Skip to content

1

As the dialogue on gender inequality gets more strident and less nuanced, there are many holy cows and dirty pigs, where communication happens as though through a word parsing software. What is abuse and what isn't abused gets declared by the presence or absence of certain words and whether they are on the green list or red list.

This, in my view is a very primitive and undifferentiated judgment and any issues related with vulnerable people become tombs of conversation where cracking a joke is like Sushma Swaraj dancing at Raj Ghat. Insulting because it breaks a certain code, rather than offends.

So, for example you can speak of politicians raping India's forests. and compare it with the injustice of a rape, but god forbid if you crack a joke that humiliates a rape. The non-nuanced measures bring us to a point where feminists object to rape being ridiculed - not rape victim, note.

A good example is what a few people brought up on Twitter today as an example of trivializing rape. The "samudahik balatkaar" scene in 3 idiots, where a college prank sees some words change in a speech learned by rote and leads to hilarious insults. Some of them implying that the college students instead of going out in the world and performing miracles (chamatkar) will be famous for rapes (balaatkaar). The joke is on traditional methods of learning that stress memorization over meaning and sees a "bright" student insulting his college principal (and doting mentor) by unknowingly saying his students will make his college famous for rape instead of miracles. Rape is clearly used as a metaphor for inferior action. Is this offensive? Why? Rape should not have been spoken of with such rudeness? Rape deserves better respect? Not really. It just triggered the alarm in the word parser. If the word rape occurred followed by people laughing, it is somehow demeaning to women.

The film goes on to a scene where the protagonists are laughing at the stupidity of the supposed students and use the term "samudahik balaatkar" - communal rape (oh dear, another trigger word for the outrage ready, this "communal"). But the sentence is talking of that boy devastated by the humiliation of the whole community in splits with his offensive memorized speech he didn't know the meaning of. It expresses the character's trauma, but while it depicts a juvenile college mentality, it speaks of a "threat" passed - the person is not actually at risk of a community rape.

This goes for a lot of uses of the word "rape" like the insulting invented term "Great Indian Rape Trick" that was used by many on Twitter in the aftermath of the Delhi Gang Rape to express frustration with the unchanging scenario on preventing rape, regardless of outrage - almost like it is our identifier. Another one is "don't rape my mind" - which is again used in the metaphorical sense of violation - like for the forests.

In each of the "jokes", there is no rape victim whose trauma gets ridiculed. The metaphorical uses express the exploitation and harm implied by rape. It is the act of rape that is being spoken of with disrespect. In my view, this is great. There is nothing like ridicule to advertize disapproval and given the abundance of rape apologists in the country, I do think jokes that manage to humiliate rape and rapists are important. I also think the more the word rape gets used to describe harm and exploitation - whether someone's minds or forests - the more the colloquial use of the word "rape" as "cool" will die out, because of the larger meaning attached to it being completely uncool. I'd take a "dimaag rape mat kar yaar" any day over a "She's such a snob, I totally want to rape her." because the second uses the word "rape" as a justified and "cool" action, while the first uses it to express violation, even if exaggerated.

But how to know which usage does not humiliate the victims of rape, and which does?

For this, we need to think about laughter. What does your body feel when you laugh? Why is laughter a stress buster? Laughter is a sudden release of tension. Something that would be a threat if it really happened, however mild or ridiculous or improbable, that gets defeated or otherwise escaped. Laughter is also an expression of victory or surviving that threat. Which is why laughing at people offends, because it expresses their defeat at your hands. It puts the laugher above the laughee, so to say. It is also why laughing at self is seen as the mark of a self-secure and sporting person. These are subtle perceptions, which you can verify with a lot of observation of self and others, or I can write a separate post - it is a huge subject - for now, leaving it at this.

This works brilliantly against real threats and powerful targets that won't come to any real harm from the laughs. As an article I once read spoke of it, humor is like a sword. The pointy end must go in the bad guy. Killing the good guys or those who were wronged or those deserving sympathy will not be funny.

So, jokes about Kejriwal spending a night on the street will be funny, but not jokes about the homeless on the street, because for them, the "threat" is too real to laugh about. Jokes about an irritating person raping people's ears will be funny, because it is physically not possible, but an irritating person raping an actual woman will not. For the laugh to happen, the threat must END at the punch line.

This is how the rape of forets by politicians and corporations can be an outrage, but never a joke, because there is no punch line after which the rape ends. This is also why Palash Sen's humor about the lack of beautiful women in IIT made so many angry, because the stereotyping of women as eye candy for men is not something that ended with the humor.

This thinking takes nuance. A sensitivity that refuses to laugh at the plight of someone, but is fine laughing at a target that can take it. It is not about what words are used. It is about who the pointy end of that humor sword skewers. This is why there are so many people thrilled when news of rape victims bobbitizing their rapists happen. I'd heard one that went something like (I forget the exact words) "He went to put his dick in her. He couldn't put it in her, but she kept it with her - without him." As a joke goes, it wasn't a Taj Mahal of humor, but it wasn't offensive, because the underdog triumphed.

