No country for humour, or tolerance

No country for humour, or tolerance

Aren’t we fast becoming a country of wry faced, sullen people averse to humour?

The question is, what makes Indians, even the very ‘erudite’ among us, so humourless and ready to take offence at the drop of a hat? Credit: iStock Photo

Aren’t we fast becoming a country of wry faced, sullen people averse to humour? The way Kunal Kamra is being hounded by a section of people for his brand of humour, it seems that humour is losing its place and space in our lives. Some weeks ago, the legendary batsman, our very own Sunil Gavaskar, faced mordant criticism from a very large section of netizens for his comment on Virat Kohli's rusty batting. In the mid-80s, no one had taken umbrage when the same Sunny Gavaskar opined quite caustically that “Indian films are made by the asses for the masses.” In fact, many actors congratulated him on this witty apercu! Alas, things have changed drastically in a little over three decades. 

The question is, what makes Indians, even the very ‘erudite’ among us, so humourless and ready to take offence at the drop of a hat? British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, known for his acerbic wit, used to say, “Inability to take humour in a sportive manner is a sign of inferiority complex and having a nagging sense of guilt.” So very true. Only those suffering from a niggling sense of inferiority complex and an ingrained sense of wrongdoing are hateful of humour, because humour reveals the reality in an ostensibly casual manner. 

In recent times, the treatment given by the ‘establishment’ to certain individuals on one side of the political and ideological divide has caused comedians like Kamra to comment on what they see happening in the country, sometimes in too comic a manner, perhaps, for some people’s taste. The man has the audacity to call a spade a spade, nay a shovel. And this very quality in an individual is a threat to the ‘establishment.’  

Neurologists like Lucio Bini and Paul Robert Bing as well as linguists like David Crystal and Edmund Sapir, are of the view that humour acts as a euphemism. Its effect lasts longer than a direct or abusive statement. At the same time, the human brain tends to take humour as a revelation. And revelations are often explosive!

That's the reason, the ‘establishment’ and its agencies are so apprehensive of comedians and always want to muffle and muzzle their voices.

Our proclivity to take all things to heart and react impulsively have contributed to our aversion to humour and to our intolerance. Intolerance often stems from a sense of vulnerability or false supremacy. Somewhere, many of us have developed a false sense of ethnic and nationalistic supremacy in recent times. This concocted supremacy has made us vulnerable and intolerant to every word and statement we erroneously deem as an assault or an affront.

Perhaps this needs some kind of elaboration. Till about the end of the last decade, even the Marathi people would refer to king Shivaji as Shivaji, but today, if you don't say ‘Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj’, you are liable to be driven out of Maharashtra. Amitabh Bachchan will vouch for that.

Now, it's de rigueur in Bengal and in the company of Bengalis to use the honorific ‘Gurudev’ before Rabindranath Tagore and ‘Netaji’ before Subhash Chandra Bose. Otherwise, they'll be offended.

This offence-taking is widespread and applies to people’s likes and dislikes across fields. If the great playback singer Mohammad Rafi is not called Rafi sahab, his countless admirers will take umbrage, Truth be told, yours truly is arguably the biggest fan and scholar on Rafi today, having earned a Doctorate on him from Lahore University, Pakistan. But I chose to call him Mohammad Rafi, with all due respect.

Till about the turn of the century, all English and vernacular newspapers would write Muhammad just like Rama, Krishna, Jesus or Moses. Suddenly, Muhammad became Prophet Muhammad. Today, you dare write only Muhammad and rest assured, somebody will take grave offence.

All these religio-ethnic perceptions of supremacy, especially in India and the sub-continent, have made us vulnerable and unnecessarily arrogant and delusional. That our particular religion or ethnic group is not just the best but the only way, is the latest mantra. So, community, ethnicity and religious banter have become a taboo and strict no-no.

Even the Sikhs, who used to crack jokes on themselves, have become too conscious about their ethnic identity. Now, if you crack jokes on Sikhs or narrate Santa-Banta jokes, chances are that Sikhs will not take it lightly. The same has happened to Bengalis, Marathis, Tamils and other communities. Now, if you call a Bengali  ‘Bong’, a Marathi ‘Taant’ (after Tantya Tope of Sepoy Mutiny fame) or a Tamil ‘Tambi’ or ‘Madrasi’, the people of these communities will not be amused. 

So, a kind of sudden and mindless ethnic and communal resurgence, triggered by extreme religiosity, can be adduced as a reason that has made us intolerant. And remember the words of American humourist Mark Twain, “An intolerant person is humourless, and vice versa.” We're witnessing the same in this country.