Tuesday, February 7, 2017

"Enhance", they said

The memory was thick. They were walking down a thin, winding road having a conversation that he would never forget. The year was younger; so were their dispositions to life. You could actually have these conversations back then. Father and son moments can never be in any less demand.

"So have you given the future a thought", he asked. "Ummm, not really," he replied.  

"You plan to?", he asked.

"Well, right now everything's a rush. I'll chart my path soon", he said, not looking up even close towards his dad. He didn't receive a happy response. Neither was it an unhappy one. It was one of those you-never-know-what-he-means ones. More a but-I'm-sure-he's-not-as-pleased-as-ever kinda look. But dads will always be dads. Between them and their children, one's shoulder shrug is another's short intense gaze. They are sometimes equal their own children in stubbornness.  

Then came the deathly moment of pin drop silence, except for the sounds of their footsteps. This has always been uncomfortable ground. Fear on one side and pride on the other. But you roll with it. Children will be the children they're allowed to be, and dad's, well, will be dads. Some have pot bellies. Some have dad jokes. Some just rule the Universe and are God himself, but have never slipped into the role well. 

"You've gotta have a game plan, son. Waddling around won't get you far", he said. Looking someone in the eye and communicating is not something he, or most grown men, were skillful at. Blame society gender roles. When you carry the weight you carry, it ain't no joke. 

"Yeah, working on it", he replied, hoping to end the conversation, at least that bit of it. Fingers crossed. They had an hour till they were to get back home. Mothers are better, he thought to himself. Plus, there would be a table full of food ready by the time he enters to take his mind off the heavy conversation. 

He looked at his watch as he caught his dad also looking at his. It was like it was a dirty secret they both discovered they had that no one wanted to admit. His dad grunted, shrugged his shoulders with some speed and   continued, "I'll put you across to Ravi. And Sarah too. You'll get a better idea of what to decide to do for your future."

"Ok", he gave in. It would be harmless, he thought. And he didn't have to decide anything after meeting them. He could have to but that was another bridge to cross that was at this moment a long way off. It can wait. Right now, the dying conversation they were having was sucking the very life out of the plants they passed by. 

Like a perfectly timed lifesaver, he saw the car in the distance. The moment became ten times more lighter when his dad took out the car keys and he heard a beep felt so close to home. They got in the car, and started on their way home in silence that could kill a man. It was going to be a ride of some distance. 

He wasn't sure if it was the wait to actually reach home, or the claustrophobic confines of the car, but something was making him stuffy. It could just be that air which had gotten thick again. Signal after signal, jam after jam, they passed by all sorts of scenes outside. Among all of it, he couldn't help see other children, some older and some young, without his present load. Suddenly the window glass felt jail bars. He heard a voice and he was suddenly too scared to turn around and see his own dad turn into a jail inspector. His dad was talking to him, with his eyes on the road ahead. 

"See, son, I just want you to be ambitious enough to never miss a chance at success. I hope you're never satisfied with just enough. I want you to always outdo yourself. Never limit yourself. There's always something you should be hungry for, something more.", he went on. But he was lost, staring at the window outside his prison. He was scanning all the varieties of people he could identify. There were folks who looked as if they were just getting by. Some who were well off, enough. Some were clearly struggling. He noted that most of them were smiling-not just today, but whenever he saw their kind. They were not depressed, and he did give more than a fair thought to the basic economics of it all.

"You would not have the comfort you would have had if I didn't do all of this", his dad continued. He was well aware, apart from what was drilled into him, about his privilege. He also knew what of it he truly loved and what he would choose again, if he was buying. He was also grateful for all the little and big things that no one can go without: good food, a roof and love unending. He wasn't the complaining kind. But he never dug it. He did find some of it, unnecessary, sometimes a lot of it. 

Lots more was on his mind. What's the cost of a smile you can always have on? What's the cost of access to a decent life you can work for? What's the cost of access to the physical fundamentals of life (provided even they aren't completely commercialised to be unreachable to most)? What's the cost of happiness and simplicity? Is it even an option anymore? Or do we have a price tag to live up to the moment we take our first breath? All the while his dad was mumbling away, as far as he was even interested in what he was saying. 

Now, he had ambition, or something like it, and he knew he wasn't rich enough not to work for the rest of his life. He also had a vague idea about his future plans but they would form soon. He wasn't illiterate about the real world. He was a sensible kid. But he was still a kid who needed to figure out stuff and then see where he finds his happiness. It was going to have to take time. He deserved his own options, at least the chance to try and make them happen. 

AIB, Value & Restriction

(Revisiting an unpublished post courtesy the recent Tannishtha Chatterjee story)

This post is inspired by a late Sunday night viewing of a TV show on the AIB Knockout Roast controversy. I once remarked to someone about it that it was not something you would watch with your mother, and I’ll support that statement by the end of this post.

