The actor Vijay Sethupathi has withdrawn from a film on the cricketer Muttiah Muralitharan due to online pressure, which included a rape threat being made against the former’s child. When the possibility of criminal prosecution arose, an apology video allegedly by the troll was published on a news platform. He claims to have been overcome by anger related to job loss, calls the child he threatened his little sister, and ropes in his mother to plead his innocence. It is not yet verified whether the people in the video are who they say they are.
The channel that had broadcast it showed blurred screenshots of the offensive tweets, and that’s when I noticed that the fake profile used a display photo of another Kollywood actor. I’ve seen his face in many DPs. You see, a malicious person once distributed my phone number in a fan group of his.
Let’s talk about anger, since the man in the video seems to think the emotion justifies the action and the threat. I still boil with rage when I think of that situation, only the least of which was the number sharing. It was part of a larger scenario which emotionally scarred me in ways I’m unlikely to ever fully heal from. No one who was involved ever apologised; the closest was when a woman who defended my harasser begged me not to post his identity online, because that could ruin his chances on the matrimonial market. I didn’t not for him, but for her.
Where do I put my anger? None of us is perfect, and all of us are wounded. We have volcanic pain within us, and we become inflamed when its memory surfaces. But anger is not the primary emotion. “The anger tells me something important about me, and about how I am out of balance. But beneath that, the love is helping me to move beneath the anger to sit with my basic woundedness, the basic heartbreak, and that’s real complex,” Lama Rod Owens, spiritual teacher and author of Love and Rage: The Path of Liberation through Anger, says in a video clip.
I can’t speak for the inner work the troll with the anonymous apology is still capable of doing or otherwise; we only know that he’s sorry he got caught. Inner work is a choice, one that drags us into harrowing places. Not everyone makes it, by which I mean both the choice and the meaningful culmination of the work.
Someone I cherished suddenly ended their friendship with me this year because they were angry that I was in strong spirits despite personal challenges – this is not inference, but literally what they told me. Their choice was to not explore what truly pained them in their own life, but to find a projection screen and punching bag instead.
Leaning into the heartbreak beneath my anger in myriad situations is teaching me much about why people turn abusive, across contexts. We are all powerless against Life, but the exercise of self-reflection can in turn become tiny pockets of agency, determining so much about our experience, and how we impact the experiences of others.
An edited version appeared in The New Indian Express on November 2nd 2020. “The Venus Flytrap” appears in Chennai’s City Express supplement.