Why Jalebis Make Me Sick
Behold the march of the uncles
A day of dread so I was watching the news on TV. In the end the judgment conceded it. No temple was demolished to build the mosque. Muslims prayed for centuries inside it. Someone placed Ram Lalla illegally inside, and someone demolished the monument in violation of the rule of law.
Since Indians are undergoing another Partition, of the mind this time, I was worried about violence being performed by the Hindu fundamentalist groups who now control the state. I believe that the many fellow Indians who voted them into place, were more worried about violence from the Muslim fundamentalist side.
Was it very long ago that we conceded the Theory of Two Nations to wealthy fundamentalists? Under totalitarianism it will be much more difficult to extricate ourselves this time.
“Those who supported us are ours. Those who opposed us are also ours,” so said Dear Leader in his victory speech.
So it made me sick on that day of dread, the morning of the verdict, to see a journalist reporting from Faizabad-versus-Ayodhya, jalebi in hand. He saw no harm in reporting live from the town while popping jalebis.
“Enjoy your jalebi,” the anchor told him indulgently.
As Nina Simone said “The media is real. It lives.” It does and it’s unnerving. You see real people perform media caricatures in front of you, and live and vote accordingly. You sense the depth of responsibility.
The duo, I have since learnt, were Vishnu Som and Alok Pandey of NDTV. They are indignant that this pre-verdict televised on-the-ground shucking of sweets should be seen as partial or celebratory.
Som tweets that Pandey “ate a jalebi on air to explain how life seemed normal in Ayodhya way before the judgement was delivered.
It was a lovely television moment and captured the mood of the area he was in.”
But Pandey participated in this mood, rather than simply reporting it. He played a part in it for the public, as a journalist, live on air.
Perhaps he was able to partially capture a mood, of some people in a place at a time. But he chose to model this fragment. He chose to represent this mood, rather than reporting it.
We know that mood can’t have been the whole story. Many other reports emerged from the town that day. It probably wasn’t even the mood of any majority to distribute jalebis and consume them in public, before or after the inevitable verdict.
We risk not knowing this, because at that moment in the 24-hour news making machine, Pandey was unwilling or unable to report the truth from a decent distance. He couldn’t or wouldn’t simply report what ordinary people over there were thinking.
Instead, Pandey and Som chose to construct an effect. They tried to create the illusion that it was normal and reasonable to distribute and consume jalebis in public, in preparation for a court verdict upon the aftermath of a terrorist act.
Som’s tweet that this “captured the mood of the area” tries to sustain this effect. It wants to freeze the illusion, so all the questioners, dissenters and others outside “the mood of the area” will appear unreasonable, implacable, churlish, troublemakers. The usual cockroaches, engaged in disturbing the jalebi’s peaceful society.
Who chose the time and the area? Who assigned it a singular mood? Who decided to embed themselves in it?
Som leaves these questions begging and retreats into a shell, mangratulating himself sternly. “There was neither any celebration nor any sadness in reporting any aspect of the judgement by anyone on NDTV through the day. I anchored 9 odd hours that day and want to be clear on this. Thanks.”
In a more open minded response, Alok Pandey tweets that since the verdict wasn’t out yet, it’s unfair to accuse any jalebi eating journalist of celebrating it. Whether it’s par for the course, he adds, “is a different issue and debate.”
I felt sick watching the scene, so I hope that “difference” issue keeps being debated.
Sometimes one almost prefers the Yogis and Modis to the Vajpayees or the Nehru-Gandhis, the bold and clear Republics to the NDTVs and Indias Today.
But as the march of uncles creeps on, and they build a genocidal state, collaring the participation of every institution and every demographic, I know who still has a small chance of wanting to change it.
More than clowns deserve perhaps, I take them very seriously.
They swing by their pockets. They help run the state machine. They have power to make believe. They feed us shit about “normal” in this town or that valley. They rope us into each other’s crimes. Too ignorant or compromised to brook dissent, they rally around the Dear Leader package of the day.
Almost invariably, they are propertied Hindu upper-caste men. And their interests are even narrower.
If Alok Pandey and Vishnu Som cannot see the inappropriateness of what they did, it’s high time they started working to make the newsroom and its product more diverse. The weaker sides of every hierarchy would move the public mind. Show us you mean it.