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Home >Opinion >Columns >The amateur Indian and the malaise of over-articulation

Are we talking too much? About ourselves. What we are, what we are going through? What will become of us, what is the future? We give names to things and raise whole ideas into existence. We were not always like this. We did not have so many names for so many things. I am reminded of an exquisite sentence in One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, “The world was so recent that many things lacked names, and in order to indicate them it was necessary to point." It was about another time and a small new village, but we were a lot like that as recently as 2000, compared to today. There were many things that we never spoke about without pointing.

Now we speak of abstract things as though they are common truths, as though they really exist, and we think they exist because they have names. And it is most obvious in the US. If you are an outsider to American culture in every important way, and if you have not surrendered your cultural roots yet to its colonizing power, you may have noticed, or at least felt, that Americans talk a lot. A lot.

The over-articulation of their politics itself emanates from this intrinsic American quality. Every abstract thing is mapped, labelled and transmitted because there is a market for it. The many types of ‘attention disorders’, ‘depression’ and ‘bipolar disorders’, types of sorrow and, in the face of it all, formulas for how to be happy. What must we eat, how must we run, how many litres of water to drink, how to get rich, why a mother should be called a ‘birthing parent’, and endless laments—‘oh-no-American-democracy-is-dead’. Then the dissection of things like left-wing, right-wing, socialism, communism and other absurd thought experiments of non-Americans that the sane have taken too seriously.

It is not a coincidence that the country is a paradise for podcasts. If there is something they don’t understand, they have to first talk about it, and when they run out of concrete things like diet, they find esoteric things like crypto and of course the mind. Any guy with ‘neuro’ in his job description will have millions listening to him about ‘meditation’ or even the meaning of soul. And so often, we in India have to face the consequences of Indian subscribers who then try to educate us on the meaning of life, the meaning of everything.

Americans love talking so much that when they run out of things to say about themselves, they talk about other people, and also aliens. The way they speak of other nations and cultures, you would think they have a deep interest in them. But if you are an artist of any sort among ‘other people’, or even a journalist, you will realize they usually have no interest in what you have to say. What they are interested in is what they have to say about you, for which they need to find Americans or quasi-Americans, such as immigrants who have spent too much time at US universities—exotic enough, but not so authentic that they are incomprehensible.

And everything America does, the elite elsewhere imitates. Thus modern urban India is filled with a pointless but self-important articulation of ordinary human abstractions. There is something amateurish about this.

Is there such a thing as an amateur human, a person who is amateurish at being human? Yes, in the modern world. I see domesticated dogs, especially pugs and Pomeranians, as amateurs of their species. A feral wolf is not for a moment. The poor, too, are never amateurs. They exist comfortably with their environment, their politics. The amateur Indian, on the other hand, is a suave, culturally homeless person who talks a lot about ordinary things that once did not have names because they were too ordinary to be analysed in any great depth.

A pro simply does; an amateur talks endlessly about doing. The amateur writer, for instance, talks a lot about whether he must write longhand or type, and about the tactile pleasure of keying on an old typewriter. After listening to him talk so much about writing, when you see his draft, you wonder where all the quest for meaning went. Over-articulation is the central quality of a person who does not belong where he is standing.

Every person you meet in this world, you can put him in your eighth standard classroom. Then you know who the person is like. You remember classmates who used to make detailed timetables to study for exams and even to turn in their assignments (which was then called homework)? Or for anything in life. If they have to do something, they will first make a fantastic timetable in multiple colours with lots of underlined bits. These were the amateurs. They were good at the articulation of a schedule, but did very little. The amateur is always preparing, preparing for life, fascinated by the beauty of preparation because everything else is tedious.

Another place in the mind from where over-articulation arises is megalomania. In this world, there is no tribute written for most people. Nothing complimentary is ever said about them for long months. There is not even any news of them, actually, if we see news in its correct form—as a remarkable occurrence. But they see a mention about them in some places—like in astrology and lipid profiles. They also find their own biographies in novels, psychological concepts, ideologies, ailments. It is all about them, finally. Thus they constitute a fervent market for over-articulation. The media then moves to serve this market. Are you sleepless, are you afraid in “these horrid times", are you “languishing"?

And, of course, now and then could be an amused column on over-articulation.

Manu Joseph is a journalist, and a novelist, most recently of ‘Miss Laila, Armed And Dangerous’

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