Wednesday, April 10, 2013

The Art of Magical Thinking

(This first appeared in the Sunday Guardian)

One of the things that makes this country great is the propensity of its citizens towards magical thinking. As long as something sounds implausible and illogical, we’ll believe it! Whether it’s the belief that banning smoking in movies will decrease consumption of cigarettes in real life or that wearing a ring with a ‘customized emerald’ will make you richer than a cabinet minister in the central government. Hey, if it’s second-hand information, it must be true!

This week, the competition to be India’s thought leader in magical thinking has been heating up!

Our first contender is noted self-help guru and living proof that if you say anything in a slow & deliberate voice, people will believe that you’re revealing the secret of the cosmos, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. In a recent public address, when asked about his opinion on the portrayal of outfits like his in hindi movies, he went off on a rant about how people who make movies are depraved, soulless drug addicts whose only purpose in life is to spend the public’s money and turn the country into a naxalite dystopia. Then a ‘holy man’ hailing from the shores of Benares gave the rebuttal.

It seems a little strange for self-help salesmen to rant against addicts. Being a member of a cult is just like being addicted to a harmful substance. You turn to both of them because you need a little pick-me-up. You think that you’re not an addict/one of those people who will believe this shit! Your need to run away from your problems keeps getting bigger and you promise yourself that one more session won’t do any harm. The people around you start avoiding you because of your one track focus. Then, when the crash comes, and you realize that your problems are still there and you can’t snort or meditate or wish them away, you try to climb back from the hole you’ve dug yourself into. At least drug addicts have the decency to not sell you overpriced spa sessions in the guise of spirituality. (Public Service Announcement: Don’t do drugs! Unless of course, you’re an investment banker, an actor or a musician. Then it’s mandatory! Hope this helps.)

Then we have the #1 chief minister in the history of the world and the man who will deliver us from evil by being more evil, Narendra Modi. As any hack on teevee will tell you, any issue surrounding Modi tends to turn “controversial” because he is a “polarising” figure. So, that is what happened when a delegation consisting of small time businessmen and three members of the US House of Representatives, who on a ten day tour of India, made a stopover in Gujarat and met the state’s chief minister. Modi’s supporters would like you to believe that this was the beginning of the ‘wooing’ that the international community will undertake because they have ‘accepted’ a truth that his detractors cannot. It’s a great narrative! Even the British ambassador also dropped in to meet him that one time. So now they can pretend that the west is trying to ‘engage’ Modi. Because if there is one thing Washington is good at, it’s picking heads of government for other countries.

Even though no one in the delegation was representing the Obama administration; even though Ahmadabad was just a stop in a ten day trip which was organized by an Indian-American organization and also included something called ‘a bollywood extravaganza,’ it didn’t stop Modi and his supporters from taking a victory lap. They were as giddy as a Times Now reporter talking about a tertiary Indian connection to a movie nominated for the Oscars. They used the sort of strenuous logic that can prove anything: Modi is popular, causes an extreme reaction in people and his fans on twitter keep trying to get his name into the top ten trending topics. ZOMG! He’s Justin Beiber!

Our final spot belongs to Sanjay Dutt and his supporters. Led by future psychiatric case study, Justice Katju and India’s creepy uncle whom no person under eighteen can meet without a court appointed adult supervisor, Amar Singh, his supporters have been arguing that Dutt must not be forced to serve any time in jail because he is the nicest person to ever be convicted of aiding terrorists. He lends people his land rover! He makes cameo appearances for free! He made Gandhi cool again! What sort of monster sends such a saint to jail?

In their legal argument, they’re citing the oft-ignored fine print in the footnotes of the constitution which says “you don’t need to follow any law as long as you’re a nice guy.”

Or at least that’s what I heard from a friend of a friend.

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