Tag Archives: social justice

The Venus Flytrap: Healthcare Workers In A Time Of Health Crisis

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As a neurosurgeon and the managing doctor of a hospital, Dr. Simon Hercules would have directly or indirectly served thousands of patients. It was probably while in the line of work, treating COVID-19 positive people, that the doctor may have contracted the infection himself. He passed away over the weekend, and was prevented from having a dignified burial by two mobs of residents from the very neighbourhoods that his hospital serves.

On Sunday night, his family and a few colleagues received his body and travelled in an ambulance to a cemetery in Kilpauk. Here, the first mob refused to allow them to proceed. They then went to a cemetery in Anna Nagar, where a second mob unleashed violence on them, pelting stones and logs at the ambulance. A harrowing night ensued for the mourners and the ambulance staff, including sustaining severe injuries. It culminated in a colleague of the late doctor having to dig the ground with his bare hands in order to complete the burial, under police protection.

This was not the first such Indian instance, however. In Meghalaya, a deceased doctor’s family had to wait 36 hours before a burial plot was available to them, due to a mob of hundreds preventing the rites. The cremation of another doctor in Chennai, originally from Andhra Pradesh, was also initially stopped by a mob. All such gatherings were formed in direct violation of lockdown rules.

Medical workers have also faced sudden evictions, ostracisation from their neighbours, and other forms of discrimination during this pandemic. A report in The Guardian on March 20th detailed how a Kolkata nurse and her children were thrown out of their apartment without notice, and how janitorial staff and others had been sleeping on plastic sheets on hospital campuses, prevented by neighbours from returning home.

Just two days after that report was published, millions of Indians assembled with or without social distancing to bang pots and pans together, supposedly to show their appreciation for healthcare workers. As many healthcare workers themselves, both in India and abroad, have said: all such gestures are meaningless if not accompanied by demanding accountability from authorities, especially for increasing production and availability of PPE kits, as well as for increasing testing and other measures. Dr. Pradeep Kumar, who performed the final rites for Dr. Solomon Hercules, spoke to India Today about how misinformation spread to the public (about how the virus is transmitted, and falsities such as that lighting candles would dispel it) was behind the shocking breakdown of civil behaviour that night.

It is a mistake to aggrandize any role and assign noble qualities to it by default. But workers in the healthcare sector – not only doctors, but everyone who works in a medical environment – are at risk in this pandemic precisely because they are the ones fighting it directly. Everyone deserves basic dignity: the medical officer and the migrant labour, both. Middle-class India is revealing its vilest face through this pandemic, ungrateful to the vital people who administer the medications, clean the bedpans, build the cities, harvest the fields. How do we expect to survive without them? And do their own lives mean nought?

An edited version appeared in The New Indian Express on April 23rd 2020. “The Venus Flytrap” appears  in Chennai’s City Express supplement.

The Venus Flytrap: Anxiety In Times Of Public Crisis

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Over the weekend, a series of anxieties I’d been having all month came to a head and – clarity dawning on me on what the root cause was – I decided to cocoon myself, digitally and otherwise. I locked my social media accounts, refrained from posting, minimised online consumption and focused on grounding myself. My experience is subjective in that I am a double exile: I belong to a minority that experienced genocide, moved to an apartheid state in childhood, lost that one for speaking the truth, and am an official but not sentimental citizen here. I have a sensitivity to the conditions that lead to violence, the way certain birds know when a storm is coming. But my experience is not unique, either – all over India, news and footage of brutality, coming most recently out of Delhi, have been upsetting, confusing and frightening to people with a conscience. For some, the events triggered the trauma of prior occurrences, but one needn’t have personal or communal memory of persecution to feel affected by them, even from a distance.

A friend thoughtfully shared what someone she looks to for spiritual guidance told her: that one must avoid the tendency to narrativise in these times, managing them in small increments so as to not become overwhelmed. This may seem at first glance to be counter-logical. Should we deny the big picture? Should we ignore what led us here, and what historically has been proven to lead from here? No and no, but we must remember to locate ourselves within this largeness as well. I recalled what a healer told me once on dealing with another kind of PTSD that is also mine: invoke the stars above me, and the earth below me. This is similar to the sensory awareness exercise known as the 54321 method that cognitive behavioural therapists teach, identifying sights, smells, sounds, textures and tastes in one’s immediate surroundings to defuse the state of panic.

