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26 Nov, 2015

Aamir Khan and the Incredibly Intolerant Indian

by Punam Mohandas

Shoot the messenger (for f***s sake, that’s a figurative statement; don’t get your knickers in a twist!) by all means, but the message still remains. One refers of course, to the latest controversy rocking India, which doesn’t seem to have much on its plate at the moment (poverty? Fiddlesticks. Female foeticide? Pah. Rapes? Bah. Racism/ religious intolerance/ inept leaders/ collapse of a social and moral structure? Not us. Bihar? Teri maa ki!) which is how a thought thoughtlessly uttered in public by a Bollywood actor has gripped the nation in fevered debate.

Mind you, I am not speaking out in “support;” I am merely doing what I do so well, i.e. speaking my mind! In my extremely humble opinion, Aamir Khan has only voiced what I would wager most of the Indian middle class is thinking – our country ought to be safer for us, its citizens, man, woman, child or cow (sic!) How many are honestly not apprehensive about the current intolerant cultural wave in the country? And what percentage haven’t had the teeniest-weeniest thought cross their minds that perhaps a better Utopia awaits elsewhere? It is just that we think…and we discuss among friends…whereas Aamir was injudicious enough in letting the thought cross from his mouth to the public’s ear.

AK is not just a Bollywood celebrity but the man with the Midas touch; he overthinks so much in meticulous preparation that we blindly go to see his movies thinking he has thought through the script (although ‘Dhobi Ghat’ taught me the error of that thinking!) And so just because he is perceived as a “thinking” actor we now want to crucify him because we do not agree with his thinking – because it is not aligned with our thinking. Grow up, friends, Indians, countrymen. Aamir Khan was hailed for his ‘Incredible India’ ad campaigns and is now being jettisoned for daring to say we are intolerant; are we such morons that we cannot distinguish between the idiot box and how a person would react in his real life? What exactly has he said? That his wife doesn’t feel safe in India, worries about their child? Can we take a collective deep breath and put the remark in its proper context – that perhaps he was gently hinting to the present government that aal izz not well – instead of offering him free passage to purgatory?!

Punam Mohandas

Punam Mohandas

I think it is really deplorable how some people, including certain sections of the media, are harping on the point that this Muslim man has a Hindu wife (some even jeer he had two Hindu wives) and still says India is unsafe. Whoaa – really below the belt, that one, well done, Indians, so (not) proud of you! Those people who are wearing blinkers about the current social environment in the country need to be on the race track, not in the mainstream! So India is safe, ehh? Fine, I dare you – let your wife wear a sleeveless, backless short dress (actually, even a backless sari blouse will do) step out for dinner with her girlfriends, walk down a quiet little alley in search of that flavor-of-the-month gourmet restaurant and then order a steak tartare.

This is also where I begin to trot out that old hat about every Indian’s constitutional right to freedom of speech. Adding fuel to that fire are faded actors like Rishi Kapoor, Paresh Rawal and Anupam Kher who are firing Twitter salvos at the beleaguered Khan, thereby exercising their constitutional right to speech and criticism too! (Social media has much to answer for, for the way in which it has buggered up our mental processes and our social skills!) Although Khan has also mentioned that: “For any society it is important to have a sense of security,” I fear he mispronounced his words and meant to say: “maturity!” He went on to state that the remark was made out of a sense of despondency; a point the AK bashers seem to have overlooked in their zeal to label the actor as “Pakistani” and “traitor.” Erm, have any of the tolerant Indians presently indulging in this misplaced “patriotism” stopped to consider how intolerant they sound?! To all such I would quote the Bible (well, we’re doing quite well with the Hindu-Muslim angle thus far!) “He that is without sin among you, let him cast the first stone.”

In fact, I would venture to say kudos to Aamir Khan for being the Lone Ranger; for swimming against the tide and speaking out his mind presumably fully aware he was going to get it in the neck from all sides. What we are overlooking in all the emotional atyachaar of the moment is that if such a well-paid, hugely successful public figure can express apprehension at the intolerant and unsafe society presently prevalent in India, then we are in a pitiable state indeed, ‘coz what of us mere mortals??

I have also been incredibly (sic) aghast and ashamed to read of how people and the media (yes, this pack of baying wolves cannot feature under the species homo sapiens) have been linking Aamir Khan’s remarks to the untimely demise of army colonel Santosh Mahadik in the line of active duty. What absolutely tasteless PR! To compare one woman’s desire for a safe environment for her child with a recently widowed woman’s avowal to let her children join the Indian army in spite of what happened to her husband – what sick mind has devised this mindless propaganda? I am quite certain Mrs Mahadik would not wish for her children not to be safe! Let Kiran Rao Khan live wherever she will; why are we desecrating a moment of unimaginable pain for another woman and her emotional outpourings? Quis custodiet ipsos custodies: who will guard the guards themselves? Truly a low moment in modern India’s existence.

Ever since the bloody Brits came to India and f***ed up our thinking, especially in terms of sex and morality, we have lain every possible ill at their door. Sure they have a lot to answer for, not the least being the successful bloodied divide between us and our Pakistani brethren (that’s right, brethren, you read right!) however, it is our collective inertia that is going to let the bloodshed and vitriol between Hindu and Muslim continue in this, the world’s largest democracy, and still ascribe it to British meddling in the Partition, for all our generations to come.

Ohh – did you think I lost track of the plot and wandered away from my mind for a moment? Naah, I’m still on it – and so are the Kashmiris! A couple of hours ago, I read the most fantastically absurd piece of work by some Tikoo guy, where he has linked the whole AK controversy to the oppression of the Kashmiri Pandits! Oh brother. Talk about hallucinations! I don’t see the fat-cat Pandits who are comfortably ensconced in Delhi or Mumbai doing much by way of moving back or financial contributions to rehabilitate “panun angaan” except to visit for one of their interminable weddings!

Many of my thinking (sic) friends are wisely ascribing the Aamir Khan furore to a BJP tactic (let’s face it, what the mango Indian loves is his cricket, politics and chai, not necessarily in that order,) of muddying the waters in order to draw away attention from the Bihar election debacle and other recent, culturally insensitive imbroglios. Many moons ago, when this dude Modi was leading the polls and was in danger of becoming the prime minister of India, I was in the ‘minority’ that went: “But he is racist, a total no-no for secular India.” Shush, I was told. Godhra happened years ago, things have changed, he has changed. Have you seen the roads in Amdavad?? Roads notwithstanding, how does one eradicate racism from the genes? I asked futilely. Shush, you’re too idealistic. Okay. Cut to circa 2015. Now?? Now we suddenly have the literatti and glitterati speak about intolerance and return awards in “dignified, silent protest.” Oh yeah, that’ll work. Like it woulda stopped Hitler from setting the tanks rolling towards Russia just coz the Bolshoi ballet company said it was gonna stop with the pirouettes!

Erm, I’ve just got a beef (sic!) with one point here. Are we blaming the Brits or the Pakistanis for Aamir Khan being this “traitor?” Will Modi stop in his incessant globetrotting for one second to answer this? Narenbhai, ubi rao ni, aiyyan jo su thhai gyo amna tamare India maa: Naren brother, wait a minute, look here at what is going on in your India right now!)

Punam Mohandas is a Bangkok-based writer.