Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Fraud of All Things (or, The Case for the Sedation of the Seductive Seditionist)

I am not against the very idea of discussing Kashmir's secession from the Indian Union. There, I've said it. Not that I am in favour of secession either -- certainly not, all else being equal. But hey, if Kashmir's Aazadi is the only way things can move forward to bring peace and stability to the region, to reduce conflict in general and terrorism in particular, and to allow India and Pakistan to focus on economic growth, social reform and prosperity for their respective peoples, then it has my reluctant vote. My objection to Arundhati Roy's inflammatory speeches that have been fanning secessionist fires among Kashmiris in an atmosphere already charged with anger and hatred for the Indian Government, is not about that. It is about the motives of Ms Roy, as they appear to me.

I've never been a fan of Arundhati Roy. Years ago, I didn't find her book "The God of Small Things" particularly interesting or worthy of the Booker she got. In fact I found it eminently put-down-able and so put it down after a few honest attempts at reading it. Going on from there, I've found her anti-establishmentarian antics over the last few years very shallow, jejune and churlish -- devices to grab attention, revealing her to be a controversial contrarian who delights in intellectual delinquency and basks in the media spotlight that it brings. I seldom discuss Arundhati Roy or her work, because I fear that it might feed the invisible demons who conspire to bring publicity to opinionated twits like her. In a manner of speaking. However, there are times when I am drawn into it and can't help myself.

About a year ago, at the birthday party of a friend, an impressionable young man (who happened to be my friend's husband's nephew) was gushing over Roy and her activism and her bold stand on various issues to a group of people. According to me she doesn't really have a stand that can stand sharp intellectual scrutiny, but she's definitely got a lot of people fooled. Since I entered the conversation late, I had to ask said nephew of said friend's husband who he was talking about, and when told, couldn't help saying, with a dismissive wave of hand -- "Oh! her." Which, of course, immediately led to my being quizzed about such a response. "She's just an attention-mongering contrarian and devoid of any real substance" said I. The nephew, stung by this blasphemous disparagement of his 'goddess of big things', parried back with "And aren't you being a contrarian yourself by taking that stand when all of us here think highly of her?" Realising by now that this whole bunch was on one side, I said, "No. I expressed a considered opinion, which, as it turns out, is different from what you guys think of her. A contrarian would do it in reverse -- wait to hear what the general consensus of the crowd is, or, if there's no time for that then quickly get a sense of the crowd's mood, and then stun them with outright contradiction."

Roy has been in the media a lot in recent times -- specifically apropos her support for the Maoists, but also for generally being the enfant terrible of the world of social causes. Not wanting to waste time on her and her controversies, I've restrained my urge to comment in the social media, though I did air my views a couple of times in private conversations. However, earlier today, I broke my self-imposed oath to never utter her name in public, and at the risk of drawing the ire of her misguided fan following, tweeted:
They say it takes all kinds to make a world. Apply that to Arundhati Roy, the fraud of all things. Does she make a world? Or break one?
and, feeling recklessly brave, followed that with another tweet:
On a different note, what is the verb from 'sedition'? In Roy's case it could be 'to seduce'. She may need to be 'sedated'.
Someone remarked in a back-channel message (on the second tweet) that it smacked of sexism. I replied that it would indeed have been a sexist comment, if it weren't for the fact that Roy's go-to-market strategy freely draws on her own dainty muliebrity, or the fact that she has a knack for foxily leveraging her feminine allure (or what's left of it) in her interviews and her public interactions. Why should she then escape characterization as a seductress? Moreover, sedition is a kind of seduction in itself, isn't it?

Just as I don't have issues with peaceful discussions on secession as a solution to our problems, I also don't have issues with peaceful discussions on using anarchy as a means to achieve a better end-state. (I don't agree that anarchy can or will lead to a better end-state -- I think there are less risky ways to get there, but I am open to discussing anarchy as a possible approach.) There are many ways of getting from A to B, and my moral compass in such matters is more aligned with teleological morality rather than deontological morality. Which means that I don't think that anarchy is a bad thing per se and so, in my opinion, someone trying to create anarchy is not committing a crime ipso facto. Their motives in doing so are important.

In the case of Ms Roy, in her support for Maoist insurgents and Kashmiri separatists (different contexts, same agenda) the anarchy she is trying to create, as far as I can see, is not a means to an end (such as a better India) but an end in itself. Not a solution to a problem but a deepening of the problem itself. I suspect she would go to any part of India where there is strife and suffering and stoke the anti-establishment fires that are burning there: the far east, the central corridor, the north .. wherever trouble is being fomented. But she cleverly stays within the ambit of the law, in each case, never really crossing the line herself. Not the originator but an agent provocateur. Not a reagent that participates in a chemical reaction, but a catalyst who accelerates precipitation but remains untouched. It is almost as if she wants done to India what the Taliban has already begun doing to Pakistan -- to disintegrate the state and destroy its institutions, and to look like an ingĂ©nue while it happens. If that's her motive, that is something I will not stand for.

So, whereas I strongly believe in unconditional freedom of expression in an Einsteinian world -- of curved spacetime inhabited by zen monks where the lyrics of John Lennon's "Imagine" ring true, when it comes to the Newtonian world we live in -- of Euclidean spacetime populated by brutes capable of unimaginable and unconscionable violence and full of volatile mobs that can explode within moments of listening to hate speeches, I would draw the line somewhere. Sorry, no unrestrained free speech for those whose sole purpose is to cause total system failure -- it is not on the menu. True, it takes all kinds to make a world (and those who know me will testify to the fact that I am a strident pluralist, an avid celebrator of diversity and a staunch upholder of all kinds of individual freedoms) but it takes just one kind to break a world -- the kind who loves the smell of napalm in the morning.

Bookmark and Share