सब शर्मिन्दा करते हैं। उसपर हमला करने वाले को कोई शर्मिन्दा नहीं करता।

यह कैसा समाज है? क्यों नारियों को इस विशेष सुरक्षा की ज़रूरत है। कितने भारतीय पुरुष आज की तारीख में प्रशिक्षित योद्धा हैं? आम पुरुष तो नहीं है। तो जहाँ इन पुरुषों को अंगरक्षक लेकर चलने की ज़रूरत नहीं पड़ती, वहाँ नारियों को इसकी ज़रूरत क्यों पड़ती है? आज के ज़माने में ज़्यादातर पुरुष युद्ध कर के अपनी रक्षा नहीं करते। उन्हें भरोसा होता है कि इसकी ज़रूरत नहीं है। समाज के नियम और देश का क़ानून उनकी रक्षा करते हैं। देश का, समाज का जो क़ानून इन पुरुषों की रक्षा कर सकता है, वह स्त्रियों के लिए काफ़ी क्यों नहीं है? और अग़र नहीं ही है तो बनाओ उसे और मजबूत।

भारतीय संस्कृति नारियों को सुरक्षा नहीं देती। पुरुषों को उनका रक्षक बनाकर वह इन सवालों से अपने हाथ धो लेती हैं। और जो पुरुष उन्हीं नारियों का शोषण करते हैं, उनके साथ हिंसा करते हैं, उन्हें भी अपनी ज़िम्मेदारियों से मुक्त कर देती है। बल्कि उन्हें अप्रत्यक्ष रूप से ही सही, बढ़ावा देती है, कि करो नारियों पर हमला। एक नारी ने बिना किसी पुरुष का सहारा लिए कुछ करने की कोशिश की है। तो उसे सबक सिखाओ और अपनी जगह दिखाओ।

और ऐसा नहीं है कि जिन पुरुषों को रक्षा की ज़िम्मा दिया गया है, वे ही भक्षक नहीं बन जाते। मुझसे बहस करते समय आप उन्हें ग़ैर-संस्कारी बता कर उनसे पल्ला झाड़ लेंगे। लेकिन तब भी असल जीवन में उन पुरुषों को भी कोई सज़ा नहीं देता। स्त्री को सब चुप करा देते हैं।

तो माफ़ कीजिए। पुरुषों को नारी की सुरक्षा का ज़िम्मा देकर भारतीय संस्कृति नारियों की रक्षा नहीं करती। बल्कि वह यह मान लेती है कि समाज नारियों के लिए सुरक्षित नहीं हो सकता। वह उनकी सुरक्षा की ज़िम्मेदारी लेने से इंकार करती है।

संस्कारी भारतीय नारियाँ ख़ुद को खतरे में नहीं डालती।

वे आधुनिक, कामकाज़ी नारियों की तरह पुरुषों से अकेले मिलने नहीं जाती, शराब नहीं पीती, इत्यादि इत्यादि।

कुछ समस्याएँ हैं इस तर्क में। एक ये कि जो नारियाँ ना बाहर काम करने जाती हैं, ना शराब पीती हैं, वे भी सुरक्षित नहीं हैं। अगर आप संस्कारी वातावरण में रहते हैं तो अपने आस-पास की घटनाओं पर भी थोड़ी गहरी नज़र डालें। ना ही आधुनिक समाज में सारे हमले शराब पी हुई स्त्रियों पर होते हैं। और शराब हो भी तो अगर एक शराब पिए हुए पुरुष के साथ कोई बदतमीज़ी नहीं करता, तो स्त्रियों के साथ करने की भी कोई वजह नहीं है। इस तरह के तर्कों को विक्टिम-ब्लेमिंग कहते हैं। यानि कि अपराध की ज़िम्मेदारी पीड़ित इंसान पर डाल दी जाती है, बजाय अपराधी के ऊपर डालने के। ऐसे तर्कों का एक आधुनिक, सभ्य समाज में कोई स्थान नहीं है। जो संस्कृति नारियों के हर काम में, हर बात में ऐब ढूँढ़ना चाहती है, उन्हें खुल कर जीने देने की बजाय उनके पैरों में संस्कारों के नाम की बेड़ियाँ बाँध देना चाहती है, वह #MeToo का कारण है, उसका समाधान नहीं। जेल में बंद होकर सुरक्षित रहना किसी का सपना नहीं होता। हमें घर में, सड़कों पर, ऑफ़िस में, बाज़ार में, बस, रेल या मेट्रो में, पार्टियों में, यहाँ तक की शराब वाली पार्टियों में, कहीं भी स्त्री-मात्र होने की वजह से असुरक्षित महसूस करना स्वीकार्य नहीं है।

