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Sanskari Pollution: A Cracker of a Time With Chetan Bhagat

Dear Chetan Bhagat, why are we engaging in ‘whataboutery’ when we can be making the world a better place?

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Chetan Bhagat, be <i>sanskari</i>, not <i>firangi</i>!
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This Monday Chetan Bhagat tweeted about the Supreme Court’s firecracker ban during Diwali. Not unexpectedly, it elicited immediate and sharp responses from across the country. While some have wondered why he chose to give it a communal hue, others have advocated his stand on festivals free of cruelty to animals. Some other ‘intellectuals’ are wondering if he is angling for an award or high honour from the present dispensation by playing the religion card. Before I share my two bits on the subject, I’d like to talk a bit about ol’ Che himself.

I had the opportunity to meet him in person at an event in Delhi over the weekend, and I can safely say that I’m yet to meet a more self-aware man. Bhagat has been routinely lampooned for his complicated relationship with the English language... this tweet is proof.

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Bhagat managed to ‘saw’ the Taj causing my six year old niece to collapse on the floor in a fit of uncontrollable giggles. The grammatical goof up prompted #dontsawthetaj to trend for a few hours on Twitter. Bhagat later clarified that it was an inadvertent ‘phone autocorrect typo’. In fact, speaking at the event where we met, Bhagat admitted that he wasn’t the best writer in the world, but he sure as hell was a best-selling author. It’s true. The man is a marketing genius. He knows what his readers want – stories about small town men and women outsmarting their urban brethren all the while having epic sex and pledging desh-bhakti. So in that sense, it’s a bit like sanskari soft porn with a dash of patriotism.

And Bhagat delivers just that using a relatable vocabulary, that is replete with grammatical misadventures, even the best copy editors find insurmountable. Who cares? It sells and ol’ Che rakes in the moolah. Want ‘angrezi’? Read VS Naipaul, Salman Rushdie or Shashi Tharoor!

Bhagat told me that he is a middle class Punjabi man from Delhi. He spoke at length about his middle class values and upbringing, thereby endearing himself to sundry social rejects, who are otherwise dismissed by the ‘intellectuals’ as blithering idiots. Bhagat flaunts his mediocrity and flaws in a bid to target, cultivate and sustain his fan base. And that is no mean feat. I wonder though if he has inadvertently equated the middle class with mediocrity. One can counter argue here that being an IIT and IIM grad, Bhagat is anything but mediocre, his tenuous relationship with infinitives, tenses and syntax notwithstanding.

But his success and fame have placed an added responsibility on Bhagat’s questionably able shoulders. He is a public figure now. Love him or hate him, but you can’t ignore his ubiquitous tweets. The man has an opinion and is not afraid of sharing it. One wonders though if he needs to temper his expression with a modicum of caution. Take the latest series of tweets on the ban on firecrackers being critical of one’s religion. As the man who advocated peaceful coexistence in 3 Mistakes of My Life, isn’t it terribly irresponsible to fan the flames of a persecution complex given how polarised the political environment has been becoming of late?

But before I delve into the religious aspects of Bhagat’s argument, let me give him what Bhagat loves the most… numbers. I have noticed that his books always have numerical titles: Five Point Someone, Half Girlfriend, One Indian Girl etc.

How about some facts and figures Mr Bhagat? In a survey of 1600 cities worldwide, Delhi’s air quality was found to be the worst. Air pollution kills 1.5 million Indians every year. Harmful suspended particulate matter exceeding safety levels by 14 to 16 times in the air, damages lungs of those who breathe it. Lungs of Hindus and Muslims, vegetarians and meat eaters, grannies and children alike! In fact, half of all children in Delhi are vulnerable to respiratory disorders. The situation gets exacerbated exponentially during Diwali.

As far as the festivals of other faiths go, Chetan why are we engaging in ‘whataboutery’ when we can be making the world a better place? Yes, I’m vegan. Yes, the sight of animal sacrifice traumatises me and yes, I’d love it if we could have something like ‘pardoning the Turkey’ like they do in the US during Thanksgiving. But tell me, shouldn’t we introspect and find ways to correct our own wrongs and set an example, rather than pointing fingers at others doing equally repugnant things in the name of religion?

Is this a competition about which community can outdo the other in cruelty and environmental irresponsibility? Are we entitled to cause disease, death and destruction just because others do it too?

I’m an atheist surrounded by many Hindus. I have grown up with this veritable army or vibrant and vivid, viraat Hindus, who rightly take tremendous pride in our ancient culture and traditions. I’m delighted at the sight of rangolis outside doorsteps, diyas on window sills and fragrance of freshly fried pooris! Far be it for me to be a party pooper.

But, I’m also a father to two cats and a dog. And I’m asthmatic. So I have the following questions for Chetan Bhagat.

Are Hindus not affected by the smoke and noise of patakhas? Are animals born in India not Indian? Aren’t the children who end up getting burnt while manufacturing fireworks in the factories of Sivakasi not Hindu? Can’t children be taught to celebrate and enjoy Diwali without endangering their health and the environment?

Hinduism has always been regarded as one of the most compassionate religions in the world. Shouldn’t viraat Hindus uphold this compassion and go back to traditional methods of celebrating Diwali? Lord Ram came home to diyas and kandeels. Don’t Hindus have the right to come back home to breathable air? Since when are crackers a part of our culture? It’s Diwali, not the Fourth of July! Be sanskari, not firangi. Jai Hind bro!

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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