Where Has All The Nuance Gone?
In this time of only black or white, Sheila Kumar laments the loss of the in-between.
It`s a bad time to be a whiter shade of pale-r lavender, mauve, mint, teal and chartreuse. Actually, it is a bad time to be subtle, to fall back on irony and expect the listener/viewer/observer to get just what you mean. This was brought home sharply vis-à-vis a recent post I shared on a social networking site. It was an interview with a renowned historian, a pithy piece studded with pertinent nuggets. The passage I had cut and pasted above the link was one where the historian had said that Jawaharlal Nehru was being held accountable for anything and everything bad that had happened to the country in the last 70 years. The sardonic tone was clear even in the excerpt — except that quite a few people just didn’t get it. Faithful to their stand, these people hastened to express their satisfaction at two things: the historian seeing the light at last, and this heretic (namely me) obviously following suit by posting the interview. Welcome to the fold, they said volubly, exuberantly.
A quick read-through of the interview would have revealed just what the gentleman meant. Let me rephrase that: it would have made things pretty clear, once upon a time. Now, it is all about making statements in black and white. Now, espousing one position means repudiating every single facet of the other position. The rules are clear: if you stand up to be counted, please make sure you are on the right side, or prepare to be skewered. And please stick to the KISS principle — don’t confuse matters by parsing the issue at hand. As Herr Hitler would have said: it is Aryan or vermin. The word nuance is defined thusly: a subtle difference in or shade of meaning, expression or sound. But what price that difference when subtlety itself has acquired a distinct persona non grata status? Even as history is being rewritten to suit the newspapers, a certain kind of aggression, totally absent of any cerebral mooring, walks abroad, flexing its biceps and stretching its many-centimetered chest.
Those who do not see or acknowledge nuance actually have it easy. The path is clear to denounce, to harass, to spew invective, to barge into people’s homes, check the contents of their fridge and then bludgeon them to death. To accost young couples and ask them which caste or community they belong to; to stage protests when two consenting adults decide to marry outside their respective castes; to harass women they consider are dressed inappropriately; to burn books they would in any case never read; to turn into a lumpen mob with the flick of a switch.
The no-nuancewallas just don’t get it. Put in KISS terms, a condemnation of the 2002 riots does not, in any way, mean acceptance or justification of the 1984 riots. Recognising (unbearable) braggadocio in one individual does not mean excusing the (abject) lack of leadership skills in another. Subjecting so-called sacred space to incisive scrutiny does not mean disrespect therein. The young man who courageously stands up to intimidation on a college campus is not a messiah, just a brave man who may or may not stand the test of time. Applauding the government for its attempts at good governance does not mean buying into its ideological rhetoric. The purview of art and literature has to soar above governmental shackles to really work.
A melting pot culture necessarily implies the peaceful coexistence of nuanced people leading nuanced lives. Those who are seeking to banish nuance are doing our future generations a grave disservice. The no-nuancewallas also need to see, realise and acknowledge the idea of India. Hello, India is a great country. It does not need endorsement or verification by anyone. Hopefully, she will rise above today’s unintelligent goons with their knee-jerk responses, their proclivity to offend and take offence, their innate belief that their vision of India can be hammered into shape, both mentally and physically. Today’s slogans, indeed, have the potential to become tomorrow’s precepts. And that is precisely what scares me. Will someone bring nuance back, please?