जिस संस्कृति के पास इसका समाधान हो, वह अपना डंका पीटे। अन्यथा #MeToo को स्वीकार करे।

Feminism · Thoughts

Understanding #MeToo as a Revolution

When they are not paid trolls or a potential accused themselves, I pity the men earnestly and innocently asking after every #MeToo reveal, “But where is the proof?” and “What happened to innocent until proven guilty?”

They are struggling to understand what is happening. And in some cases, being too arrogant about it.

What is happening is a revolution. And revolution, by definition, doesn’t respect existing norms – social, moral or legal. It redefines norms. You can’t comprehend the new norms by using the old vocabulary.

Photo by Mihai Surdu on Unsplash

Another thing about revolutions is that they are messy. Don’t let neat paragraphs about all the revolutions in the History textbooks fool you. Once you get into the nitty-gritty, which those who are living the revolution have to compulsorily face, you wouldn’t be surprised if many people want to just crawl back to the predictable, old days, even if it was more oppressive. So many people, women included, are dealing with the loss of their heroes right now. I don’t even know what family members of the accused are doing to cope with it. Well, revolution doesn’t neatly skirt you to care for your cherished, little comforts.

An impactful revolution does not come out of nowhere. The dissidence builds over time. A few failed attempts usually precede the successful ones. Many martyrs are made before a successful person ascends the throne. As is resurfacing, it isn’t the first time that women have spoken out about the harassments. But they have been unsuccessful in getting redressal in past. Many have had to sacrifice their careers for their audacity. Other attempts at making it public and large-scale also didn’t take off. But now, the moment is there.

Why does a particular attempt succeed? Again, leave it to History textbooks to list down neat, lucid reasons. For those living it, it may not have succeeded, just like the earlier attempts. But somehow, this one time it did. Somebody made another attempt, and this time it caught on. You can be happy, you can be sad, you can be jubilant, you can be confused, you can feel whatever you want to, but the only actionable choice you have is to live it.

What happens now? Pretty unpredictable. Revolutions go in all kinds of directions. They almost never neatly lead to the world envisaged by the original revolutionaries. The almost never fully destroy existing power structures and horrors. They almost always bring new kinds of horrors. They often also result in splintering within the revolution.

The impact of #MeToo has been unprecedented because a significant number of people have stopped defending and started accepting the horrors of the situation and the current system’s inability to fix them. Almost for the first time abusers have been sacked or had to step aside. But here is the thing. One year down the line, many of them are likely to creep back. The power structure is still there, and it is still owned by men. I would like to see, however, that after creeping back, do they keep away from repeating their offenses? That would be something. And do others not yet outed learn their lessons and desist from now on? Does the definition of “cool” and “just a joke” and “just harmless flirting” change in workplaces?

One totally unintended and depressing outcome would be even more bias against hiring women. Because people don’t change that easily. All the existing biases against women will continue working, and now men in power would “fear” being “outed” for “even smiling at women”. So, no wonder if such people come up with the solution of not hiring women in the first place. If that happens, there is another fight to be fought.

A new kind of horror will, of course, be if too many innocent people are consumed by the fire that is spreading. There are a very small number of cases that look like it, but the attempts of high jacking the revolution by vested, conservative interests are obvious. I won’t worry too much about individuals trying to get personal vendetta out of it – I think those die down easily. But institutional bad faith can totally destroy it.

