India: A Fool's Paradise?

In our shastras it is written: “Satyam bruyat, priyam bruyat, na bruyat satyam apriyam.” It means, “Speak the truth, speak the pleasant, but do not speak the unpleasant truth.” I wish to rectify this. The country’s situation today requires that we “Speak the unpleasant truth”. When I said that 90 per cent Indians are fools I spoke an unpleasant truth. 

- Justice Markandey Katju

I agree with him that 90 per cent of Indians are fools. The problem is that by saying this we give ourselves the power to judge a whole spectrum of individuals who we do not know. I understand that it is not possible to know everyone – we often do not know those we live with or engage with socially. However, foolishness itself is of different shades.

A fool is described as one who “does not behave in an intelligent or sensible way”. It follows that the person has been fooled – tricked by someone. If we use the ignorance is bliss formula then the fool is complacent and agrees covertly to be tricked because there is some gain in the pain of being terminologically tainted.

Therefore, 90 per cent of Indians have agreed to this barter of being fooled.

Now that we have got some of this out of the way, I would like to address how this large number of the population do not follow one path and there will be an overlap in different areas of being ‘fools’ and being ‘fooled’, Also, I object to some of the examples given in his Indian Express column.

"First, when our people go to vote in elections, 90 per cent vote on the basis of caste or community, not the merits of the candidate. That is why Phoolan Devi, a known dacoit-cum-murderer, was elected to Parliament — because she belonged to a backward caste that had a large number of voters in that constituency. Vote banks are on the basis of caste and community, which are manipulated by unscrupulous politicians and others."

I think he is playing safe here and using a soft target as an example. If he were really speaking an unpleasant truth, then he would give recent examples. Why use a dead woman specifically from a backward caste?

"Second, 90 per cent Indians believe in astrology, which is pure superstition and humbug. Even a little common sense tells us that the movements of stars and planets have nothing to do with our lives. Yet, TV channels showing astrology have high TRP ratings."

Indeed, astrology is an area that interests a great many people, and is not restricted to India. In western countries, too, the daily horoscope is mandatory; Linda Goodman books are bestsellers. This is not a 90 per cent issue. Astrology is not the sole reason for superstition. Poor people in villages do not consult astrologers or match kundalis, but they are superstitious. As for TRP ratings, the same can be said about soaps and news channels. Is sensationalism also superstition?

"Third, cricket has been turned into a religion by our corporatised media, and most people lap it up like opium…But the media sidelines or minimises these real issues, and gives the impression that the real issues are the lives of film stars, fashion, cricket, etc. When Rahul Dravid retired, the media depicted it as a great misfortune for the country, and when Sachin Tendulkar scored his 100th century it was depicted as a great achievement for India. Day after day, the media kept harping on this, whereas the issues of a quarter of a million farmers’ suicides and 47 per cent Indian children being malnourished were sidelined."

I cannot disagree with this at all. The manner in which Dravid’s resignation was played out, with the emphasis on his retiring “gracefully”, was followed by an ironic moment. Tendulkar finally got his ton ton but refused to announce his retirement and instead went ballistic about senior cricketers discussing it. There was not a word about his retiring gracefully and he was instead lauded for standing up for his right to make a choice. Such contradictions are happily pushed down the throats of the public.

Yet, there is a reason why sports and film stars become heroes. There is money in it. They stand for escapism. The media manipulates a retirement to become an event. A film on farmers’ suicides on a promotion tour grabs more eyeballs than the reality. A TV expose on children suffering is promoted not much differently from a tele-serial. This is not foolishness. It is complacency.

In the next point, Justice Katju repeats his views on the reportage of actor-director Dev Anand’s death:

“In my opinion, Dev Anand’s films transported the minds of poor people to a world of make-believe, like a hill station where Dev Anand was romancing some girl. This gave relief for a couple of hours to the viewers from their lives of drudgery. Such films, to my mind, serve no social purpose, but act instead like a drug or alcohol to send the viewer temporarily from his miserable existence to a beautiful world of tinsel.”

I’d say the same is true of so-called realistic cinema. It pretends to convey the truth, but after those two hours – oh, they are usually shorter because apparently truth is quicker to portray – the miserable return to their miserable world and the not miserable return to their better world only do discuss the jerky camerawork or the starkness of UP/Bihar/mafia/rape. There is greater distancing here than those snow-capped mountains.

"Finally, during the recent Anna Hazare agitation in Delhi, the media hyped the event as a solution to the problem of corruption. In reality it was, as Shakespeare said in Macbeth, “...a tale/ Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,/ Signifying nothing”…At that time, if anyone had raised any logical questions, he would have been denounced as a “gaddar” or “deshdrohi”…All this was not rationally analysed. Instead, the hysterical mob that gathered in Jantar Mantar and Ramlila grounds in Delhi thought that corruption would be ended by shouting “Bharat Mata ki Jai” and “Inquilab Zindabad”."

Again, the assumption is that the Ramlila grounds had 90 percent of the population’s support. It did not and does not. I concur with what Justice Katju has to say about a “parallel bureaucracy”. It exposed itself as a hollow movement the moment we saw celebrities, who routinely bribe to get their files and projects passed, become part of the Annas. Slogan shouting is a pastime, and many indulge in it. These are probably the 10 per cent who Mr. Katju believes are not fools.

Unfortunately, however well-intentioned his views, his solutions are not unlike a Dev Anand film:

"The worst thing in life is poverty, and 80 per cent of our people are poor. To abolish poverty, we need to spread the scientific outlook to every nook and corner of our country. It is only then that India will shine. And until that happens, the vast majority of our people will continue to be taken for a ride."

The scientific outlook and reasoning are not an answer to poverty. Poverty needs active input from the government. It is as simple as that. It is a terrible fact that we have so many poor, but ‘modern’ thought will not necessarily change that. In fact, it contradicts the view of foolishness, for many among the rich lack a questioning and rational attitude, are steeped in superstition, casteism, communalism, and watch all kinds of escapist fare including a quick fix with the happy drug.

This is where the overlap occurs. Justice Katju, you and I are also fools. He talks about speaking out, which is what the Anna brigade did, which is what several citizens’ groups do, which is what the media does. Does such outspokenness alleviate or awaken or does it only create drumbeaters?

He has quoted a Faiz couplet to convey his views on speaking the unpleasant truth: 

“Bol ki lab azad hain tere
Bol zubaan ab tak teri hai.” 

(Speak, for your lips are free
Your tongue is your own)

To which I shall respond with another one by Faiz:

“Ab wohi harf-e-junoon sab ki zubaan thehri hai
Jo bhi chal nikali hai woh baat kahaan thehri hai”

(On everyone's tongue stays the sheer madness of speech
Once uttered those words have escaped)

Where? Where? 


  1. FV,

    Interesting deconstruction. But does this gentleman merit so much attention?

  2. What he says does. I have not deconstructed him, only his statements.


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