“Buy a phone which supports Wassap,” said a student friend and added, “Then we can be in regular touch.”
On another day I heard another student friend telling one of her classmates, “Join Wassap. Its easy to be in touch with it.”
On both occasions the same jingle rang in my mind, the jingle of the Airtel ad which has the line, “Internnet hai toh friendship hai.”
On my birthday last year, to my surprise, a dear friend who had not been in touch for long called at the stroke of midnight. I asked my friend why was she absconding from my world and my friend after giving a series of explanation on how hectic work is and what not said, “I have a BB now so I do not even come on gtalk.”
That was the first time the jingle had hit me on my head.
Why these incidents that I quote disturb me is because not just that our relationships are operating only in virtual space and are becoming technologically driven but how relationships are being defined by technology and how the condition of our times has pushed relationships to a level where relationships also become a tool to sell products and inject consumerism, in the hands of a market driven society.
By equating the idea of friendship with a product what has been done is that first of all products are being sold in the wrapper of friendship making the human quality of friendship a tool to sell and then making friendship depend on the item being sold. So what happens is that eventually the wrapper gets its value only because of what is wrapped inside and wrapper becomes a dependent on the item being sold though in the beginning, it was only a tool to sell the product.
Mixing the need of man- human touch- and greed- material requirements- what market has done is disturbing. Edward Bernays in his book Propaganda had said that better than selling a piano by going to the customers and asking them to buy the piano is to create a situation like say, creating a belief that piano is a marker of a standard house, and make the customers themselves come to the seller and by their own will buy a piano. In a similar fashion the slogan “Internet hai toh friendship hai,” has created the <rather voiced the already existing> mindset that certain products are necessary for maintaining relationships. So with that mindset in operation now for the sake of those relationships the products are being sold and advertising happen by word of mouth method.
These products are very class specific. So what happens, also, is that our social circles become too restricted to a particular class. If I don’t have a BB or on Wassap I will, slowly, I will move out of your social circle and if you are not an internet literate you will slowly move out of my social circle. These products, without our knowing, marks its own inclusion and exclusion which is class driven.
What market driven society has done to us, is beyond our imagination. It reveals its ugly face when we feel an emotional loss and suddenly realize that the loss, to a great extent, was caused because of not buying a product. But to blame those ‘friends’ who want you to be on Wassap or buy a BB to be in touch also appears meaning less. You are asked to “upgarde” yourself because market has equated the idea of friendship and some products.
Shaken by the crowd of lakhs of people at the funeral of Bal Thackrey I have decided to write this post. To see so many people at the funeral was like seeing the mindset of the larger chunk of society. It was scary to say the least. The so called artists from the cinema industry expressed their views about the departed soul and made a martyr of the man who passed away. Social media was flooded with opposing views but what happened to views opposing the dominant feeling was reflected in the arrest of two in Mumbai. What the dominant view kept repeating in praise of the departed soul was that he boosted the Marathi pride! What happened in its name was intolerance for non-Marathis and attacks on them. What happened in its name was regionalism. What happened in its name was communalism. What happened in its name was terrorism. As these thoughts passed through my mind I asked myself if there was anything in the city of Mumbai itself- its sociology and economics- which gave birth, in a historical circumstance/ juncture, to Bal Thackrey. While answering the question, to myself, without any success for a strange reason I remembered my hometown and remembered a couple of instances which had reflected to me the rise of regionalism, intolerance towards the ‘outsiders’ intertwined with fascism. So here I just recollect those two stories which reflect the rise of a certain kind of regionalism, intolerance towards ‘outsiders’ from the international educational town named Manipal, my hometown Manipal.
For those who do not know Manipal, it is a small town in coastal Karnataka known for its medical services and its educational institutes where youths from all over the world come to study. Coastal Karnataka is the heart of Hindutva fascism and its experimental laboratory. Surrounded by these communal forces, a town named Manipal has existed as one of the most liberal and modern towns of India, for its student community.