An online group counselling session I joined seemed directed at encouraging people to seek individual help – but professional therapy, like all healthcare, is a luxury. It was clear that many people are distressed, and far from apathetic. This was affirming to see, in a way. Still, I found myself unable to schedule an appointment with my own therapist exclusively to discuss the way the socio-political climate was clawing at my past and making me terrified for the future. I soothed myself with wordless children’s books. I freed myself from the tyranny of articulation.

In times of horror, we are repeatedly called to stand up, speak up, hold the line. We are told we are cowards for observing without action, even if fear paralyzes us. We are told we are privileged if we look away even to catch our breath. All these statements are empty ones in the shadow of the horror itself. I have no better statements for you, not today. I hold this mirror up only to show you that you are not alone. And maybe, steadily, we will find ways to help ourselves and one another as we parse what has happened and what is still to come. Breathe. Breathe.

An edited version appeared in The New Indian Express on March 6th 2020. “The Venus Flytrap” appears  in Chennai’s City Express supplement.

The Venus Flytrap: Shaheen Bagh

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Night and day on the banks of the Yamuna river, a peaceful ongoing gathering led by women has become the inspiration the nation needs to turn towards humane principles. At Shaheen Bagh, crowds are said to burgeon to thousands at times. The very elderly hold court here bravely. Children have always been welcome here, and a vibrant culture of music, puppetry, reading together (aloud and silently) and more has been created by participants of all ages. A small shadow has fallen over this beacon of resistance. A four month old infant, Jahaan, who accompanied his mother Nazia for many rounds of vigil at the protest site, passed away last week after suffering from cold and congestion.

Nazia has already returned to Shaheen Bagh. “Why was I doing this?” she responded to the media. “For my children and the children of all us who need a bright future in this country.” She has two other children under six years old, and her family is of a working-class background.

There are many, especially among the privileged, who brand her selfish, irresponsible, a paid agent and worse. They blame her for her baby’s death. If Jahaan had grown older, and been murdered one day for having been at the wrong place at the wrong time while wearing a skullcap – as happened to 15-year old Junaid on a train in 2017 – would such tears still fall? There are similarities here to the concern that anti-abortion activists and right-wing people in many countries (including India) claim to have for theoretical children, even as they turn away from the plight of refugee children interned in border camps, queer children who are bullied to suicide, and students left behind by warped education systems that sustain generational poverty. The least vitriolic among them may find an individual case “sad”, while refusing to acknowledge how a sequence of events was set in motion. To do so would to be agree with those who protest, at Shaheen Bagh or anywhere.

The trajectory of this bereavement, and the blame for it, doesn’t rest on one person’s choice. How many details there are to determine whether a child will survive a Delhi winter if he has a bad cold. Does his shanty have adequate heating? Do his parents have money for medical expenses and nourishing food? Does their clinic have enough resources? Does the structure of society, with its interlinked hierarchal systems, provide for their wellbeing? In short: would this child survive a bad cold even if he hadn’t caught it a protest? How then can a parent’s decision to take him there be considered the sole one for his demise?

What kind of parent takes a child to a protest? One who cares. One who knows that the world that child has been born into will not let her protect it from its iniquity for long, and that by showing him the truth, she inoculates him against indifference. One on whose behalf we can also ask these questions: What kind of parent teaches a child discrimination? What kind of parent wants a child to inherit a world from which plurality, freedom and compassion have been excised?

An edited version appeared in The New Indian Express on February 6th 2020. “The Venus Flytrap” appears  in Chennai’s City Express supplement.

The Venus Flytrap: Reconciling Spirituality & Resistance

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Last week, a possibly well-intended but definitely poorly-executed infographic made the rounds, with a pair of lists intended to distinguish Hinduism from Hindutva, the fundamentalist strain of the former. The infographic relied heavily on scripture and comparison, and erased completely the existence of oppressions of caste, gender and other divisions. As someone with a spiritual life, elements of which draw from practices which fall under the umbrella of Hinduism, I was appalled by its lack of political consciousness. I am not being purposely vague in my self-description. My phrasing is meant to register my opposition to many structural and practical aspects of organised religion, my discomfort in identifying myself with one, as well as the syncretism of my beliefs – while still acknowledging this part of who I am and what influences it.

This is a necessary self-reckoning for people of all spiritual inclinations and religious backgrounds. When fundamentalisms arise, responding by attempting to a-historically defend religions is not only insufficient but dangerous. When we do this, we participate in creating the veneer of gentility that allows for injustice and violence to occur and be swept under the carpet when it does.

