When an established cinema actor—and one
who hails from one of the ‘first’ ‘Bollywood’ ‘families’—asserts that he will
not permit his daughter to join the same industry that has earned him and his
family wealth, fame, and adulation (and the attendant by-products), the mind
comes to a standstill. At least for a second or so. And the first impulse then
is to blurt out something that will be the equivalent of passing a judgement.
For, here is this ‘superstar’ who in one solid stroke shows in what regard he
holds his profession and in what regard he holds women (for he specifically
mentions that the women in his family have never acted in films and will not do
so in the future, never mind the fact that his mother was an icon in her time).
Primordial, in a way.

There, I stand in judgement. Which is all
too easy. It comes easy to any of us. At any given point, for any given
incident, while one is doing, not doing, or saying something, there is another
one waiting to draw himself up and, yes, pronounce judgement.

For example, when I am witness to a Bengali
taking pride in his Bengali-ness to the exclusion of any other community, while
his car dashboard flaunts the miniature Indian flag, which to the innocent mind
would appear to be testimony to this gentleman’s Indian-ness, the instinct to
judge and condemn threatens to spill over. Judge and condemn, because such
pride in the mind of the prejudiced lulls one into a sense of being superior
and attaches adjectives to communities. Somehow, the racial instinct is alive
and kicking, and it assumes a crude form in the little and big ironies that
transpire in our daily lives. (Please note: Bengali here is just that  an example.)

For example, when I see the inane stories
in a Delhi Times, and wonder who are
all these Tinas and Ruhinas shown as having a ‘gala’ time at a fancy pool
party, it is a non-epiphanic moment for me. The adjective ‘inane’ is my
judgement, of course.

When, on the eve of every Independence Day,
I read a ‘what “freedom” means for you’ series, my mind shuts down as it
compulsively reads the answers by a set of ‘celebrities’, ‘role models’, and ‘aam
aadmi’. It seems we have come a long way from the time when the idea of freedom
meant freedom from the Britishers. Now, freedom has different meanings and
symbols for different sets of people. Frivolity and poignancy come in equal
measure.

When I see educated and well heeled
denizens talking loudly at a cool coffee shop, every which way seeking out an
audience among the rest of us, my innards laugh. And I am not joking. Sometimes
I even laugh my indignation out.

When I see the bling and the bang of the
standard north Indian wedding, and closely scan the face and the pose of the
groom astride his horse, my mind feels a vague sense of sympathy. This sense is
heightened by the sight of the groom’s entourage and the commuters whose
transit has come to a halt because everyone gives way to the procession.

When I see the photographs of a candlelight
vigil at a memorial, to drive home a protest or a stand, I wonder what would be
the culmination of it. Once the crowd disperses, who will do the follow-up?
Once the photo opportunities are done with, whose interest will remain?

When I see television channel anchors
shouting out news at us, I fully appreciate the humour and the pathos of this
peculiarly Indian phenomenon. We are as yet in awe of the idiot box, are we?
And the loud news anchor has to be an Indian oddity, right?

In a way, the loudness, the chaos, the
conspicuousness of wealth old and new, the lack of subtlety, the disarming
abandon, the co-existence of sympathy and apathy, and the taking-for-granted attitude
are perhaps some of the qualities that make us a resilient lot. Sometimes it
works. The rest of the times, though, it simply does not. For all our bragging
about a shining and stunning India, the dark and ugly side of the picture
exists alongside and cannot be wished away. Government after government have
got away with their piecemeal measures and jerky development works, while
generation after generation have mostly accepted these with a stoicism that
does us no good.

There, the judgement is passed again.