Friday, 11 May 2012

On Taking Offence...

If RK Laxman is the Sachin Tendulkar of India’s cartoonists, Shanker Pillai was its Sunil Gavaskar. The doyen of the freedom struggle era, his takes on Nehru, Gandhi, Patel and Jinnah are the stuff of legend. I remember my dad’s fond references to `Shankar’s Weekly’, and our `Shankar vs Laxman’ debates were only matched by our `Saigal vs Rafi’ spats. In 1949, Shanker published a cartoon to draw attention to the slow pace of the Constitution formation process. Both Nehru and Ambedkar are depicted with whips in their hands, trying to egg on a snail labelled `CONSTITTION’.

It is this cartoon of 63 years back that has drawn the ire of Mayawati and her flock. Even if I was a diehard Ambedkar loyalist – and clearly I’m not – I would find little that I could label as being remotely offensive. The NCERT guys, including the supremely sane Yogendra Yadav, had included such cartoons in the Grade IX and X text books in order to make the teaching of Indian History less dreary. It has been in the text book for the last 3 years, so the timing of the uproar raises a few questions. Congress baiters claim that the furore in Parliament has been engineered merely to take the heat off P Chidambaram, who is under fire over the Maxis-Aircel deal.

In September 2005, a Danish newspaper, in what was clearly an asinine idea, invited 40 cartoonists to forward cartoons depicting Prophet Mohamed. The idea was to open up a debate on freedom of expression and the perceived Islamic intolerance towards their religion in general, and their prophet in particular. 12 of these cartoons were published, creating a furore and a backlash across the muslim world. The cartoons themselves are in extremely poor taste, and far from humorous. Logically, they should have been dumped into the dustbin where they belonged, but the muslim world erupted in flames, and loss of life and property was reported from as far apart as Algeria to Pakistan. 


We are great ones for taking offence.  Ashton Kucher in an extremely poor imitation of a Bollywood producer called Raj, appears in an ad for Pop chips. The ad is spectacularly unfunny, but the furore raised by Desi Americans has assured a huge turnover for Pop chips, apart from depicting all Indians in a drab, humourless light.

If we as a people are thin skinned and jump to being offended easily, there are also enough of us who exploit this for their own gain. A tells B that C says such-and-such about him. B is infuriated, and roars “Achcha, AISA bola, saalay ki toh main...” followed by a graphic description of what B would do to C’s mother and sisters..

There is no sense of perspective, not an iota of self depreciation left – we have long lost the ability to laugh at ourselves, and shrug off these slights – hence this blog's appeal to `mitti pao’. 

But what can one say, the malaise is too far spread for any real hope..

Ek hi ullu kaafi tha, barbaad gulistaan karnay ko
Anjaam-e-gulistaan kya hoga, har shaakh pe ullu baithay hain...


  1. Can't understand what the furore is all about - the cartoon seems harmless enough! Has it been misconstrued to be Nehru whipping Ambedkar instead of the snail?
    That sense of humour is lost on us is sad, but true. We (not sure who this 'we' really constitutes) have become far too sensitive about everything. Although you and I may not be religious (atheist/agnostic, whatever), the world at large has gotten a little too touchy-feely about religion, about politics, about name it! Its a shame, really!

  2. Well written piece, as always. Thanks.

    The 'aam admi' could not care less about Ambedkar or Nehru, or even the constitution, which has not been able to give him much, forget about a 60 years old cartoon. It has to be a political stunt, actually a joke, to take the heat off the Congress/PC, initiated by an out of power Mayawati at the behest of the UPA2, but sadly at the cost of the 'aam admi'.
    Ashok Sawhney