December 2010. After the convocation of some of my students and some of my friends, late in the night few friends- four guys and two girls- were sitting by the Manipal lake. It must be around mid night that two guys came on a motorbike and asked us, in half baked English, who we are and what were we doing by the lake late in the night. We counter questioned, in Kannada, who they were and why was it important to know who we are and what were we doing there at that ungodly hour. On hearing Kannada the two mellowed down a bit, but still hanging on to their aggressive approach, said, “We dint know you were Kannadigas,” and asked, “Where are you from? Bangalore?” We, being aware of our strength (four plus two) over them (two) declaring that we were “localities” we asked why was it important for them to know. When we asked this one among the two asked, “Do you know who we are?” Going a step backward we asked who they were and the answer came, “We are from the media.” We had gone a step backward because we thought they might be from the police. But on realizing that they were not from the police but from the media, which we also were a part of and were very familiar with, we roared, “We too are from the media. Tell us which media are you from?” The two were still holding on to their aggressive approach and one among them took the name of a newspaper for which one of our friends (one among the four standing there) was working for as a reporter. Our friend took out his press card and showing it to him said, “I too am working for the same newspaper. I have never seen you there. Which department are you from?” On seeing the identity card the other person mellowed down completely and took our friend to the side requesting him, “please come to the side I need to talk to you.” As he took our friend to the side, we got a bit scared because the two were behaving very aggressively. One among us went with this friend of ours and the other person who claimed to be an employee of the same organization that our friend was working for. As they went a bit far from us the other person who was still in an aggressive mode, taking the name of an editor of a tabloid, asked us if we had heard about that editor. On hearing the name I said, “Yes and he is a friend to me.” “I worked with him,” he said. “So?” we asked to which he said, “Don’t you know that you shouldn’t be roaming around in this place at this time?” It angered us and we asked, “Is there any such rule? What authority do you have to instruct us this?” He then claimed that the police had informed them that a bunch of students were sitting by the lake. Before we could ask him why the police had to inform them, his friend came back, with our friend and said, “They are our own people. Its ok,” in Kannada, and then turning to us said, “We thought you were students from outside. Sorry,” and with his friend made a move. We asked our friend what did that man say taking him to the side. To our surprise this man who claimed to be from the media and said he worked for a particular newspaper was from the printing section of the newspaper and on the sidelines had asked our friend to not mention about this incident to anyone in the office. Another friend said that he saw “Jai Sri Ram” written on the bike.
Notes on story one: Why did the two have a problem with us sitting by the lake? Why did they mellow down on knowing that we were Kannadigas? Even after knowing that we were Kannadigas why did they want to know if we were from Bangalore or localites? Why did they claim to be from the media? Why did they say that the police had informed them? Did the police really inform them? What is the connection between media, police and these vigilante groups? What did they mean by “outside students”? What would they have done if it were to be “outside students”? What would have happened if we were not to be Kannadigas, localites and from the media? What gives them the strength to two individuals to come and bark at six individuals? What insecurities make them bark? How many “outside students” have been victims of such inspections by self declared polices?
November 2011. A friend and I walked back from Udupi to Manipal and as we reached Manipal at the Tiger Circle we saw a huge group surrounding a car. On going close we saw a group of men slapping a boy left and right, hardly. As they slapped hundreds of people around Tiger Circle watched the show. On a closer watch my friend told me, “Sir, he is from our institute.” I immediately called the Director of the institute and informed him that his student was being hit black and blue by random people in the heart of the town. The Director asked me if the University patrol was there. On saying “No” he said he would inform them. While waiting for the University patrol to come I asked a person in the crowd, who I knew, what the matter was and he informed me that the boy while driving the car had hit a man who got injured. The boy had not even stopped to see what had happened and drove ahead. The people caught hold of him, by stopping the car and were beating him black and blue. As I collected the ‘story’ the group of men who were hitting the boy, took him somewhere and the crowd dispersed. It scared me. Calling a few other friends who were the classmates of the boy who was being hit, I went near the police station to see if the group of men had taken the boy to the police station. On reaching the police station we see that the police station is calm, quiet and also peaceful. It scared us even the more for we did not know that where the boy was taken by the violent men who, in the presence of hundred of people, were hitting him hard. Then one of his classmates said, “They might have taken him to the hospital where the man who he hit with his car is admitted.” We all left for the hospital and on reaching the emergency ward we saw again a huge group of people surrounding the boy. The Police was called and the police after making some notes called the University patrol and left. The boy was again in the hands of the people who were barking at the boy. As we went close to the crowd we heard the men surrounding the boy saying, “You people come from outside and spoil the peace of our town. Your parents work hard and earn money and you kids not just spoil your health with alcohol and drugs but also spoil the culture of our place.” The crowd kept repeating the words “outsiders” and stress was always laid on “you people ,” “us,” and “our”. They also kept complaining about how the life of the localites has become “miserable” because of the “outsiders” who come to study at Manipal. As they were all barking at the boy he was trying to defend himself. The moment he would start speaking a few in the crowd would bark again asking him to speak not in English but said it was “ok” if he spoke in Hindi. But a strict NO to English. One man also told the boy that it was difficult to walk with his daughter on the road because the outsiders have no sense of dressing and behaving in the public. He had also given some discourse on western culture being brought into the town by the “outsiders” which has spoilt tradition of the place of Sri Krishna (Udupi). What all of this had with the accident nobody knows.