I have only respect for those who find that the most effective way is to throw the bhakti out with the bhakts’ bathwater, as many distinguished sociopolitical thinkers have done. I can also extend my understanding to those who, unable to counter the sophistication of critical theory with a sound articulation of why they feel as they do, think that aligning with orthodoxy is the only way to retain the solace they receive from what is ultimately a deeply private engagement. They feel that they have no choice but to side with factions which, while possibly structurally oppressing them, will not overtly shame them (this is done covertly, by fostering insecurity and an inferiority complex). Both these sets of believers will disagree with me, but I do not see them as binaries and neither do I see myself as being in the middle.

I am speaking to – but not for – those who also belong to neither set, but who believe that a vital public rendition of one’s sacred self demands standing up against inequality, challenging systemic persecution and resisting tyranny. By its nature, this cannot be consolidated into a movement, but can interweave with the good work already being done.

It is not by defending religion that we absolve ourselves, but in practising a deeper enquiry into where our beliefs, practices and the world intersect. We must look at the true guiding principles of our private faiths, and see how perfectly tenets like compassion and integrity match with tenets like secularism and justice. This is far from an easy process, and has costs including losing personally meaningful guides who espouse bigotry.

I learned that if there is no room for my sexuality, my politics or my love for the environment within an available framework, I must make my own. And we each should. Our very own, deeply personal ones, which do not seek to evangelise, but which allow us to move through the world ethically and with grace – in all senses of the word.

An edited version appeared in The New Indian Express on January 16th 2020. “The Venus Flytrap” appears  in Chennai’s City Express supplement.

The Venus Flytrap: Sometimes, Resistance

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Sometimes resistance is in making art, in creating something that serves as a respite or a record, or even both. It’s a different mode of the imagination, working not with the potential of personal failure but against the question of greater futility. To ask the question of whether art is futile and then to make it anyway is an act of faith, and one which supports acts of defiance and necessary disobedience.

Sometimes resistance is in writing poetry, measuring words out so that they sing and sting at once. Sometimes resistance is in reading it: comparing translations, researching what happened in the year it was penned, finding out how the poet lived and died (and whether it was because of what they believed in). Sometimes it’s in the contemplation of how, stripped of those identifying details, it’s eerie in how many places, and at how many points in time, what’s described could resonate. Sometimes resistance is in saying the lines out loud, matching their rhythm to a melody. Sometimes resistance is in a song.

Sometimes resistance is in putting one’s body on the line, in marching or in sitting for hours in candlelight or under the sun, letting placards shout when the vocal cords need rest. It’s in letting sheer presence register a cause, while risking physical danger.

Sometimes resistance is in prayer, not merely for one’s own comfort, but with the profound belief that nothing that is truly holy will condone cruelty, especially when it is executed in its name.

Sometimes resistance is in study, in seeking out information that has been suppressed, tracing the trajectory of events, applying one’s own intelligence, and always remembering the proverb, “Until the lion learns how to write, every story will glorify the hunter.”

Sometimes resistance is in argument, in saying the words as clearly as possible even while shaking and shaking with rage, or with sheer horror at the lack of empathy in the challenger. Sometimes resistance is in consciousness-raising conversation, in listening non-judgmentally and offering counter-points.

Sometimes resistance is in crying afterwards.

Sometimes resistance is in silence: the dignity with which one leaves a table at which no room is made for anyone deemed the Other, even if one’s own name is embossed on a seat there. This is not the same silence as lying by omission. It is not the same silence as turning away.

Sometimes resistance is in drawing a kolam, putting one’s intention into something destined for disintegration. Sweeping it clean and starting over with fresh intention each time. Quite often, perhaps, resistance is like drawing a kolam. It’s quotidian work, located at the threshold of what is personal and what is public. It’s a generous act, sustaining legions of working ants. Averting evil through its geometric codes. Inviting blessings and visitors. One bends to the ground and touches it in the most eloquent rejoinder to the question of art’s futility, as if to say: “I draw this pattern because I believe in its beauty and its function. And because my belief in its power – and my capacity to replenish it – won’t change, you are more than welcome to step across its lines”.

An edited version appeared in The New Indian Express on January 9th 2020. “The Venus Flytrap” appears  in Chennai’s City Express supplement.

