Millennium Post

Je suis Charlie!

Je suis Charlie!
This past week has been all about the Charlie Hebdo massacre. The entire world and all our leaders were up in arms against the inhuman slaughter of unsuspecting journalists by Islamic extremists. Till last week I hadn’t even heard of Charlie Hebdo. Let’s admit it, most of us hadn’t. As a country, we aren’t really known for our sense of humour, are we? I mean, how many of us look closely at the cartoons carried by news dailies? We’re a nation of serious people, with a burgeoning middle class that is so insecure about its hard-earned success that they’ve forgotten what it’s like to laugh. (No, Kapil Sharma’s jokes don’t count). So, it isn’t surprising that most of us had no clue of Charlie Hebdo.

Let us first establish a few facts. We cannot laugh at ourselves. Those who just shook your head in disbelief, let me tell you that I used to be one of you, and then I got a taste of the real deal. Early last week, I was at a stand-up comedy open-mic at a swish café frequented by Delhi’s avant-garde. It was being hosted by one of my favourite stand-up comedians, who also happens to be Asia’s best.

Stand-up comedy requires communication between the artiste and his audience, and I, usually, am an eager participant. That evening was no different. But, I was shocked to see none of the comedians being able to handle digs at them. Forget repartee, their egos were so insanely inflated that they couldn’t handle little jibes. Yes, I was loud. Yes, my jokes were funnier. Funniest, perhaps! Yes, the crowd preferred my punches to theirs. Yes, I was threatening to steal their thunder. So what? The hallmark of a good comedian is to not just be able to make a good joke. It is also to carry a joke forward and make it their own. I was met with rude personal remarks and disgruntled noises from them. Why? Because we’re so stuck up, so full of ourselves that we just cannot laugh at ourselves. It doesn’t matter if you’re an IIT topper, a politico, an actor par excellence, or a fighter pilot. If we can’t learn to loosen up and laugh at ourselves, how will we ever learn to deal with the lemons that life serves us? Without a sense of humour, we’ll never to be able to practise tolerance. And, incidents such as the Charlie Hebdo killings will keep plaguing us.

What is wrong with making fun of religion? Religion is just a way of life, a part of life. Why get so serious about it? What good is any society, any religion, any community if it cannot tolerate criticism, be it in the form of serious debates or humorous satire? I have a friend who’s recently started developing a little pot-belly. She jokingly refers to herself as baby Ganesha. Should I be offended? Should the VHP torch her office because she has insulted the Elephant God? When I was in grad school, one of my favourite television shows was a Bengali mythological sitcom which featured a stammering, mischievous Naarad, a flirtatious Kaartik who hits on mortal women, and a Lord Shiva with drinking and marital woes. It was hilarious, and lakhs of Bengali-speaking folks watched it religiously (pun not intended). I’m not one to show off, but this is an example of an intelligent, liberal, tolerant society. If one community can do it, so can the others! 

The Time reports that the Pope when asked about Charlie Hebdo said that religious freedom and freedom of expression are fundamental human rights. But they are also not total liberties. ‘There is a limit,’ he said, speaking in Italian. ‘Every religion has its dignity. I cannot mock a religion that respects human life and the human person.’

My question is- who is to decide the limit? Politicians who milk everything to their advantage? Religious leaders who think a cartoon is an ‘act of war’? Who decides? Because, nobody really can! And, that’s precisely the beauty of freedom and democracy!

All five fingers of a hand aren’t the same. They’re similar yet different. That’s how people are. We’re similar, yet different. Let’s loosen up, celebrate our differences, and show the finger to all those who try to gag us or ask us to stay within limits ‘cause like Travie McCoy sang:
We are young, we run free
Stay up late, we don’t sleep
Got our friends, got the night
We’ll be alright!

And, let’s not forget that Charlie also happens to be one the greatest comedians of all time. Coincidence much?

The author is a snotty single child, mountain junkie, playback singer, Austen addict and dreams of singing alongside Buddy Guy
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