Bang, bang, bang...went the noises. I dived under the writing table and prayed. Gunshots? Aimed at our Marvellous Freedom of the Press? Targeting satirists? But, O Lord, why me? The recent Paris killings at the French satirical weekly made it clear no one was safe from terrorists, even those who did not understand satire.
The day after the Paris shootings, friends warned me to be careful. “Of course, you are one of them, the cursed species called satirists.” But then India was not enlightened Europe where Jonathan Swift was free to ridicule his own countrymen for lacking a sense of humour. Paris was tailormade for satire. Chorus girls wore next to nothing on stage, showed audiences their backsides, lifted their legs high and danced the ‘Can Can’, the high form of French dancing. No wonder American satirist Art Buchwald produced his best work for the Paris Herald Tribune. But Paris was safe, we believed. The citizens ushered in Liberty, Equality and Fraternity by having their guillotine blades polished but it was still a strict ‘No, No’ to bomb the innocents.
The ’umble Indian satirist need not have worried, I thought. We were free from terrorist attacks because satire never affected them. I knew this for the past 42 years when I published my first satire. The Vietnam peace talks which had started got stalled time and again because the two delegations would not agree on the shape and size of the negotiating table in Paris. Today such tensions have disappeared. The ‘middle’, supposed to encourage satire, travelled to different sections of the edit page and is replaced most of the time with ‘husband and wife arguments’ of the most inane nature and worthy, wifely cogitations from the animal world, Ms Bunny. If this was satire, wasn’t there some need to protect this ancient form of literature whatever be the views of Alec Smart! No wonder my alleged satirist colleagues are way ahead of me and become MDs and CEOs of lit fests.
I knew it was all coming but would not abandon my quest. Write seriously, I was told, some of the editors missed the thrust of satire, others believed the make-believe news which appeared in the columns. The West Bengal assembly once staged a walkout protesting reports of an imaginary, tongue-in-cheek walkout mentioned in one of the columns. The news of Antulay buying the Indian Express did create a ripple but no plum posts of editor or roving editor appeared on the horizon. A bombing attack would have made him famous, the politicians who hated him would have erected a statue for him to atone for their actions in sending people to beat him up for suggesting that French fries be renamed Shivaji fries in view of their eternal popularity.
The Mumbai-based satirist is the creator of ‘Trishanku’; E-mail your secret diarist: vgangadhar70 [AT] gmail [DOT] com