Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Eyebrow Olympians & Clerics: The Net is No Country for Old Men

(This first appeared in the Sunday Guardian)

Last month, when the news broke that telecom minister and eyebrow Olympics gold medallist Kapil Sibal was trying to censor the internet, the twittersphere rose up in unison and protested. It was as if a million Manmohan Singhs were trying to move a rock by sending it multiple strongly worded letters. After all, twitter is for tilting at windmills.

These wounds were re-opened this week when the Delhi High Court warned search and social networking companies that if they don’t comply with its diktats, the court would block them like they do in China. The Indian twittersphere was exasperated! Trying to make us more like China! Who do these old fogies think they are, N Ram? They don’t realize that if we wanted some unelected, arbitrary authority to determine the boundaries of acceptability, we would have supported Anna Hazare’s fledgling political outfit. Somebody switch on the rusty Dell 486 sitting politely at their desks and show them that the internet is like a Cormac McCarthy novel: it’s no country for old men.

While the Delhi High court wanted to turn us into China, vapid television anchors turned to twitter to lament our growing similarity to Pakistan. Finding such tenuous similarity between two countries is as easy as finding a son of a deposed Nigerian prince who just needs your bank account number to turn you into a bona fide millionaire. Allow me to demonstrate: We’re similar to Italy because both our countries have renowned economists who, as head of state, preside over an establishment prone to corruption. We’re like Britain because a large amount of both our populations yearn for the glory of the past. We’re like Australia because bigots in both countries are prone to using ethnic slurs to taunt tourists from less developed parts of the world. We’re like America because both of our countries are home to a large amount of illegal immigrants who have come from a smaller, poorer neighbouring country. We’re like Japan because both of our countries treat washed-out hollywood hangers-on as entertainment gods. We’re like Afghanistan because both our cricket teams are currently struggling to win a match overseas.

Speaking of being lazy, we discovered this week that boycotting harmless human garden gnome Salman Rushdie is still a thing! Hadn’t everyone secretly decided to move on from that battle? In fact, our last international nightmare involving Rushdie was when he took to twitter to complain about being blocked from making a Facebook page. Sure, Facebook is evil too, but it’s still slim pickings for the man who fought and won a war of attrition against Ayatollah Khomeini.

Rushdie was scheduled to speak at a couple of sessions during the Jaipur Literature Festival being held this week. So when the high-priests of the Darul Uloom heard about his visit, they called for the central government to cancel Rushdie’s visa, even though he doesn’t actually need one to visit India. But when have facts deterred a fundamentalist bent upon proving that his religion has the biggest penis? Also, why are these high priests channelling American movie studios and rehashing stuff from the 80’s?  

Of course, now that UP is having an election to determine its next top statue model, and the Congress is practically grovelling for votes in that state–like a starlet in Mumbai who promises a horny producer that she’ll do anything to get her big chance–it needed to do something to appease the crazy people. Thus, the Chief Minister of Rajasthan, Ashok Gehlot, made some noises about the people of Rajasthan not wanting Rushdie to visit the state and then claiming that his government would not be able to provide adequate security to Rushdie. Firstly, we didn’t realize that Gehlot is just like the character Jim Carrey portrayed in Bruce Almighty, and can hear the thoughts of every person living in his state. Secondly, if his government cannot provide security to one single person, then what is the point of his government?

Not that any central or state government is interested in defending free speech even during non-election time. Most of them start shitting bricks at the mere thought of someone taking offence to something.

If we can't offend people who think a book of short stories written thousands of years ago contains instructions on how to live life in the 21st century, then the terrorists have won.

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