Hurt and mediocrity in India – Gautam Sen

Mediocrity

Dr. Gautam Sen“Everyone in India today is in constant danger of being hurt both maliciously and inadvertently. Sikhs, Muslims, Christians, numerous disadvantaged minorities and the majority itself have all cast caution to the winds. Books are banned, priceless libraries ransacked and effigies burnt because hurt is stalking the land. And the Internet traffic buzzes with constant indignation. As the political reward for suffering hurt rises the desire to meet the parameters to qualify as a putative victim grows proportionately.” – Dr. Gautam Sen

HurtIf India ever implodes in self-destruction, which seems all too likely with its wobbly political fortunes, its epitaph must surely be ‘hurt feelings of the aspiring mediocre’. Along with the rise of its kaleidoscopic caste politics, insane motoring habits, software exports, the phenomenon of easily hurt feelings has come to occupy centre stage. In every nook and corner lurk potentially hurtful events and a people ever ready to proclaim their hurt to the world. Words have become dangerous weapons and people who boldly wield them minors in need of protection from their imponderable dangers.

And all the while the public sector in mediocrity grows by leaps and bounds to challenge a competitive globalisation in which only quality can survive. India has rediscovered its ancient heritage, which was being woefully challenged by two decades sleepwalking towards the awfulness of something akin to national success. But among the ancient civilisations, India alone has a millennia of experience snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

Almost everyone in India today is in constant danger of being hurt both maliciously and inadvertently. Sikhs, Muslims, Christians, numerous disadvantaged minorities and the majority itself have all cast caution to the winds. Books are banned, priceless libraries ransacked and effigies burnt because hurt is stalking the land. And the Internet traffic buzzes with constant indignation. As the political reward for suffering hurt rises the desire to meet Mamata Banerjee on herself!the parameters to qualify as a putative victim grows proportionately.

Quasi-professional experts now scour word and deed daily to identify calumny. And as the mere anxiety at the thought of suffering unwarranted hurt grows exponentially the vehicular traffic that must carry it, those awfully dangerous creatures, ‘words’, become objects of unspoken loathing. Words are feared, best avoided, if at all possible, and surely handled with utmost care. But a suspicion nags that causing hurt is also the best strategy to obtain vast publicity at no cost. The circle is thereby closed in an unspoken conspiracy to cause alleged hurt, prompting a profitable outcry, while the free publicity also benefits the instigator that caused it in the first place.

In the land of Sukumar Ray its people have aptly embraced nonsense as their identity. Indeed, nonsense is a loaded term in India, treated by many as a hateful noun, just as relatives do not announce a death in the family, but solemnly ‘inform’ it has occurred. Tragic events are invested with a comedy of manners since the truly serious event in India needs to find expression in English. The vernacular will simply not do. Mr. Gupta’s sweetmeat shop is perfectly able to buy a whole page to advertise the seriousness of the death of his wife’s second cousin thrice removed. He has arrived and it is to inform that he has no compunction in spending his untaxed income.

Indian EnglishWords have lost their meaning from unrelenting misuse and a new language is required to re-charge communication, to give substance to dialogue. But destroying the language of the erstwhile coloniser will be India’s contribution to history: the cannibalistic destruction of words and language by mugging them non-stop. This grand corruption of language would possibly legitimise action in the International Court of Justice by the rest of the world’s English-speaking community for crimes against humanity. After all, licensed products cannot be misused on such a grand scale and someone out there must be feeling hurt.

Yet some minorities have proved resistant to this contagion of hurtfulness, almost engaged in hushed mockery of other ‘hurted’ communities by sanguine indifference to the centrality of hurtfulness in contemporary Indian culture. Parsees and Jews, who can admittedly ‘out-minority’ any minority in paucity of numbers, remain carefree. Are they proclaiming their ‘non-Indianness’ by this spectacle of high-mindedness? Is it a case that they are a cut above the rest simply because they are smarter, better educated and possibly richer? Surely, legislation is called for to curb this challenge to mediocre self-regard.

Mediocrity Is it not the case that mediocrity has been legislated by parliament itself as the defining feature of being an Indian? Has not parliament decreed the end to decent schooling that dares nurture relatively impecunious but gifted middle class children whose parents mortgage their entire lives to pay for their education? A state that has signally failed over 66 years to assure schooling, emphatically echoing the rural employment guarantee scheme, providing an income without the obligation to work, still has the temerity to rob them of educational opportunity. Have the IIMs and IITs, which could remit vast foreign earnings by going abroad, not been shunted back into a siding, insisting that students, who will become the highest paid in the land in no time, can only be charged ridiculously low fees? Is this not the illiterate mantra of both Hindutva and secularism?

A destitute national legislature, heaving with senseless rhetoric and guardian angel of the mediocre and the hurt, has set in motion an unstoppable downward spiral of reservations. The inevitable logic of the ugly politics of swinging educational reservations is the end to what remains of any pretence of academic excellence in India. Is the insane outcome of the certified, sans actual professional skill, not already wreaking havoc in medicine and other professions? The maligned upper castes, irrespective of actual socio-economic circumstance can go hang themselves or slog over international tests to escape their benighted land. The ineluctable logic of private sector Caste-based Reservationsjob reservations must follow since it is easier to re-locate to Sri Lanka, southern China, even Pakistan, than navigate India’s political morass.

A moment’s reflection will unravel the source of a dastardly challenge to this national purpose in cultivating mediocrity and identifying hurt. The freewheeling entrepreneurs of Bangalore constitute an ever-present danger to contemporary national culture by their very success, befuddling its noble purpose by their own contrary examples. In a world understood by Kafka and made flesh by Joseph Stalin the midnight knock and their unexplained disappearance is becoming an imperative. The Reddys, Murthys, Premjis and Shaws, who have succeeded internationally, unlike entrepreneurs who have merely carved a niche in the national market through political patronage, cannot be allowed to endure. Thankfully, sages of India’s politics, whose solitary memorable achievement was to get elected, have risen manfully to the challenge of silencing dreamers who dared to infuse hope and succeeded in showing it can be made real.

Public debate in India has entered the realm of impenetrable allusion. Nothing is quite what it seems and subterranean nuances course through utterances. Professional commentators alone can grasp the intended meanings and reportage confuses the uninitiated. Such lesser mortals are condemned to guesswork and engage in phantasmagoric speculation. Yet legislative provision makes it necessary to apprehend the potential meaning of words and deeds since innocent intention alone will not suffice to stave off arrest for causing offence. The victims of hurt are everywhere and Hurt Feelings Reportwatchful of infringement of rights bestowed by their Kafkaesque empowerment.

And yet there will have to be further legislation to institutionalise mediocrity because far too many Indians are surreptitious autodidacts, aided by determined parents who foolishly foresee upward mobility in the crass idolatry of Saraswati worship. The contradiction is too glaring to be resolved by reserving educational places and jobs alone. The elite scum will rise to the top, swotting beside roadside lamps, devouring dated textbooks and accomplishing prodigious feats of memory inherited from an ancestral tradition. In the end, like the Jews, they must be forced to wear identifying attire and if need be expelled or extinguished.

» Dr Gautam Sen has taught Political Economy at the London School of Economics.

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