The Venus Flytrap: False, Or Incomplete?

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Last week’s column was spurred by reactions to a potentially false sexual harassment allegation, but did not delve into the catalyst for the same: (potentially) false allegations. Over the past two years, with more women than ever sharing their experiences of harassment and assault, the question of veracity has come up repeatedly. It’s a fair one. But it’s also a good-faith practice to acknowledge that very few people stand to gain from such fabrications. Outliers (or plain liars, if you prefer) who do benefit are outnumbered by those who risk, and face, consequences for telling the truth. We can objectively accept that a tiny percentage of fraudulent cases exist, but that they should not cancel out the rest. We can also attempt to talk about what falseness means.

Firstly, there’s a difference between potentially false and incomplete, and the latter is often tarred with the same brush as the former. An incomplete story can have complicated factors, like: being in love with the perpetrator, being pressured by sources other than the perpetrator (like their “cool” friends) to go along with a situation, and so on. It can be difficult to respect people who distance themselves from their earlier allegations, especially if they’ve made it challenging for others to come forward afterwards in the same environment. But our private character judgements should not cloud principled stands.

In certain uncomfortable situations, wherein I did not have a good intuitive reading of the accuser or their desired outcomes, I’ve found it possible to consider the spirit of what was being said, if not the letter. This has been true in cases in which an unreliable narrator blew the lid open on a well-connected and gregarious accused, who had long been protected. What we can believe then is not the speaker’s testimony as much as the many crusted layers of silence, denial and complicity that allowed the perpetrator to carry on as they had. Within these layers are the stories we’d quietly known all along, always whispered or implied, as well as our own secrets – such as how prided ourselves on being street-smart enough to escape, or how we had experienced trouble too, but mollified the situation, or how much we liked the alleged perpetrator.

A series of particularly gruesome rapes and murders were reported in India last week, and some will wonder why I’m still writing about sexual harassment when “more serious crimes” are happening. But it’s an obfuscation to place crimes on a continuum of violence without acknowledging how a continuum functions, how actions increase in violence the more we allow leeway for what we perceive as minor infractions. Ribald jokes in the office aren’t on the same scale of egregiousness as assault, but both are wrong. We must see how they are related: how being okay with one wrong leads to the next worse thing being possible, and then the next worse, until… The webcomic Sanitary Panels said it best with a cogent new take.  “This is horrific! Why don’t women talk about sexual violence more?” says a stick figure holding a newspaper. “We do. But you don’t believe us if we’re alive…” responds the other.

An edited version appeared in The New Indian Express on December 5th 2019. “The Venus Flytrap” appears  in Chennai’s City Express supplement.

The Venus Flytrap: #MeToo Messiness

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Let me be the first to admit that I don’t really have a good understanding of the latest Twitter-based scandal involving a man accused of sexual harassment, audio recordings in which an advocate purportedly tries to conceal evidence, and one of the more social media-visible participants of the #MeToo movement in India. I came to hear of it through a dramatic pronouncement by a heterosexual male friend, whose “all of metoo is false” text message I responded to with a slew of eyeroll emojis. It is simply not possible to discredit an entire, complex, global, multi-pronged movement because of a potentially false allegation. But people are certainly trying to, which is a kind of telescoping of the larger context. The context is cultural, not individual.

Similar to my disinterest in the intricacies and daily-shifting loyalties in this case, others who are unable to keep up with the tide and who don’t have grounding in social justice ethics or praxis are liable to slip between the cracks ideologically. We do not live in times in which we think for ourselves, and a great deal of the vocabulary and framing now available to us is new to common parlance, and requires a certain degree of privilege to understand and employ. The demand that we quickly form opinions, without deep engagement, means that some people default into the easiest stance – which in this case is that the entire anti-sexual harassment movement is a mess.

We would do well to acknowledge that it is messy, though. A few days after sending me that message, the same friend seemed to have a mini-crisis. It began with him saying he’d been lusting over someone but was afraid of flirting due to “cancel culture”, then a segue into whether mental health issues should be accepted as blanket absolutions, and finally an admission of feeling conflicted about having to mediate harassment-related issues in a workplace. All these issues had collapsed on themselves, and led to a confusion which was most expediently cut through with dismissal.

This is a very common phenomenon. It’s critical to address why many men and women do not feel like the language or actions of this vital movement speak to them or for them. The reasons will be manifold. Personal apathy is only the tip of the iceberg.

