Wednesday, September 24, 2014

March of the zombies

(Published in Business Standard on March 8, 2014)

These are the best days of the year. The afternoon light lasts a bit longer. Cotton wool clouds are wafting across the sky. The breezes are warming up. Sweet green buds are sprouting on branches. The pansies are turning their crazy little faces up to the butterflies. The AAP and the BJP are hurling furniture at each other in the street to the soothing gush of police water cannons. Ah, spring in Delhi! There’s nothing quite like it.

The air fills with the chirp of birdsong in the trees earlier every morning, and the screaming of spokespeople in the studios later every evening. Parliament has fallen silent, but they hope to replace all the ripped out mikes in the next few months. It is at this time, between the chapped lips of winter and the baked scalps of summer, that the city takes a short, happy, relaxed breath.

This is Delhi is at its best, all mild sunshine and blazing flowerbeds. Also because the model code of conduct is now in effect, which means politicians are no longer allowed to influence voters, which means that it’s now up to voters to influence each other, which is not going so well because everyone has already made up their minds and are now spending all their brainpower coming up with good names to call the others.

Social media networks have turned into vast, timeless battlefields groaning under the weight of armies of zombies, trolls and gargoyles of all kinds, and filled with the crackling of verbal assault and gunfire, punctuated only by the odd Buzzfeed list to provide a more conventional kind of comic relief. Insult-generating widgets, compiled from common epithets bandied about on Twitter, say that you’re either a pseudo-sickular, Paki-loving, napunsak, weak, minority-appeasing, anti-progress, dynasty-supporting, paid news dalaal, congi dog, anti-Hindu PR ninja libtard; or a fear-mongering, genocidal, totalitarian, khap panchayati, plutocratic, cow-worshipping nazi pigdog, khaki-chaddi classhole trustafarian bigot Moditard. Or an AAPtard. (That one apparently says it all.) Everything is pretty much black or white out there. It’s not conversation as much as civil war.

It’s all startlingly reminiscent of post 9/11 America, when comments under every single article online could be clearly grouped into two seething, teeming camps of people who hated each other, and three or four hapless centrists talking about nuance, at whom everyone else yelled.

It’s called polarisation, it has been in a theatre near you for a while, and it’s not going anywhere soon. This election year is apparently going to consist of all thinking Indians picking a camp and defending it until their decaying corpses start smelling the place up; after which you’ll to pick your way through the booby traps they left in order to kick their dead libtard/Moditard/AAPtard asses. If you think that’s harsh, I promise it’s a rosebud, cleaned up, coiffed and sanitised, compared to most internet exchanges.

With temperatures so high already, all enfranchised Indians are praying as hard as they can that the nine-phase election summer will be kind to their cause, and roast all those other retards. The reality, of course, is that half the country (or, depending on which of one billion psephologists you’re listening to, much less than half the country) will spend the next five years drowning in disappointment. Any victor will preside over a bitter, uncooperative, obstructionist opposition that absolutely hates them.

But disappointment is for later. It’s only spring as yet, the season of hope. Enjoy it. Stretch your winter-stiff limbs, dine al fresco, take in great gulps of slightly allergenic air, refine and improve the insults in your insult-generating widget. That old Chinese curse is upon us: May you live in interesting times.

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