Dear Kumar Vishwas,
As you start your day mounting your historic Amethi electoral campaign to take on Rahul Gandhi, while simultaneously issuing apologies and explanations and dodging various other bullets, I would like to ask the poet and stand-up comic artist in you if you see the black humour in what’s unfolding.
Because what is transpiring in the public affairs of India these days strikes me as nothing short of burlesque — the kind that a Chekov or a Kafka could capture.
A case in point are your various utterances as a comic artist which are causing much consternation and taking up acres of newsprint and TV prime time and threatening to even derail your own political career. You made an off-colour joke about Sania Mirza some years ago. You were disrespectful about the appearance of nurses in Kerala. You might have offended the sensibilities of other interest groups by racist and sexist remarks.
Dear Kumar, two Sundays ago I had the pleasure of attending The Wierdass Pajama Festival in Mumbai where Vir Das, one of India’s leading comic artists, along with his merry band overwhelmed us with the genius of his sparkling wit and biting satire. Some of the things that were said that morning shocked even me, a longtime consumer of satirical wit. (My old issues of Punch, Private Eye, The New Yorker’s Shouts & Murmurs, and Mad magazine are well thumbed and often reread).
If what a comedian says in the normal course of his professional career is taken seriously and scrutinised with the intent of finding offensive remarks to indict him, as being done to you — then not only would those on stage that morning be arrested for manslaughter — but we in the audience who laughed along would be booked as accomplices. What you are being hauled over the coals for, in my opinion, is so absurd and so ludicrous, that it makes me wonder why more people don’t see it thus.
A politician, who is a leader of a credible party that has brought hope and change in the land, is being harassed for something he said five years ago in the role of a comic artist? He did not kill, loot, steal, subvert the law, sell off the nation’s wealth to greedy industrialists, hide away billions in Swiss accounts, ignore the cries for help and justice from the people who voted him in, or cover himself up with a staggering sense of entitlement. He made a joke. Arguably an off-colour and offensive one, but for Christ’s sake — a joke. Not in his political speeches. Not in his poems. A joke for which he has apologised many times over.
Which brings me to the absurdity of the whole situation. The absurdity is that intelligent men and women – whose credibility and sincerity I have no reason to doubt, who have long railed against the corrupt system that has kept India in a state of backwardness and poverty — do not realise the folly of their ways.
Yes, it is true that members of a party who hold others up to scrutiny ought to be afforded the same treatment.
Yes, in absolute terms it has to be a level playing field and the same rules should apply to everyone.
But the time for that is not now. The time as I see it, is to nurture and nourish a nascent and courageous party that is changing the national narrative in positive ways.
All of these party’s views, its members, their jokes, their accents, or their table manners might not appeal to us, but by stymieing them at every turn, we will destroy whatever little hope we have for a better tomorrow and play into the hands of the very vested interests we so vociferously criticise.
And then, believe me, the joke will be on us.
Try and stay in good humour!
Yours sincerely, etc
Malavika Sangghvi can be contacted at malavikasangghvi @hotmail.com
The writer believes in the art of letter writing