Ranjona Banerji: When reality is stranger than fiction

This columnist turns to the idiot box for some distraction from the stupidity and insanity raging in India and the rest of the world

Like everyone else, I also get tired of this seemingly endless ‘nationalist versus anti-nationalist’, ‘patriot versus traitor’, ‘tolerant versus intolerant’ discussion that has consumed India. And it’s not just India. The American presidential campaign for the choice of candidates is all versus them. Britain is going through a patriot versus European thing. The people of Syria are torn between being killed here and rejected there. It’s the same story repeating itself over and over again.

A still from the Game of Thrones, where punishments are harsh. So are some of the real life ‘punishments’ meted out in India, where law and order takes a break while people are lynched, stoned, burnt, stabbed, raped, just to uphold some ideology or tradition or the other
A still from the Game of Thrones, where punishments are harsh. So are some of the real life ‘punishments’ meted out in India, where law and order takes a break while people are lynched, stoned, burnt, stabbed, raped, just to uphold some ideology or tradition or the other

I tried television as an escape route, so I could just ignore the whole thing. I now watch Game of Thrones reruns but since I’m a little ignorant about the details, not having read George RR Martin’s books, it took me a while to catch up. And then I realised it was Baratheon versus Baratheon versus Stark versus Lannister versus Targaryen plus some dragons, warlocks, wildlings and dead things. Fascinating stuff, and I love it, but hardly an escape from versus things.

So I went over to my other staple: Cooking shows. But they are usually competitions and if they’re some nightmare with Gordon Ramsay, then they’re competitions without being competitions. Team versus team whipping, beating, whisking, breaking, chopping... it’s exhausting and then it makes you hungry and then you are versus yourself because you forgot about your diet.

I was going to go on and on like this and prove that everywhere I looked there was conflict — from the garden to a tennis match. To press the point. That this fight is insane. It cannot be that the whole of India is teeming with ‘anti-nationals’. It cannot be that everyone who does not agree with you is seditious. It cannot be that every comment that you do not like is some massive insult to the idea of India. It cannot be that every student, scholar, writer and intellectual is only focused on destroying India or Bharat, as we are being forced to call this country nowadays. I am sure that all these people are really annoying and irritating. But, so what? We all have bugbears of our own.

Maybe my bugbear is someone looking for anti-nationals in every schoolyard and playground and college canteen. Or maybe my bugbear is people still demonstrating their caste prejudices in this day and age. Or maybe my bugbear is people using soldiers dying or farmers dying to prove their own patriotism — that is, riding on someone else’s death to gain bogus brownie points they have no claim to. Or maybe my bugbear is people justifying hateful discrimination against women, lower castes, people of other skin colours and people of different sexualities by hiding behind excuses of tradition or culture.

So far, I have not sued anyone, complained to the police about them, filed PILs or taken to abusing their parents on social media. The punishments in Game of Thrones are far worse, of course. And so are some of the real life ‘punishments’ meted out in India, where law and order takes a break while people are lynched, stoned, burnt, stabbed, raped, just to uphold some ideology or tradition or the other.

I really don’t know if this is a sign of democracy collapsing or if we’re going the way of Nazi Germany. But it does seem as if this fight has gone out of hand. The referees have run away or are being targeted, and whatever you say can be turned against you. It is easy to blame governments and politicians and god knows they are happy to create messes from which they can get votes. But is this battle not about politicians and just about us?

If India is really at a crossroads then I hope we have better options ahead of us. I hope we can be free to disagree about the flavour of chips and the serials we want to watch and the political parties and sports we want to support. I hope we have the good sense, currently carefully hiding somewhere, to realise that the current road we are on is one of extreme stupidity.

Meanwhile, if Game of Thrones is my only refuge at the moment, I find I just cannot like Baratheons and will have to be content with a Stark or a Targaryen married to a Dothraki. I think I just made that up. Did I?

Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist. You can follow her on Twitter @ranjona

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