We were going to get married and it was time to rent a house in the vicinity of my work place. We started house hunting in one of the areas of Nagpur which now frequents national headlines. We found a house and even paid up the advance. Two days later, we were called back and the advance money was returned to us. They didn’t want us as tenants. They murmured something about wanting the rooms for something else, but clearly there was something else amiss.
The person who had put us in touch with the owners of that house was apologetic. Gradually he let the real reason out. We had mentioned that the wedding was to be in Patna. And they had afterthoughts about renting their house to Biharis. He warned us that we were going to have the same problems elsewhere in that locality, and even asked us to hide our origins. We, of course, were completely against that suggestion.
A few days later we settled into a lovely rented house, owned by a more open-minded retired journalist. I needed someone to help me with the cleaning and washing. There was an Aunty two houses away who told me she would send her cleaning lady, Archana, to me. That worked well.
I distinctly remember one lazy afternoon when I was watching a culinary show on television. It was some recipe using minced chicken. Archana was mopping the floor as I watched. Suddenly she giggled. “This is madness. Who would grind up such expensive chicken into a paste?” she said. I looked up to smile at her. And saw her face suddenly drop as if she had blurted the wrong thing. She quickly left the room. As she left for the day, she quietly requested me, not to tell “that Aunty”.
When she had sent Archana to me, Aunty said she was a Brahmin and would not let anyone except a Brahmin into her kitchen. And she was sure that Archana was vegetarian. She would not clean the toilets, I was told. Now if the secret came out, Archana would lose her job. Obviously I kept the secret.
Anecdotes such as these are not rare, not just in India, but across the world. We all nurse animosities against certain communities. Some come out of personal experiences, some are carried through generations of stereotyping people. We all know the friend in hostel who would wrinkle up her nose in disgust everytime the Muslim girl next door made an omelette for her breakfast. In the London underground, the seat next to a brown or black-skinned person is often left vacant even if that is the only option left. There is always someone in the friend circle who will be forbidden from going to one particular friend’s house or eating something there. But in the past, all these qualms and misgivings would be covert. No one said anything to anyone’s face. You were taught to be civil and polite, even if you had issues. It wasn’t considered decent to be nasty to someone.
No longer. The world has changed. The limits of what is civil and acceptable have changed. And the polarization has made it legitimate to swear and insult others (and their parents) on social media. New swear words are invented. That is the new definition of funny. And it isn’t just illiterate paid trolls who do it. It is the educated professional who studied with you or me who is now the new internet bully or troll. They scorn. They display contempt. They snub people who try to reason. And logic always takes a backseat to hype and hypersensitivity.
Hate thrives on the social media. Thanks to us. There is no sensitivity to what is being written or forwarded or the reaction it will evoke. Or maybe the actual intent is to provoke a reaction. So the reaction arrives as expected. Pushed to the wall, each community wears their religious icons on their sleeve. Each one flaunts symbols of their cult in pride. The fanatics in each community maim, murder or massacre. Hatred percolates, penetrates and permeates each heart. And you grow up smug in the belief that you are superior to the rest of the world.
The truth is: this generation is naked. Is hamaam mein sab nange hai! (Everyone is naked in this sauna). Nothing is hidden: warts, scars, festering wounds. Everything is exposed. Our deepest and darkest thoughts which ought to have been buried with shame are now flaunted. And so, a look at our social posts will showcase the divisiveness and hatred that one has espoused. For posterity. Live with it.