We are being dishonest if we claim that we had this level of empowerment even four or five years ago, or if we claim that we truly know what we are doing now. Performative activism that doesn’t contain practical elements, long-term vision or self-reflexivity is challenging for even die-hard feminists to navigate through and counter. It is even harder for those who find certain concepts (which we may smugly think of as “just decent behaviour”) to be new. Rather than shame, how can we build learning resources, hold meaningful space, and improve access to both – while also discussing restitution and justice? Can we not fixate on famous cases, and focus on improving the culture at large? I have more questions than solutions because that’s where we still are – and because the answers should also be manifold, diverse and anything but individual.

An edited version appeared in The New Indian Express on November 28th 2019. “The Venus Flytrap” appears  in Chennai’s City Express supplement.

The Venus Flytrap: Karmic Footprints

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So Ellen DeGeneres, a beloved pioneer of queer visibility in the media, has shady friends. At least one that we know of: former American president George W. Bush, a conservative politician who was in office during the terrorist attacks of September 11th 2001 and subsequently waged wars in West Asia, thus creating a poor human rights record – something he shares with many who have held positions of power. The revelation that she had hung out with him at a recent sports match disappointed so many of her fans that she felt compelled to respond to the outrage. DeGeneres said, “Just because I don’t agree with someone on everything doesn’t mean that I’m not going to be friends with them. When I say, ‘be kind to one another,’ I don’t only mean the people that think the same way that you do. I mean be kind to everyone.”

Here’s the thing – most of us have shady associates. DeGeneres’ capital and cultural weight mean she mingles in circles which wield power; all of us mingle in circles which confer and reinforce that power through votes, purchases, retweets and other personal choices. Power isn’t the only factor – cruelty happens in myriad, sometimes little, ways. We maintain rapports with people whom we’d abhor if we knew only their actions and opinions, but not them. We have trauma bonds, pragmatic enmeshments or happy memories with some; we can’t stand our loneliness without a few; and sometimes there’s a love that trumps all. The ugly truth in all cases is that the harm they do doesn’t affect us deeply enough.

DeGeneres was wrong to conflate this special consideration with goodness. To say that having friendships with people who wittingly create harm for others shows kindness is deliberate obfuscation. Such friendships may be convenient, unusual, meaningful, uncomfortable, symbiotic, resolved, or more. But not kind. Being kind to a malicious individual annuls kindness as a way of being. A friendship is not an act of charity, so the argument that we can be altruistic to someone who did past damage but is now in severe need isn’t relevant.

In the TV series The Good Place, a demon conducts an afterlife experiment on four condemned humans, creating a version of heaven that proves playwright-philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre’s line, “Hell is other people”. In the latest season, the now-reformed demon is determined to fix the system. He visits a living human who – having received knowledge about the afterlife’s workings while on psychedelics – is committed to as wholesome and unhurtful a life as possible. The demon discovers that this hermit is a profoundly broken person, obsessed with what we could call his karmic footprint. He doesn’t do anything good or useful. He’s too busy avoiding doing bad.

Like a carbon footprint, a karmic footprint too is an inescapable fact of the human condition. While we can control to some extent the pain we personally cause, we (sometimes subconsciously) justify our loved ones’ actions so as to justify our relationships with them. Doing so isn’t kindness. It’s merely compromise. The least we can do is hold this self-awareness as we try harder to keep our own hands clean.

An edited version appeared in The New Indian Express on October 17th 2019. “The Venus Flytrap” appears  in Chennai’s City Express supplement.

The Venus Flytrap: Token Seats At Token Tables

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Her name is Chanel Miller, and she wants everyone to know it. She has revealed it in conjunction with the release of a memoir; her 2015 assault at Stanford University became a notorious case in which everyone from the media to the legal system tried to absolve her attacker. A preview of the book reveals that the university tried to coax her into creating a statement of forgiveness on a plaque for the memorial garden they instated at the site of the crime. She refused.

Somewhat relatedly, the author Kamila Shamsie was stripped of her Nellie Sachs Prize due to her support of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel’s human rights violations. Ironically, the German award is given for “outstanding literary contributions to the promotion of understanding between peoples”, something reflected in Shamsie’s pro-Palestine activism. There are plenty of such honours, which appear to encourage anti-establishment thought, but only if it falls within certain parameters.