But even if that happens, a new norm has taken root and there will forever now be a tool to fight with. For those asking “What will come of it?” as persistently as the men mentioned at the beginning of this article asking “Where is the proof?”, it’s not going to become a gender-egalitarian world right away. So, don’t bother declaring it a failure because “x hasn’t changed” and don’t pretend to be wisely annoyed when another fight is started. Most of what has come out in #MeToo is the most horrible kind of outright sexual harassment and assault. If even those go down or are punished by the system, it will be a big success. But we haven’t even started on everyday sexism – the multitudes of ways in which women are denigrated and humiliated, the deliberate or unacknowledged biases that harm their careers and sense of self-worth, the thousands of ‘don’t’s and ‘can’t’s and ‘daren’t’s meted out every day! If we start calling those out at scale, nobody knows who will be left with any face to show at all. We have material enough for several more messy revolutions.

If you aren’t an abuser, congrats! Sit back, relax and make sure you don’t look the other way the next time an episode of harassment is going on around you. It might have been uncool, unsporting, puritan to protest it in past. Now you have the excuse of a revolution. And yes – stop being sexist in every other way too.

Feminism · Thoughts

All in a Day’s Work

Note: If while reading this you start wondering what is the point of my anger, please read this.

An IIT Kanpur alumnus was disgusted with the rotten language folks from his alma mater were using during a political discussion on social media. They had stooped down to the level of calling each other the most unsavory names. He posted about it on Facebook with screenshots from which, very wisely, he had redacted the names of the people involved.

Another alumnus thought it must be “ladies” in that conversation because “they forget everything once they get wild”. And he decided that his thought was sincere and important enough that he must give voice to it as a comment on a publicly shared post on Facebook. And he did. The question here is not whether the people using the unparliamentary language were women or men. My question is what if they were indeed women? Would it mean that this gentleman was justified in carrying this gender stereotype in his head? Okay, that was too gentle. Without resorting to swear words, this is the real question: Would it have made his outright misogyny correct?

I hope I don’t have to sweat it out to get a ‘no’ as the answer there. There would be individual women who lose it when they get wild. It doesn’t mean that it is a characteristic of the entire sex. Even if those foul-mouthed people were women, this guy in insanely misogynist and not at all aware of how rotten and dangerous his mind is.

Why dangerous? Because in a professional setting he would be in a position of power over many people (an IITK alumnus!). What happens when he is in a situation at work where there is a conflict among his subordinates and one of the persons in the conflict is a woman? Who would he automatically assume to be on the wrong, irrational side? Who would be assumed to have “forgotten everything” because “they have gotten wild”? What does it mean to the career prospects of women in the world where men like him are in power?

Reminder: If you are wondering why am I getting angry, please read this.

Are you dying to know whether the culprits in the original discussion were women or not? Well, what do you think? If it was a discussion among IITK alumni, which sex does the theory of probability favor for this honor? If in the face of such obvious clue as to the gender of the people involved, this person expressed an opinion like that on women, what would happen when he is in a position to pass judgment where women actually have a higher probability of being involved?

Anyway, after putting in a comment which was exemplary for its restrained rage (hey – nobody even preached me to be calm after that comment, nobody realized that I was snarky and angry!), I was trying to put all this behind me. But Rashtrakavi Dinkar intervened.

I am reading books on Indian history these days and picked up Sanskriti Ke Chaar Adhyaya by Dinkar. It is an interesting book and I was enjoying it. Then I came across these gems.



For those who don’t read Hindi, I am sorry. My rage is not sufficiently controlled right now to delve into translation. I will, perhaps, do it at some other time.

But there is a translation needed even for those who do read Hindi. Here is what the Rashtrakavi is saying: Women stepping out of home is the root of all evils. Men molest women because women step out. Men can’t get their work done because women step out. Whatever be the philosophy of life mankind holds, the place of women is inside the house.

