Lend me your ears, not just your voice

Lend me your ears, not just your voice
Bindu Gurtoo

It seems that we in India cannot converse, discourse or speak coherently and courteously on an issue. For all our constant glorification of our venerable arts and culture, the art of conversation seems to have completely eluded us. We think nothing of butting in, of rudely interrupting a speaker in mid sentence or of expressing our dissent by out shouting other participants. As for politely waiting for one’s turn, whatever is that?

This habit becomes magnified in televised discussions and debates. The television camera amplifies the empty sound and fury of the Indian speaker. It vividly reveals the Indian speaker’s unwillingness to lend his ear to anyone but himself. Last year’s furore over the Shri Ram Sene attack on women pub goers had yielded a bumper crop of panel discussions on all television channels. People of all ages, backgrounds, and sexes went on air to volubly hurl forth their points of view at each other.

Let me describe one such heated discussion on the pub culture which I happened to catch on one news channel. The panel consisted of an old gentleman in grey tweeds, quite the stereotype of the stern patriarch, a middle aged conservatively dressed and confidently bi-lingual lady representing the Indian woman, a suave hotelier from Bangalore and last, but definitely not the least, a representative of the Indian youth, an MTV roadie, a specimen (one couldn’t quite call him human)…but more on him later.

Now as far as television is concerned, the trend seems to be that greater the number of news channels, the more trivial the issues under discussion and the more raucous the debate. This particular show was no different. The panel members talked all at once and then inexplicably fell silent, although for a very brief moment, after which the babble was resumed with fresh vigour. They regularly fiddled with their earpieces which made one suspect an ear wax problem. There probably was a buildup of ear wax for they failed to hear each other out at all. In the ensuing verbal bedlam, the moderator lost sight of the real issue, that of personal choice and public censure.

The geriatric gentleman seemed to believe that his grey hair entitled him to shove his views down the collective throat of the youth. He spoke loudly. (When will speakers on television realize that the idiot box is equipped with volume control? They needn’t shout to be heard!) He swore by the sanctity of Indian culture. He also, quite annoyingly, grumbled and sniggered constantly when the others spoke! In the process, he lost the respect that age and experience should have granted him.

The lady was no less, though she kept to lower decibels (then again, it could be that she did not possess the requisite vocal chords…). A highly qualified person, she stuck to her line like a leech, regardless of what her fellow speakers had to say. Things were a tad tough for her considering that she was representing the emancipated Indian woman. And the trouble with representing the emancipated Indian women is that they come in a great variety, each as plausible as the other.

The hotelier was the mildest of the lot. He faithfully clung to the officially correct line of argument trying to please both the law and the customer … He did look bored, but, he was probably there for the publicity. After all, these are the times of global recession …

At last we come to that representative of the Indian youth, the MTV roadie. By the way, that’s a rather sixties term for an icon of the twenty first century youth. The term is a bit ridiculous too. Imagine calling a frequent flier airie or worse, a windie? Or the one who sails, can he be called waterie? Seriously though, the Indian youth must lodge an official protest to that news channel for foisting that miserable being as an icon upon them. First, because he seemed to be in his thirties (though, to be fair to him he did make a brave attempt to fit the role). Secondly we, as Indians, are extremely proud of our young women and men. The Indian youth is intelligent, hardworking, spirited and the reason behind “India Shining”. This particularly uncouth representative was none of the above. He brandished the juvenile, “Teachers, leave them kids alone!” school boy mantra as his perspective on the issue. His manner was churlish, melodramatic and well, quite, quite roadie.

In all the shouting, the vociferous arguments and the gesticulating, the issue under consideration received hardly any serious consideration at all. The moderator could do precious little as the participants assaulted the viewers’ ears and intelligence with their cacophony.

Cut to a discussion on an international news channel at the same time. The issue under discussion was the Israeli- Palestinian conflict and the speakers represented the two perpetually warring nations. The two countries had just finished fighting a bloody battle that had left thousands dead or wounded, yet, the participants were dignity personified. They were coherent, articulate, courteous and completely shorn of any histrionics. They placed their arguments with objectivity and gravity that the issue deserved. Most importantly, they did not shout! As a viewer, one could comprehend their points of view. The neat summation by the moderator at the conclusion of the discussion left one with the satisfaction of having heard something of substance.

Urban Indians, flush with their well earned wealth, are quickly acquiring a taste for the good things of life. They need to take lessons in the fine art of conversation as well. Only then will the urban Indian become truly urbane. We are an educationally accomplished and economically vibrant country. Let us also make a sincere effort to be a polite, well mannered one, whose citizens voice their opinions in well modulated polite tones allowing all a fair chance to express themselves without being verbally lynched for daring to speak.

Bindu Gurtoo