Uneasy lies the head that wears the Secular crown
’tis painted in many an ugly hue
Though it be coloured the colour of rose
‘neath it lurks a palette of deceit and scorn;
The wearer bravely wears the crown,
A bejewlled camouflage of depravity
Every night and every morn.
Lately, Zaleel has not been in his element. And we’re not talking about his routine problems: every doorframe is too small and it is a routine pain to step into any car without grunting aloud. Zaleel must be cursing the guy who said size matters. Must be a perverse joke by a rabid Hindutva guy who didn’t realize that only Zaleel has the right to crack ugly jokes at women who could be spotted from a mile.
Instead we’re talking about…errr…weightier issues. Like how the whole script is going so badly wrong. Who would think a lowly railway station tea seller would one day give him sleepless nights both on and off the Internet? Who would think he would actually see a day when he’d be compelled to engage with the Right wing/Hindutva types on Twitter and elsewhere on the social media, the same types he scoffs at and brands as footsoldiers but still goes ahead and engages with?
Zaleel truly has not been in his element. From a piece titled Incredible Impunity, which has a semblance of reasoned discourse–what with quoting numbers etc–all the way down to the latest , it has been quite a swift fall in just a year. His “Saheb” hatred is in naked display in what is termed as a “writer sets his imagination free” except that the byline should’ve read “a writer lets his spite loose.” Neither is it just limited to spite. It now borders on paranoia as this Twitter exchange shows:
Zaleel indeed has not been in his element. Increasingly, his Saheb-hatred seems to have morphed into an obsession, slowly eroding the carefully-imbibed lessons from his mentor in the early days: Shobhaa De, the Botoxed Queen of Sleaze. Her trashy autobiography is an elaborate exercise in self-deception, a third-grade litany of judgments on almost every famous person in the country while she absolves herself of being imperfect. This then is the art that Zaleel has mastered in his own area of specialization. His way is the way of a crafty, sophisticated intellectual bully. His pieces are pronouncements not open to scrutiny much less disagreement. Scrutiny will be ignored. Disagreement will be met with patronizing scorn, condescending humour, and branded as the insane rants of the Hindutva brigade who lack good upbringing and civility. But the mask that conceals hatred can’t hold forever: lately, Zaleel has quite frequently been caught violating his own tenets on upbringing and civility. Disdaining Saheb as a tea-seller–exactly in the manner of Ram Guha, the scholarly version of Zaleel–is quite an illustrative instance of this: has Zaleel’s own upbringing and civility taught him to disrespect a profession, any honest profession? In fact, the latest produce of Zaleel’s unchained imagination consists of numerous instances of said upbringing. Branding a senior journalist who called Zaleel’s economic bluff (in two parts of a series that was abandoned at Zaleel’s private request) as a speechwriter is another instance of Zaleel’s fine upbringing. Oh! and making racist comments about vegetarians and non-vegetarians should equally count as a good instance of decency.
Perhaps Zaleel himself realizes that he’s not in his element. Gone are the days when scarpering from history debates was regarded as taking the moral high ground because Zaleel could rely on the Romila Thapar types. Consider what happens nowdays. Consider for example, this Tweet by Zaleel where he casually presents a distorted tidbit of history:
Here is what it begets: a solidly researched piece clinically demolishing Zaleel’s education at the Romila Thapar University of Indian History. And when things like this keep occurring more often than not, it is hard to keep that mask intact. And it is a chameleonesque mask–Left when it is fashionable and rewarding to be Left, bleeding-heart Liberal Humanist employee of Amnesty International when that fetches the $$$, and Libertarian when the moolah lies there. Zaleel coming third in the race for the 2011 Basitat Prize is a public testimony of the fact. Pitiably, even that libertarian mask was ripped off, revealing the fact that calling Zaleel a libertarian is akin to claiming that a butcher is fully qualified to perform surgery. One doesn’t know the mask Zaleel is currently wearing but whatever be the mask he wears in a given season, it is assured that it is ISI-certified–that is, certified by the Indian Secularist Institute, the selfsame institute that Zaleel’s much-reviled Saheb threatens to dismantle.
And so when the going gets tough, Secularist heavyweights hit back all the way to the last mile, masks be damned. Good upbringing and civility are for the good times, when you can escape scrunity by simply stifling the voice of the scrutinizers in the name of these nice qualities. The carefully-concealed Zaleel emerges when these good times are endangered by people who care a whit about your popularity or credentials or social standing and instead, directly examine what you claim and write and do. Here’s a very perceptive observation by a commentator on a discussion about Amartya Sen among other things:
1) Every comment need not add “value to a discussion” or be a thesis of some sort – it is perfectly fine to make an observation or an opinion about people, places and things…without [g]oing into a disquisition. In my infrequent interactions with you, I have observed that when people disagree with your worldview you bring up their “tone.” This is a form of intolerance in itself which you (and many “progessives”) like to wave at others on the slightest pretext. I shall concede that on your blog you have the prerogative to set your standards and boundaries, but please understand that your standard is not the universal touchstone. Since my “bed-wetting” remark has caused you offense, I withdraw it with immediate effect. In lieu of that, I submit that Amartya has gone to bed with Romila, as the actress said to the bishop.
2) In remarking on Amartya’s screed, his Nobel Prize (strictly, the Economics Prize is not a Nobel but we’ll let that slide) and other qualifications are irrelevant. All that matters is the quality and substance of his argument. This is more so when he steps outside the circle of his area of expertise which is Welfare Economics. People’s reputations don’t affect me. To paraphrase a well-known Nobel Prize-winning physicist, now deceased, “I look at where he starts and where he ends up.”
Indeed, Zaleel lives in truly trying times. His latest adventure with his unleashed imagination is in many ways an admission that he sees the writing on the wall: that the good times symbolized by the Jaipur Fests of Sissies and the Tehelka Sleazefests will shut shop. In the end, it is worth recalling Nietzsche’s note that if you gaze into the abyss the abyss gazes into you. And so is it with Zaleel whose Twitter bio reads
Zaleel needs to pay heed and wake up before he actually becomes everything his faux-funny bio says he is. At the moment, I’m still willing to believe that he’s just an Indian secularist.