Here is a Sardarji joke I love:

Every few months, a sardarji used to cross over from India to Pakistan on a motorcycle with rocks loaded on it. The guys checking for smuggled goods and such were very suspicious about him. He just lit their buttons honed from years of experience, but no matter how much they inspected his luggage, they never found anything. One day, the sardarji was traveling back from Pakistan to India by bus, and he went to meet them saying this was his last trip, and to say "bye". They were straight with him. "We know you were smuggling something, but we never could find it. Can you tell us at least, what you were smuggling? We promise not to prosecute you." The Sardarji answered "motorcycles".

This joke is a counter-joke, where the sardarji - typically the butt of jokes portraying him as stupid triumphs. For those who respect sardarjis and are angry over their humiliation as stupid, this joke will get the laugh.

And so on.

There is a need to see that abuse or ridicule doesn't reside in the words, but in the intent. An inarticulate victim may be reduced to horrendous abuse in the face of overwhelming frustration, but is not necessarily the "abuser". Similarly, it is possible to be devastatingly humiliating without using a single bad word.

There is a need for us to refine our public outrages so that they target the wrong, rather than simply censor some words out of our vocabularies for some kinds of use.

2

To see a world in a grain of sand,
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,
And eternity in an hour.
~ William Blake

The year sets a humble end. A year of upheaval, of pain, of struggle, joys and learning.

The biggest thing that comes to mind is people. This was a year of vibrant people reaching for the stars. A few caught them, most fell back, but in falling back knew that they could reach higher.

I think this year was a long overdue mirror. A mirror to the state we were in, a mirror to our arrogance in thinking we could change things at will. And a mirror that shows the future. It is going to be a long and challenging struggle and this year is a sample of how it is going to feel. In our country and my home too.

The end of the year leaves me in a quiet, reflective space. It has been an extraordinary year, but it clearly speaks of a challenge taken on that is of far greater magnitude than it seemed in the energetic start.

The start was precious, because it put us on the road. Now comes the time to walk it. This is about endurance. About a lasting commitment to values, rather than hasty norms. A path of courageous soul searching.

Words I wrote keep coming to mind:

Perfection is an illusion. The road to Nirvana is in continuous improvement. Forever.

I am thankful for the learning this year has brought me, and I offer it to the coming year so that I may grow.

Here is to wishing all of us the right challenges to keep us on an exciting journey that expands us all as people, a nation and a world. To us falling asleep each day thinking eagerly of what we take on the next.

Here is to slogging our asses off in pursuit of goals that make our hearts soar with dreams. That make us do things our best heroes did.

Here is to love and laughter. After all, isn't all of the above for this? So here is to choosing love and laughter in all we do.

2

Purushottam Laxman Deshpande, or "Pu La" as he is affectionately called, has been a source of entertainment, inspiration, new ideas for as long as I can remember. What I find really special about him is that his humor is a reflection of life. There is no escape into another world, it is humor you can recognize about the world around you. Characters you can visualize, because you have met them in people you know.

Pu La as he is lovingly referred to is also a mirror of society and its failings, without making a paralyzing and depressing monument out of it. He looks at all our follies and calls them out and leads a new way of thinking.

One thing I admire about him is that his view of the world is life affirming. He sees the laugh in everything, without ignoring troubles. He is able to criticize actions without attacking the people committing them, in fact, embracing their being as it is. I see it as one of the purest forms of love for mankind.

Another aspect of him is his keen sense of social dynamics. What is happening in society, and the implications it has. His barbed descriptions of the educational system, irritating behaviors and other less than ideal realities provoke thought.

His humility. The unique ability to be down to earth, honest, respectful without needing to self-endorse. A celebrity who is less like a celebrity and more a personal guide. Very personal, because his words touch deeply, even as we laugh.

His timelessness. There are many who say he was ahead of his time. With due respect to them, he is ahead of our time too. He is the lighthouse of humane civilization we are trying to head toward. [If you are a regular here, you know I am not given to hyperbole]

His birthday today. One of the few people whom I believe in so much, that if I disagreed with something he said, it would call for introspection rather than questioning his credibility.

Wish he were still alive, but he is not. Can't call him dead, because he isn't. He lives in me, and in countless fans, not to mention inanimate objects like books and tapes... and pirated torrents on computer hard drives. *cough* What? He would have said it!

On his birthday, what gift could I give him, but the gift of him to myself - reading his books, allowing his thoughts to send out new shoots again and again.

And I am going to try and share this gift with my readers by translating some of his works to English. With his mastery over language, I am under no delusions of being able to offer accurate translations. In his own words, humor and poetry are so enmeshed in their language, that translating cannot convey the original. To use the word he coined for his adaptations of English Classics to Marathi, I am going to attempt a "Bhavanuvad" - a translation of the essence rather than words.

This is strictly about what Pu La means to me. For information about his work, go to his Wikipedia page, and watch a brief section of biography followed by a loooooong list of accomplishments. Or visit the website about him or this blog dedicated to him, to get snowed under by the magnitude of what he was.