Paromita Vohra: Weekly app review

Paromita VohraWhen I was a kid, if one acted too fancy or wrinkled one’s nose at desi things, like, for instance, saying, "I don’t want parathas for tiffin! I want sandwiches!" (or called tiffin, the lunchbox), one of your formidable maasis or buas would snort, "angrez chale gaye, aulad chhod gaye."

These aunts have been sniffing similarly about the new obsession with sedition, last noticed among British colonial rulers. I tried to explain to them that it’s about being Indian, but aunts are not the listening types.

Anupam Kher

Given the availability of free downloadable editing software, this sedition fashion is making some people nervous. When anything or anyone can be called seditious, how are they to prove otherwise?

These are entrepreneurial times. An app to address this issue is already being marketed, by Mr Anupam Kher. All you have to do is say, "Bharat Mata ki Jai" and you are proven nationalist.
After the first enthusiastic rash of downloads, consumer reports have been mixed.

Some have pointed out language issues in the app. One consumer noted on Facebook: "As a Dravidian (People from South who love Rahul Dravid) I am against this pushing of the Aryan Hindi slogans down our throat...I will say Bharathan Amma Valgai."

Another consumer proposed she would only say, "Bharat Ammi ki Jai." Someone else wanted to go with Jai Hind.

In other glitches, the app also caused some feminists to agree with writer Manu Joseph (thereby potentially causing distress to Manu Joseph) when he tweeted: only those who can pronounce Kanimozhi correctly have the right to ask Tamilians to chant Bharat Mata Ki Jai.

How do the app creators intend to deal with utterances, which, while not verbatim, basically mean the same thing? Time to go back to the drawing board, preferably a bigger one?

The app also seems beset by literalism, which makes it particularly vulnerable to hackers.

Yaniki, suppose you love India so much you’d rather stay here than anywhere else in the world. You pay your taxes, if sometimes late, don’t throw garbage in front of your neighbour’s door or get abusive on social media, pay for one child’s education each year and don’t recycle your Diwali gifts. But you don’t say "Bharat Mata Ki Jai." So, are you not a nationalist?

On the other hand: evade taxes, prefer to apply for another citizenship, look out only for yourself, complain Indians are dirty as you throw trash out of your car window. But you do say Bharat Mata Ki Jai. Would that mean you’re a nationalist?

The other question is about piracy, as the app’s simplistic structure makes counterfeiting easy, setting up issues of cheating. That is, say you are a spy or drug overlord. But if you say Bharat Mata Ki Jai, the app will count you as a nationalist, which may make genuine nationalists feel shortchanged.

Actually, traditional Indian knowledge has already identified this technical problem through the (allow me, South ke friends) Hindi muhavara, "moonh mein Ram, bagal mein chhuri" (invoking God to your face, hiding a knife to stab you with).

It’s mystifying how Mr Kher did not think of this particular system error. After all, he is an actor — a great one. Surely, he of all people knows, that just because you mouth a dialogue, while playing a role, doesn’t make it real, hai na?

Anyway, let’s not be discouraged. The cool part is, you can expand this definition and keep renewing iterations as you go. It’s called iterating as you go.

Looking forward to a 2.0 — or 3.0 — version with more wisdom and heart that can attract serious buy-in.

Paromita Vohra is an award-winning Mumbai-based filmmaker, writer and curator working with fiction and non-fiction. Reach her at www.parodev

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