We, the Barbarians: Vipul Rikhi
Guest post by VIPUL RIKHI
We’re not a civilisation. We’re a horde. And baying for blood is the new flavour of the season.
Let us have a few more executions while we’re at it. Why stop the fun now? Let us distribute sweets and dance on the streets. Why hide these killings inside jails? Let’s bring them out into the open, so the whole populace can rejoice and the collective conscience of the people can be appeased.
If there’s not enough terrorists, there are rapists. There are enough people to round up and hang. As with the six who raped and murdered a girl on a bus in Delhi, our collective cry must be, ‘kill them all!’ There are clear villains in each piece, and we are the pure ones who are always getting outraged.
Vandalism and righteousness are the new values. Stridency is the new voice. Violence is the new activism. Swoop down on more ice-cream joints in the manner of Mangalore and heckle and humiliate young couples. Arrest more girls for Facebook posts and likes. Create an outcry at every other film, book or utterance. Imprison people who make unacceptable paintings and cartoons, especially of those in power. Arrest authors and speakers; attack and vandalise publications. Forbid women from dressing at all, as in all the coolest films, unless they submit to covering every inch of their bodies. Condemn them if they do, and condemn them if they don’t.
Confronted with an attack by the ‘enemy’, we display our strength and might as a nation. We flex our numerous muscles. Our national honour and asmita are enhanced by not allowing terrorists to meet their families before they die. We feel fulfilled and strong by dancing on the streets to celebrate a killing, and get our kicks from being covered by lustful media.
We have tasted blood. We won’t stop now. A bit of frenzy never hurt anyone. Certainly not us.
When we condemn a society, we must condemn it wholesale. It is not that ‘liberals’ are somehow better people because of their claims to espouse a ‘right set of values’. No matter what label we are, we are a horde. We have our own set of fundamentalisms. No matter who ‘we’ are, we have an ‘us’ and a ‘them’. It’s always ‘they’ who are the problem.
But look closely and you will find that something is rotten in the entire state of Denmark. It is not one section or the other. A public culture that is steeped in noise-making and rabble-rousing is constituted by all of us. Collective aspirations that are deeply laced with self-seeking and lust for personal power and success are held in force by all of us. We’re the ones we are dying to fight and kill. We are the ones we are gunning for. In a macabre sense, it might be only logical for us to do so.
There can be several ways to look at a culture’s gradual descent into madness. There are several kinds of insanity as well; for instance, the carefully sanitised and regulated insanity of the west. But ours is much more colourful (we who pride ourselves on our joie de vivre) and in the face. Our shit and piss is always out in the open.
It is a mistake to think that we know who we are. We are only just finding out. It’s coming out more and more as the times get fast and furious. We’re a fanciful ‘superpower’ in the making, ‘modern’, ‘developed’ and getting richer. Our wealth and modernity make us only more rabid and frenzied. We spew more venom, vitriol, banality and noise on our television and in our newspapers, and buy more touch-phones, flat screens and other gadgets that make us appear cool and evolved, with which we boost our collective self-image.
We’re too clever by half. We win more and more international awards and preen to ourselves. We are ‘forgiven’ by the international business community for our occasional rioting and accepted back into the fold. We are all glamour and shimmer, all power and pull, all surface culture and sophistication. The literati are a horde. The liberal intellectuals are a horde. The politicians are a horde. The businessmen and women are a horde. The right-wingers are a horde. The gurus, mullahs and pandits are a horde. The middle class is a horde. Bollywood is a horde. (The poor are a horde who don’t count.)
It is all interconnected. It all ties in. if we don’t get the links, it is because we’re not looking. We don’t want to look. Because that is not our culture. Our culture is to catch and execute. Our culture is to chase and acquire. Our culture is to be righteous and self-satisfied. Our culture is to pronounce moronic judgements on television and to accept those verdicts.
We are exactly what we deserve. A mob will lynch a mob. We just don’t want to admit what we have become. Shadows are soothing and comfortable, and the level of din more than makes up for the lack of light. But let’s face it – there will be blood. There are more attractions forthcoming in 2014, and perhaps before and certainly after. Hang on to your seats (unless ‘they’ cart you away first to the gallows).
There is no ‘them’. There is no enlightened, elevated, superior, rabidly righteous ‘us’. We’re all them. We’re all us. They’re all us.
I am. You are. We all are.
(Vipul Rikhi is a Bangalore-based writer)