As all of this was happening the doctor asked the patient party to pay some bills for some medicine and the crowd asked the boy to bear the hospital expenses of the man who was hit by the car. The boy went in to pay the bills and at that point half of the crowd disappeared. At the same point we asked the doctor if the patient was fine and the answer shocked us. The patient had a small wound in his leg which did not even demand a single stitch! The patient was in no danger. He was fine. It was not a major accident at all. But the crowd hit the boy so badly as though he had killed somebody in the accident. The crowd disappeared and only a lady in a faded saree was left there. She was the wife of the man who was hit by the car. She was seen there from the beginning but had not spoken a single word until then. Even after the crowd disappeared she spoke nothing. The crowd did not even seem to know who she was. She was not related to the crowd nor was the crowd related to the lady or the patient.
Notes on story two: Silence. Numbed silence.
Do I see any difference between the lakhs of people who attended the funeral of Bal Thackrey and the unknown faces of Manipal who I encountered in the above mentioned two incidents? The idea of “outsiders” and “sons of soil”/ “locaties” are the same. The stress on language and culture is the same. The idea of ‘pollution’ of tradition and culture by ‘outsiders’ is also similar. The intolerance of people appears to be similar. The aggressiveness is similar. The violent behavior is similar. The victimization is similar.
No negative report of Manipal comes in the media. The rise of regionalism, fascism and intolerance in Manipal will never be reported. But someday, it appears this rise of intolerance and aggression against the “outsiders” will lead to something unpleasant.
Once while discussing about the Marathi intolerance towards non-Marathis, the context of Shiv Sena politics, with a friend who was with me in Manipal and is now with me in Pune I mentioned the above mentioned stories, listening to which he said, “Manipal is like a ticking bomb and any day it might explode.”
Pray, nothing of such happens. Pray, the rise of regionalism, fascism, intolerance towards “outsiders” doesn’t breed any Bal Thackrey in Manipal. Pray, diversity is celebrated in Manipal. Pray, Manipal welcomes all the world and makes them feel at home always.
But the rise of intolerance, regionalism and intolerance towards “outsiders” in Manipal sends a chill down the spine as I continue to wonder how could the funeral of Bal Thackrey be attended by lakhs of people, how could the so called artists praise him sky high and feel “orphaned” by his death, how could so many people endorse and subscribe to what he stood for. In my mind I can’t figure out where, in my mind, Mumbai is ending and Manipal is beginning.
Cry, my beloved Manipal!!!
Late in the night we enter the compound. Next to the appartment we have to go another appartment is being constructed within the same compound. Its on the edge of the town on a small hill. From there the view, especially in the night, is amazing as the neighbouring town appears like a reflection of the sky and stars because of the innumerable lights of the town. To take a glipmse of it we move to the edge of the compound, slightly far from the appartment we want to go and close to the appartment being constructed. I climb on a heap of jelly stones to catch a better glimpse and my climbing disturbs the silence. I slip, slightly. My two friends turn back and say, “careful”.
As I try and regain my balance my eyes go to my right, inside the half built new appartment, and I see a girl in her late teens waking up, in fear and looking at us fearfully. I realize she is one of the construction workers who sleeps at the site of construction. Next to her is her brother- I guess- who is in deep sleep. The sound of the jelly stone doesnt wake him up. But wakes her up. She shifts her view and sees two more men next to me. The fear in her eyes is unexplainable. Her look screams silence. Suspicion nested in her eyes. She slowly gets up holding the faded balnket tightly she walks into the darkness, away from our visibility.
Those fearful eyes still haunts me. I still havent been able to regain my balance completely.