And here is what is even more infuriating than his views. He was writing a book on History. He was basing it on already existing literature. He could have stuck to his analysis of what is known about our History. Yes, Buddhist traditions and texts hold that Buddha didn’t want to induct women in the Sangha. Yes, other historians he had read and quoted would have seen this as a reason behind the downfall of Buddhism. He could have stayed analytical and neutral, and just stated all that. But no! Read the judgmental language he adopts. He just HAD to let the world know what HE thought. He decided that it was important to announce to the world through a book on the history of Indian culture that women stepping out is a problem.

This was 1950. We were writing a constitution which gave women voting rights. It gave them the same personal liberty as men. It gave them the right to be wherever they wanted to be.

Obviously, our Rashtrakavi didn’t approve.

Finally, if you just can’t fathom what is the point of all this bitterness, read this.

Oh, one more thing. If you think this isn’t your fight, because you aren’t affected, maybe I should quote Dinkar for you:

समर शेष है, नहीं पाप का भागी केवल व्याध।
जो तटस्थ हैं समय लिखेगा उनके भी अपराध।

For translation, I need to get my rage under control!

P. S. We can’t go back in time and change the people of the past. Whether it was Buddha or Dinkar. Even if we were to invent some sort of a time machine, the laws of physics are likely to come in the way of changing the past in any meaningful way.  But people today can choose to work on recognizing their misogyny and consciously and actively fixing it. Saying the wrong things is pretty bad. Justifying them as ‘just jokes’ is even worse. Justifying them because your wife doesn’t object to them is insanity. But even saying the right things is by no means enough. Right action – now that is the real deal and the difficult one. Don’t trust me on this. Ask Lord Buddha!


Own Poetry Hindi


स्टूडेन्ट हो,
एक्टिविस्ट न बनो।
एक्टिविस्ट हो,
किताबें ना पढ़ों।

हिन्दू हो,
मीट ना खाओ।
मुसलमान हो,
पाकिस्तान जाओ।

सरकार के आगे
सर झुकाओ।
डेमाक्रेसी का
भाव ना खाओ।


Is Happiness also becoming a Rat Race?

It has happened more often than I like. I start getting passionate or agitated while talking about something and people interrupt with “Why are you angry?” Or “Why are you getting so agitated?” And worst of all “What is the point of being so unhappy?”

That usually succeeds in thwarting me. And I am left wondering: What is wrong in being angry, agitated or unhappy when there is something worth being angry, agitated or unhappy about?

Photo by Andre Hunter on Unsplash

What can I say, I am guilty of talking about happiness repeatedly in my talks on entrepreneurship. The gist of those has been that you don’t take your career decisions based on what the society tells you is the right thing to do. You do what makes you happy.

But I would like to believe that I wasn’t advocating this strange fetish with happiness which delegitimizes any emotions that are considered negative. This isn’t a pursuit of happiness through your choices and actions. This is advocating closing your eyes to anything that can cause distress. Sometimes it is couched in a language that makes it seem more profound than that, but it is essentially asking you to look the other way. This is delusional. And worse, there is a peer pressure to embrace this delusion.

Anger, agitation, unhappiness are perfectly legitimate emotions. If we didn’t feel them, we wouldn’t be human. And feeling them might be the only way to becoming humane. When the world is unjust, unfair, unequal, exploitative – and smug in all of these – we should feel angry. And then, perhaps by speaking out against it and doing something big or small to counter it, we may be able to find our bit of happiness. It may never be perfect. The happiness and peace we seek may never come. Still, being delusional is not more legitimate than being angry or agitated or unhappy.

So, now, I want to put my foot down. Why am I angry? Because of what I was trying to tell you about as I got angry. What is the point of this unhappiness? That it is for a legitimate reason and I am not closing my eyes to it. Happiness can go to hell if a delusion is the only way to achieve it. Be angry, dear world. Be angry, because you should be. Too much is wrong with you. And then perhaps you can try doing something about it.

