Most political arguments I happen to stumble across occur on social media and while this does bring with it many advantages- namely the ability to ignore the rants induced by premature senility- it still fails to deliver.
There’s something that you just know is missing when the faceless conversations and talking points and rationalizing get so shrill and rhetoric filled that there’s nothing left but two conflicting ideologies. Or at least that’s what I though when one of my friends asked me “Aren’t most Mangaloreans bhakts?” when I told him I’d been to Mangalore, my home town, recently.
Bhakt, for my non-Indian readers, is slang for an Indian right wing extremist who believes in the Hindutva ideology. This is a hard question to answer really. They aren’t right wing extremists to be sure but their talking points are identical to online fanatics you can see trolling anyone who still values secularism.
This nuanced understanding that is necessary to differentiate between the right wing troll and the right leaning citizen was demonstrated by two men whose conversations I eavesdropped on while on the bus to Mangalore. Since their conversation happened in Tulu, a language that places quiet a bit of importance on tone and context, some meaning might be lost on you readers.
The two men where clad in shorts and T shirts and bore long, stylized crimson marks on their foreheads. They didn’t do much sleeping on their shared berths. Rather loudly one of them began to complain, in a tone both pleading and exaggerated, about the new helmet rules. His companion constantly interrupted the other’s narration with his extremely enthusiastic “Huh! Huh! Huh!” His eager and confident replies had me sure he’d have something to say.
Unfortunately he though it necessary to repeat everything the other man had said and wait for positive conformation after every sentence. When I grew genuinely worried I would tear out all my hair before he got to his point he exploded into a rant about how the supreme court wouldn’t have required everyone to wear helmets if someone had just told them it was inconvenient. While this was a frustrating exercise in misinformation I couldn’t help but recognize his half baked, optimistic but confidently assured opinion for a sort that was familiar to pretty much every average Indian who cares about politics.
I fell asleep after I attempted to follow the conversation for some more time. When I woke up three hours later at around 2:45 they were still at it. The first man was claiming all politicians were crooks and his friend was still offering him sage advice while decrying political readers using information he received on Whatsapp. I would have gone back to sleep if the other one hadn’t admitted that he was going to be arrested for something he had forwarded on Whatsapp.
There was fear, confusion and bewilderment. Like a dog confused by the honking of an oncoming car. I peeked at them and realized they couldn’t have been that old. They could have been twenty year olds. The other guy assured him he wouldn’t be in jail for long and went on about he was certain that phones couldn’t be used as evidence. Their political knowledge could have used a little brushing up but I couldn’t help resisting the urge to write them off as mere bigots. I won’t dream of defending them but seeing a human face to the ideas made the experience something curious.