A young couple sitting in the Metro had been engaged in cheerful banter for a long time. The subject of their discussion was to have as much fun as they could on Christmas and New Year. Their phones were ringing non-stop, text messages arriving and in the style running commentary, they were telling their friends: We’ve reached this station: you should also reach here quickly.
It is not civilized to eavesdrop in a public place. But I couldn’t help it since they were loud. If I kept my hands on my ears, in my attempt to appear too civilized, I would have looked like a comedian. To shift my attention, I decided to focus on the screen of the iPhone. I respond to mails from office, SMS and WhatsApp messages as soon as I see them. Facebook’s bravehearts were engaged in their own little battles. Let me trawl Twitter, I thought. Perhaps, I will glean something good and novel. I was going through my timeline when a tweet appeared.
I keep a close watch on American historian Audrey Truschke’s tweets. She does a scientific analysis of facts and arguments. This time round, she had tweeted about a news item from a renowned American newspaper which expounded on the danger of extremism lurking over Christmas celebrations in India. A few incidents of a very local nature which took place in one or two remote villages and statements by outspoken organisations formed the meat of this story. Reading it made you feel that a great danger was hovering over India.
My attention returned to the couple sitting next to me. Weren’t they going to celebrate Christmas and New Year? I apologetically asked them their names. With a little hesitation, they said: Rohit and Rehana. Their hesitation didn’t emerge from their religious identities but from my lack of acquaintance with them. My next question was: “Aren’t you afraid to celebrate this festival?" “Why should we be afraid? We celebrate it every year!" was the response. A question came to my mind. The newspaper that published the article does so after carrying out a number of checks and balances. It has enormous credibility, but what about its content? Back in their own country, they have plenty of loudmouths who are ready to create a storm in a teacup on the basis of colour, religion and language. These sensationalists are not taken seriously from New York to New Delhi.
Despite all this, its correspondents got an opportunity to write in such a manner because an alleged extremist Hindu organisation had issued a statement against Christmas. Instead of trusting them, had the authors of the article looked at the Capital and the areas around it, they would have realised that all those restaurants and hotels which are offering special incentives for 25 December and New Year are getting a big response. They even forgot that a majority of Indians have given up on the Vikram Samvat calendar and adopted the Gregorian calendar. That’s why so many events are hosted on 31 December.
I thought the real picture should come to light. So I responded to Audrey and the newspaper on Twitter: “I don’t think there will be any problem in celebrating Christmas in India. Hotels, restaurants, clubs are booked for celebrations, writing this on Christmas Eve with full confidence." Needless to say, no untoward incident was reported on the day of the festival.
I can give more instances but for the purposes of our understanding, this example is enough. Indians should realise that a few people among us make sensational statements for cheap publicity which create apprehension in the minds of those staying abroad. Even if traditional media ignores them, they succeed in spreading their propaganda through social media. As citizens of India, shouldn’t we think about dissociating ourselves from such elements and as far as possible, stop the spread of negativity? Instead of cursing others, we should deal with our own weaknesses.
That day, coming out of the station, I realised that using the Metro or another form of public transport once a week for environmental reasons has its uses.
Today is 1 January, the first day of the year. On this day most people resolve to give up their bad habits. On this day, why can’t we make a common New Year resolution: Of not letting our country sink into a morass of rejection and negativity?
Finally, here’s wishing you a happy new year. In this year, India could become part of a select club of five most developed countries in the world. But will such economic progress be perceived as progress with such irresponsibility? We need to make India affluent as well as intellectually prosperous.
Shashi Shekhar is editor-in-chief, Hindustan. His Twitter handle is @shekharkahin.