I don’t give entrepreneurship related talks these days. But if I have to, I will update it. Yes – don’t pick up a career because of peer pressure or rat race. And don’t force yourself to be happy because of peer pressure or rat race either.

Note 1: I hope it is clear but in case not – this article is not about wallowing in self-pity or self-loathing or being paralyzed by a sense of victimhood.

Note 2: It is also not about a situation where you may have a clinical problem like depression. If that is likely to be the case, I strongly advise seeking professional help. There is nothing wrong with that.


Liberalism is Defeated. Long Live Liberalism!

Note: I am talking of political and social liberal ideas, not economic liberalism.

We should all be tired of being outraged every time liberal values are trampled upon. Outrage is meant for the exceptions. It is tiring for what is no longer an exception. Liberalism is defeated in India (and elsewhere, one could argue, but let’s limit the scope to India for the purpose of this article). The state is coming down hard on its citizens and the privileged majority is cheering on. Individual’s rights, liberty, freedom of expression, right to dissent are being frighteningly delegitimized.

Photo by Elijah O’Donell on Unsplash

No, let’s not fool ourselves that it’s a minor setback. Let’s not pretend that there is one screw gone loose in the system and once it is tightened we will again start marching down the liberal road. That’s not how it is. It’s a fundamental shift away from liberalism. It is one kind of a thing when the disadvantage of poverty is pitted against the disadvantage of being a Dalit. It is one kind of thing when the unemployed youth get taken in by nasty propaganda. It’s not right, but it is understandable. It has nuances which a poor and unemployed person, who is struggling to find a toehold, may not be willing to indulge in. It is one thing for all of this to happen. But it’s quite another what is happening now.

A middle-class person, who hasn’t suffered hunger, who has a decent roof over his head, who has no contacts with Dalits or Adivasis, who hasn’t been affected by communal riots (not in many years, at least), whose children are well-settled and hold good jobs, whose grandchildren are being brought up in relative prosperity and aren’t exactly lusting after the government jobs of the future, that person is convinced that he is a victim. He is not grateful for or proud of all he has. He is a victim. A victim of reservations, a victim of Muslim appeasement, a victim of Maoists (he has never encountered a Maoist). And while we humans always tend to find someone else to blame for the slightest of our miseries, it wouldn’t have been acceptable to turn that blame into this appalling sense of victimhood a few years ago. But now it is. And that thought is so comfortable, that it is well-nigh impossible to eradicate it. It. Just. Works. What is more, it works for those children and grandchildren too.

No wonder, liberalism is defeated.

This means a fundamental shift in how an average liberal person navigates the world around them. We knew that liberal values were not always practiced, but in certain spaces, nobody could have opposed them in principle. So, when the practice differed from principles, you could scoff, outrage, point out the divergence and hope that over time, as you point out and fight against more and more such hypocrisies, they will be fixed. Hence the world will become more liberal, even in practice, as the time passes.

That assumption of the theoretical acceptance even in the face of practical divergence is no longer valid. So, the task has moved fifty or hundred years back. The theory itself needs justification now. The ideas need to be sold all over again. The principles that we had assumed were well-accepted, need to be argued for all over again. Scoffing at diversions would be meaningless.  Imagine the reformers of the early 20th century who would have had to argue even with the most educated of the upper-caste people that untouchability was bad. And they would have had to argue that from a position of weakness. Well, we are back to that situation in the 21st century. Depressingly, in some cases, the issues may exactly be the same as they were 100 years back. In some cases, they may take a different form. But we have to start from a position of weakness, in even getting the principles to be accepted. We better eat that humble pie.

What it also means is that its a long journey all over again. The victory was never complete. But all the gains have been reversed as well. Even if the political power equation changes in the short-term, this beast of social conservatism has been legitimized and unleashed. Political overlords of any denomination are not going to challenge it.  They will only seek to utilize it. The only hope from electoral politics is that some balance of power is maintained with changing governments so that no one group can continue to inflict damages unchecked. The social fight is going to be long and repetitive. And also thankless. Let’s brace for that. Somebody may yet live to see the tides turn.