Indians who voted, twice, for Acche Din have got Absurd Din instead. A high court judge has a problem with the books an accused reads.
Be it Tolstoy’s War and Peace or Biswajit Roy’s War and Peace in Junglemahal: People, State and Maoists – we live in an era where they have already judged the reader by the title of the book. And of course, their focus is on ‘war’ and not ‘peace’.
This is happening not just in India. If we look at the world with a kind of philosophical detachment, it seems the Theatre of the Absurd is playing out everywhere, in full force. Not only politics, our social life too seems to have been engulfed by hilarious absurdity.
Ironically, the Theatre of the Absurd movement was born as a form of protest against the smug, orthodox and authoritarian governments. But what if the government and its institutions themselves become theatres of the absurd?
Be it US President Donald Trump demanding Russia’s re-inclusion at a G7 dinner in France, or Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s cloud-cover comment after Balakot airstrike, or a high court judge questioning activist Vernon Gonsalves’ reading habits, a strange tragicomedy is upon us. The predicament is tragic, but the manifestation is comic. As Nell in Samuel Beckett’s Endgame says cynically, “Nothing is funnier than unhappiness… it is the most comical thing in the world”.
We do not miss George Orwell or Bertolt Brecht because their roles have been usurped by the authorities themselves who run the theatres of the absurd — be it in media, judiciary, police, government or even Bollywood.
Science and the absurd
Then, there is HRD Minister Ramesh Pokhriyal who has conclusively argued that research on atoms and molecules was first conducted in India by Charaka Rishi.
Last year, then-Minister of State for HRD Satyapal Singh said that Darwin’s theory of evolution was “scientifically wrong”. Our ancestors, he said, never saw “an ape turning into a man”.
Some BJP leaders have publicly declared Narendra Modi as an incarnation of Lord Ram. And Modi himself has gone on record to state that ancient India had the knowledge of genetic engineering and plastic surgery.
The term ‘Theatre of the Absurd’ was formally coined by well-known European critic Martin Esslin. He defined it as “an attack on the comfortable certainties of religious or political orthodoxies. It aims to shock the audience out of complacency, to bring it face to face with the harsh facts of the human situation… It is a challenge to accept the human condition as it is, in all its mystery and absurdity and to bear it all with dignity… the Theatre of the Absurd does not provide tears of despair but the laughter of liberation”.
If the beef-related lynching incidents and the communication lockdown in Kashmir bring tears of despair, then the high court judge’s observations and the CBI officers scaling the walls of Chidambaram’s house generate laughter of liberation.
Media playing its part
The electronic media (read tamasha TV) and the social media have reached a point where it is difficult to distinguish between absurd and real news. The credibility of both the platforms has reached the nadir.
Prime Minister’s appearance on Discovery Channel’s ‘Man vs Wild’ or the sensational bonhomie between Narendra Modi and Donald Trump at G7 is dished out as primetime news. The ‘line of control’ between the real and absurd is violated on every newshour.
While the media has been quick to celebrate Modi-Trump bromance, we are yet to see any tangible outcome. The US in general, and Trump in particular are keeping both India and Pakistan at an arm’s length.
But Arnab Goswamis, Rahul Shivshankars and Navika Kumars of the media world do not want to wait before announcing victory.
This is how the Theatre of the Absurd is playing out now. It is no longer a protest against the powerful, but a submission to the powerful
The author is a former editor and Congress member of Rajya Sabha. Views are personal.