The Hills Run Red
The despicable hounding of our fellow-citizens from the Northeast is heart-wrenching. They have given us so much (a bronze from Mary Kom, most recently) and we’ve returned their favour with abuse and apathy. And now threat to life. A decade ago, youth from Assam and Manipur came to the metros in search of a living, bringing with them grace, civility, elegance, courtesy besides reminding us of the fabulous diversity of our country. They have had enormous difficulty adjusting as rapacious landlords and lecherous louts harassed them. Of late, though, they seemed to be settling down. And then this barbarism. While we may console ourselves that the horror comes from across the border, some of it is surely indigenous. Along with the foreign hand exists a local finger helping spread the poison. Our brothers and sisters from the Northeast deserve better.
I abhor censorship, overt or covert. But this double-headed monster in the form of the social media must be regulated. The last attempt made by the government to curb social media was highly suspect because it sought to protect the reputation of politicians. It was seen for what it was. This time, the stakes are much higher. I’d support any measure, including censorship, to stop platforms like Facebook and Twitter from being used to spread terror. The misuse of the social media is hardly a secret. It has been left untouched in the interests of free speech. However, it can’t be allowed to challenge the fundamental rights of the citizen. If those who own platforms capable of misuse plead helplessness, they must be kicked out. Sacrificing them is a small price to pay for the greater common good.
I have never had the pleasure of meeting the talented Fareed Zakaria but I have known his parents well. Fareed’s father Rafique, alas no longer with us, was a colourful though controversial Congress leader of Maharashtra who fell foul of Sanjay Gandhi. He transformed himself into an Islamic scholar. Fatma, happily still around, was Khushwant Singh’s pointsperson at the Illustrated Weekly before she teamed up with Girilal Jain and nearly became The Times of India editor. I have enjoyed many meals at their Cuffe Parade residence in Mumbai where the Zakarias managed to assemble the movers and the shakers.
The irresistible rise of Fareed Zakaria in journalism, academia and public activism has been awe-inspiring. I’m sure his enemies, who saw him as an ideological chancer, were delighted when the plagiarism row broke. Unfortunately, plagiarism is plagiarism, there is no major or minor plagiarism. What is astonishing is that someone of Fareed’s experience and maturity should lift sentences from a journal (New Yorker) whose head office is a couple of blocks away from the magazine (Time) Fareed works for. If at all one is going to “borrow”, one takes the abundant precaution of borrowing from some obscure academic journal or book, not from the New Yorker, which is almost as famous as Time!
His apologists and friends have offered various alibis, ranging from fatigue to over-commitment to oversight. All of which may have played a role in his avoidable blunder. I would add naivete to the list.
Of the three Khans ruling Bollywood, Salman, Aamir, Shahrukh, the least gifted and diplomatic is having an incredible run. I’m referring to Salman whose latest blockbuster, Ek Tha Tiger, is smashing box-office records with ridiculous ease. Salman doesn’t know too much about acting. He possesses a wooden, if muscular, frame, he can’t dance, he does not have mesmerising screen presence. His rival, Shahrukh, is an accomplished actor, is suave and sophisticated, tends to shoot his mouth off and is generally paranoid about the competition. Aamir is a master of self-promotion, manages the media with consummate finesse and is a dedicated promoter of worthy social causes.
Thus, the serial triumphs of simpleton Salman should come as a big surprise. By all accounts, he makes trashy films, his PR is terrible, he gets into fights with his co-stars and has a fondness for shooting endangered species. I have never seen a Salman Khan film except for a few snatches. Still, I rejoice at his unexpected success. There is a moral in all this somewhere, but I cannot seem to find it.
I too worshipped at the altar of Gore Vidal, the essayist not the novelist. Anyone who can come up with “Politics is show business for ugly people” has to be seriously followed. A lovely story has Vidal, newly arrived in Hollywood hoping to make easy money writing movie scripts, seeking out the great Christopher Isherwood. Vidal asked the veteran, who also dabbled in screenplay writing, if he had any advice for him on how to deal with studio bosses, renowned for treating writers with contempt. “Take the money and run,” suggested Isherwood.
I met my old friend Pankaj Mishra at his book launch in Delhi. I am happy to report he has not mellowed one bit.
Vinod Mehta is editorial chairman, Outlook, and its founding editor-in-chief; E-mail your diarist: vmehta AT outlookindia.com