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To say or not to say

Voltaire

For people who are visually differently-abled, the above reads –

“To learn who rules over you, simply find out who you are not allowed to criticize” – Voltaire wrote this either in late 16th century or early 17th century and those words were as apt in those times, as it is in these turbulent times as well.

Update 05/03 – According to @bla these words are attributable to a neo-nazi and apparently a child abuser. While I don’t know the context in which it was shared, it describes the environment in which we are perfectly. Please see his comment for a link and better understanding.

The below topic requires a bit of maturity, so if you are easily offended, feel free not to read further.

While this week-end I was supposed to share about the recent Science Day celebrations that we did last week –

Science Day celebrations at GMRT

Would explore it probably next week.

This week the attempt is to share thoughts which had been simmering at the back of my mind for more than 2 weeks or more and whose answers are not clear to me.

My buttons were pressed when Martin f. Kraft shared about a CoC violation and the steps taken therein. While it is easy to say with 20:20 hind-sight to say that the gentleman acted foolishly, I don’t really know the circumstances to pass the judgement so quickly. In reality, while I didn’t understand the ‘joke’ in itself, I have to share some background by way of anecdotes as to why it isn’t so easy for me to give a judgement call.

a. I don’t know the topics chosen by stand-up comedians in other countries, in India, most of the stand-up acts are either about dating or sex or somewhere in-between, which is lovingly given the name ‘Leela’ (dance of life) in Indian mythology. I have been to several such acts over the years at different events, different occasions and 99.99% of the time I would see them dealing with pedophilia, necrophilia and all sorts of deviants in sexuality and people laughing wildly, but couple of times when the comedian shared the term ‘sex’ with people, educated, probably more than a few world-travelled middle to higher-middle class people were shocked into silence. I had seen this not in once but 2-3 times in different environments and was left wondering just couple of years back ‘ Is sex such a bad word that people get easily shocked ? ‘ Then how is it that we have 1.25 billion + people in India. There had to be some people having sex. I don’t think that all 1.25 billion people are test-tube babies.

b. This actually was what lead to my quandary last year when my sharing of ‘My Experience with Debian’ which I had carefully prepared for newbies, seeing seasoned debian people, I knew my lame observations wouldn’t cut ice with them and hence had to share my actual story which involved a bit of porn. I was in two minds whether or not to say it till my eyes caught a t-shirt on which it was said ‘We make porn’ or something to that effect. That helped me share my point.

c. Which brings me to another point, it seems it is becoming increasingly difficult to talk about anything either before apologizing to everyone and not really knowing who will take offence at what and what the repercussions might be. In local sharings, I always start with a blanket apology that if I say something that offends you, please let me know afterwards so I can work on it. As the term goes ‘You can’t please everyone’ and that is what happens. Somebody sooner or later would take offence at something and re-interpret it in ways which I had not thought of.

Charlie Chaplin - King of self-deprecating humor

From the little sharings and interactions I have been part of, I find people take offence at the most innocuous things. For instance, one of the easy routes of not offending anyone is to use self-deprecating humour (or so I thought) either of my race, caste, class or even my issues with weight and each of the above would offend somebody. Charlie Chaplin didn’t have those problems. If somebody is from my caste, I’m portraying the caste in a certain light, a certain slant. If I’m talking about weight issues, then anybody who is like me (fat) feels that the world is laughing at them rather than at me or they will be discriminated against. While I find the last point a bit valid, it leaves with me no tools and no humour. I neither have the observational powers or the skills that Kapil Sharma has and have to be me.

While I have no clue what to do next, I feel the need to also share why humour is important in any sharing.-

a. Break – When any speaker uses humour, the idea is to take a break from a serious topic. It helps to break the monotony of the talk especially if the topic is full of jargon talk and new concepts. A small comedic relief brings the attendees attention back to the topic as it tends to wander in a long monotonous talk.

b. Bridge – Some of the better speakers use one or more humourous anecdote to explain and/or bridge the chasm between two different concepts. Some are able to produce humour on the fly while others like me have to rely on tried and tested methods.

There is one another thing as well, humour is seems to be a mixture of social, cultural and political context and its very easy to have it back-fired upon you.

For instance, I attempted humour on refugees, probably not the best topic to try humour in the current political climate, and predictably, it didn’t go down well. I had to share and explain about Robin Williams slightly dark yet humorous tale in ‘Moscow on the Hudson‘ The film provides comedy and pathos in equal measure. You are left identifying with Vladimir Ivanoff (Robin Williams character) especially in the last scene where he learns of his grand-mother dying and he remembers her and his motherland, Russia and plays a piece on his saxophone as a tribute both to his grand-mother and the motherland. Apparently, in the height of the cold war, if a Russian defected to United States (land of Satan and other such terms used) you couldn’t return to Russia.

The movie, seen some years back left a deep impact on me. For all the shortcomings and ills that India has, even if I could, would and could I be happy anywhere else ? The answers are not so easy. With most NRI’s (Non-Resident Indians) who emigrated for good did it not so much for themselves but for their children. So the children would hopefully have a better upbringing, better facilities, better opportunities than they would have got here.

I talked to more than a few NRI’s and while most of them give standardized answers, talking awhile and couple of beers or their favourite alcohol later, you come across deeply conflicted human beings whose heart is in India and their job, profession and money interests compel them to be in the country where they are serving.

And Indian movies further don’t make it easy for the Indian populace when trying to integrate into a new place. Some of the biggest hits of yesteryear’s were about having the distinct Indian culture in their new country while the message of most countries is integration. I know of friends who are living in Germany who have to struggle through their German in order to be counted as a citizen, the same I guess is true of other countries as well, not just the language but the customs as well. They also probably struggle with learning more than one language and having an amalgamation of values which somehow they and their children have to make sense of.

I was mildly shocked last week to learn that Mishi Choudary had to train people in the U.S. to differentiate between Afghan turban styles of wearing and the Punjabi style of wearing the turban. A simple search on ‘Afghani turban’ and ‘Punjabi turban’ reveals that there are a lot of differences between the two cultures. In fact, the way they talk, the way they walk, there are lots that differentiate the two cultures.

The second shocking video was of an African-American man racially abusing an Indian-American girl. At first, I didn’t believe it till I saw the video on facebook.

My point through all that is it seems humour, that clean, simple exercise which brings a smile to you and uplifts the spirit doesn’t seem to be as easy as it once was.

Comments, suggestions, criticisms all are welcome.

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