First things first—the right of expression. We are all entitled to it. There are views and there are counterviews. In a diverse society, everyone is bound not to like at least one other person’s broadcasted views. It’s but natural. So then, we tolerate. Because, even without a right that has been inserted through universalisation, if we want ours as much, they should have theirs as much.

Then, Value. By this, I don’t mean the moralistic condemnation of someone else’s values (note the inflection to denote the singular of “Value” and the plural of “values”). Values indicates the sum total of singular, specific, objective or subjective principles that define how we behave, act, talk, make decisions and do all that we do, often referred to in a generalistic sense but being an objective set/subset of a certain number of such principles. Value indicates the principle of having one (or more than one) singular set of values.

During the said TV show, there were a bunch of comedians on the panel who supported AIB and their right to comedy. Things that were said included “If you don’t find it funny, or find it distasteful, don’t watch it”, “As long as Yo Yo Honey Singh is not touching and abusing/molesting anyone, he can rap whatever and whichever way he likes” and “comedians have a responsibility to make observations of society and do them humourously”. There were also insinuations that this making light of more-than-serious on ground social issues was effective in bringing out the truth of the matter (via sarcasm, I suppose).          

There are two things about that.

Free & Objective/Subjective Morality: What the comedians were espousing is free morality i.e. every person(s) (one or more than one) must be free to do (in this particular case, express) as they wish what they wish. What this thinking conveniently forgets (and those in the TV programme defending the AIB Roast) is that while we live free, we also build society as we walk and talk. Every step of ours is a building block of life ten years from now, or at least a little crumb of the bricks that (hopefully) make a sustainable way of life—the same manner in which responsible parents engage their lives when they bring their children up. We have to watch and advance with that perspective. You will not champion demeaning (sorry, “rude”), vulgar (sorry, “funny”) and other kinds of jokes as the main talk of a generation. It sets the precedent of how depraved, wide, intelligent, sensitive and/or  crude the qualities (among other ones) will be that they will attain, primarily identify with, culturally justify and pass on without the bat of an eyelid (that’s before you start to berate society, teenagers, people these days, “this generation” and such!). Don’t approve of it, mildly even (or just in jest), unless you’d want to complain of it years from now.

To Value: To value is to hold something precious beyond everything possible, usually something priceless, like everyday sleep, manners, or people. When we hold what we value precious, it starts to define us and those are the steps that I elucidated in the first point. Point being, we cannot value jokes that are meant to be rude for the purpose of a roast unless we are of the values we’d be attacking or offending first. When we laugh at those jokes, we assume that all are values are indeed thrown out of the window (because that is the premise of the roast), just like how you tease best friends or people you like very much. But, the underlying assumption there is that outside of a comedy routine, we would not catch ourselves even making light of these issues. The alibi is that that is exactly what comedy is about. But, hey, wait a minute! And that’s where the irony starts—at least the irony that smacks you in the face each time you offer it up as a reason, and every time thereafter like a stuck record because of the right to comedy (which is not being disputed here, or reasonably anywhere else).

While embattling the above said principles, this nature of censorship is like not allowing younger children to watch the many certain kinds of movies we often do. We say they are “too young” for it. It does not mean they won’t watch it later when they’re older (which doesn't make it an over-protective conservative stand). It just means (usually) that they should watch it after they get value (note: singular). The double-sided nature of it doesn't make this system hypocritical. It only makes it protective. The same people protecting them now are not the ones who will make them watch it. A value-filled life is the only protection against the big bad world which will present to them a singular warped version that amounts to a boundariless pit of individual freedom-based preaching: a do what you want & don’t restrict yourself attitude, all in an unrooted vacuum. How will you know when you're spinning yourself crazy, and if you are, if you don't have one?

Being valueless is a social vacuum that can never logically exist on its own. It only exists because, well, we come to the point where we have to independently assert a specific set of values that add to a linear system that keep things in balance. I don't, for a second, say that this form of linearity should be restrictive.

So, it's a free society and that implies that we must be able to speak our minds and crack our jokes as we please. We are also free to opt out of participation in such events, such a culture, and what they stand for as a whole. But we forget the fact that we build society everyday. While we are free to choose our building blocks on any basis we like, which is our choice (temporary fun because, why not?/long term and meaningful because that's the stuff of life that actually lasts after temporary fun), we have to understand that we are opting in for convenient moral codes of behaviour that aren't linear, destroy the perceived good created by one way when switched to the other way at convenience, and inherit the uninformed, and being informed, ones watching a confusing, unrooted culture which celebrates nothing. When we move to a culture that we are able to freely propogate, and end up teaching something with consistency (without the switch of convenience), we can have a discussion about the virtue of the content it does propogate. Till then, for the above reasons, I don't suggest that you watch the program with your mother.