It’s profoundly frustrating when the work one does is co-opted by those it actually challenges. You can see this frustration all over Greta Thurnberg’s face in her widely-publicised speech at the UN. Right at the start, someone in the audience actually laughs, revealing how little seriousness the environmental activist is really given. Every person who cheers on this new hero but refuses to take personal steps to lessen their effect on climate change is letting her down. Our retweets don’t mean a thing if that plastic cup still goes into a landfill.

Powerful people and institutions allow interlopers in, indulge them, lionise and most crucially distract them, and continue to not incorporate the messages they carry. They are given a seat at the table as a means of placation, and a way to convince them that their work is finished or can be redirected. The indulgence also has its limits. As long as Thurnberg doesn’t do anything that crosses some major player’s invisible line, she will be entertained – and used as entertainment. If you’ve ever found yourself at a gathering and had the distinct feeling that you were on display, with the awareness sinking in that you’d be the topic of conversation once you left the table, you get the picture. Depedestalisation was recently discussed in this column, and some of the same ideas apply.

Can we say No to having that seat at the table at all? It’s a brave but not always viable choice. The choice between two outcomes – utilising the platform as a critical space, or making a statement by withdrawing – is not an obvious one. The latter can sometimes do little more than boost one’s own street cred, while the uncomfortable on-stage squirming of the former can add dimension to an event or the ensuing discourse. In some cases, agreeing to participate is to be cahoots with the problem, whereas in others, the participation brings challenge or at least nuance. But whether we fight for that seat, take it, or reject it, we have to treat the experience as window shopping. It isn’t the destination. We just need to know what’s available before we set about building a bigger, more honest, more effective table.

An edited version appeared in The New Indian Express on September 26th 2019. “The Venus Flytrap” appears  in Chennai’s City Express supplement.

The Venus Flytrap: The Vortex of Umbrage

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There’s always another someone saying another something, and like cats chasing a laser pointer our attention jumps from one flare-up to the next. Last week, the Dalai Lama made sexist and racist statements better suited to a muted family Whatsapp group than to a dignitary of his position. This week, director Sandeep Vanga, whose Arjun Reddy and Kabir Singh would have brought toxic masculinity back in style if it had ever gone away to begin with, claimed that slapping is a gesture of love. The designer Sabyasachi Mukherjee tried to sell his own products through a psychological trick called negging – undermining the subject’s confidence so as to move in for the kill (in his case, claiming women wearing gaudy apparel or makeup were secretly in deep pain). All these statements rightly deserve condemnation. But what happens when we get stuck inside the vortex of umbrage, retaliation and no change?

Watching women reveal their traumas from past intimate relationships on Twitter, in order to discredit the violent rhetoric in Vanga’s movies, horrified that they’d felt driven to share these experiences to counter the glorification of abuse, I encountered a necessary yellow-light-says-pause in my own outrage cycle. Those who refused to see the links between pop culture and lived culture were unlikely to have a change of heart. They’d surrendered both intelligence and goodness when they picked “It’s just a movie, yaar” as the hill to die on. At what personal cost were the survivors relieving their stories?

The author Toni Morrison is often quoted from a 1975 speech: “It’s important, therefore, to know who the real enemy is, and to know the function, the very serious function of racism, which is distraction. It keeps you from doing your work. It keeps you explaining over and over again your reason for being.” She went on to talk about how decades of research, art and science can go into proving a single prejudice wrong. All that energy is directed towards reaction, rather than innovation.

Every one of us falls into this trap unwittingly. Some even lay the trap unwittingly, wiring themselves into contrarian or essentialist positions, and then we’re in an endless volley of call (or it is call-out?) and response. The only people who win at this are full-time trolls. Most of us are not, but all of us who consume and produce real-time opinion get sucked into illusory distraction. It can make us feel like we are deeply engaged and constantly productive, but what is the accumulative good of the same?

A meaningful recalibration may require slowness and some silence, eschewing the quick rejoinder for a more involved project of engagement, processing and creativity. The truth is that when we are bombarded with information, we are overcome by a lemming effect. We look where we are directed to look, and then expend our energy as a unit. In the backdrop, everything remains perfectly intact while we agitate, swayed into overestimating our personal importance. But there is a place for that too. It’s in the work that we get distracted away from. What is that work – that intensive, time-consuming, tedious but important work that isn’t being done?

An edited version appeared in The New Indian Express on July 11th 2019. “The Venus Flytrap” appears  in Chennai’s City Express supplement.