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2014: ‘The tongue doesn’t have bones’




By Ratnakar Tripathy 

The boneless tongue

The boneless tongue

Among the myriad reports and analyses on the 2014 parliamentary elections I have read, the most telling one came from a man in the streets of Bangalore –  ‘Naaligege moolle illa’, he told the reporter in Kannada, a language I don’t understand. Thanks to this Kannada saying, I have turned an admirer of the language without understanding a word of it. It means ‘the tongue doesn’t have bones’, and you can say whatever you want. The tongue is utterly flexible and unlike the arm or the ankle is not confined to a narrow range of movements or sounds.

So shall we celebrate the tongue’s unique freedom, its freedom to lie in the 2014 carnival of freedom and democracy? The celebration may not last long as the license to lie is only half the story. How about the predicament of those who are constantly and repeatedly lied to? I may of course twist my tongue anyways I wish and go on a lying spree. But who is listening?

The power of lying becomes apparent when the whole nation is listening to you with bated breath. There are old liars who have been lying for decades. So much so that even their sincere truths carry the feel of utter lies. They now fully understand that their stock of lies has run out. They have caused what may be called a fatigue of trust. So much so that the listener has come to believe that their lies are what define them. Normally, when someone lies, we wonder about the person’s motive in telling a lie rather than the truth. But we have now come to a point where no one wastes time wondering or trying to figure out the scheme or the story behind the lies. There is no mystery or mystique here. All we get is a plain and flat indictment – ‘they lie’. Why they lie is not an enigma I intend to invest my energies in. In fact as a listener, I no longer have the energy for the hoary lies. These are lies below refuting.

When there are no new lies to tell, someone has to find them, fashion them, invent them.

What are those timeless lies? And the lies come lately?

Let me start with myself as a citizen of India. Am I a citizen of India or a supplicant is not clear to me. My rights are talked about as both – as clauses that define my status as an Indian but also as bribes offered to me for votes. In order to translate my rights into something real, I need to procure so much ballast, it is actually beyond my means. Instead the helium balloon of my rights pulls me away from the ground to great heights, where I can enjoy my rights as pure ideas. When I claim a very earthy mundane right, I am instead taken above the clouds for a close brush with a rainbow and then dropped back on the earth with an abruptness I have come to resent.

Take development, another lie! I am reminded on a daily basis that I am being developed. Quite often I am also told that I come in the way of development intended for me. This is like getting a god I didn’t ask for. I want a god who listens to your prayer instead of telling you what to pray for. No one bothers to ask me how I wish to develop myself. Instead in the manner of a brain twister I am told everything is being done to stop me from not developing, to ensure I get developed. Is this democracy?

Take secularism, another tired word that remains untranslatable in street language even to this day. What we do understand is peace and tolerance and I don’t need a philosopher to tell me that I shouldn’t be wishing to spend any of my time in life tearing at someone’s jugular because of religion or caste. Unless I find him eyeing at mine, of course! There are two kinds of liars here – first those who tell me they don’t take sides and then play us against each other from an equidistant position. This is one kind of lie, one kind of political lever.

The second sort tells me they are with me in my religion. When I ask them what it means to be together, they explain of course, our religion is what the other religion isn’t and our togetherness lies in combining our energies and attacking the other religion. This is like consulting a dictionary of antonyms exclusively. Or a tautology – the daily monotonous wisdom that a is a. This is slippery business – it’s like your Hindu priest defining dharma for you as what Islam and Christianity [and other faiths] aren’t. And of course, vice versa! So a Hindu is defined as someone who beats up Muslims, and a Muslim as someone who retaliates before being attacked.  So if being anti-Muslim is a full-time business and duty of a Hindu and vice versa, where is the time for faith, you may ask.

Again, take nation and nationalism, another sort of lie in which everyone seems complicit. I love my village, my state, my country but I also hate them on a bad day. I love my mother. But I would find it emotionally draining if I had to listen to daily speeches on how she must be loved and then shout slogans and chant mantras for her sake. Love for one’s country is a warm glow but it can turn into a burning fire when I am asked that loving India means to hate Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Maldives and god alone knows how many other countries. Thankfully no one has asked me to hate Seychelles or Vanuatu, both islands that may submerge in the ocean in a few decades.

Finally, why do we find new lies more interesting, colourful or even trustworthy than the old ones? I have no idea. May be because we know old lies too well and will feel foolish falling for them again. The new lies give us an excuse to continue with self respect. May be after five years or sooner we may be able to say with a straight face we didn’t know, a bit more convincingly. I don’t know which urge is more powerful – the urge to seek out a new lie or the urge to steer away from lies old and new.

Consider this – you sense a pickpocket’s [electoral candidates] hands slipping into your pocket – you have the following options. You may stop him and walk away, you may report him, or you may raise hell. But you may also pretend he is just borrowing some money from you. If you are seriously touched in the brain you may even claim that he is borrowing money to invest in your name and will return it tenfold as quietly as he took it. I am sure even better lies are waiting to be discovered, if novelty is all you seek.

2014 will decide how our lies and lives will fare for the next several years, perhaps decades. If India is really maturing as a democracy, we ought to prove ourselves bad, really bad at self-deception.

Go get your tongue a bone.







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