Parody in the time of tragedy

In the time of COVID-19, I often think of Thirukkural 621 “Idukkan varungaal nakuka” which asks us to laugh at our difficulties as there is nothing more human to drive away sorrow. I always look for G. Sampath’s parody column ‘Allegedly’, which mitigates the weight of loss and the emotional toll of the pandemic. His humour belongs to the school of social criticism of Charlie Chaplin, where comedy is used as a device to turn the spotlight on many pressing social and political issues. An underlying element of pathos makes one laugh, then smile, then pause, and finally reflect about our state of being.

Writing tongue in cheek

Unlike reportage, where bearing witness and providing credible information are key components, the fundamental requirement of a parody column is to call out the absurdity of the rulers. Mr. Sampath’s column titled ‘Oxygen’s in the air: Great expectations of good governance’ (May 9) is a fine dystopian reading of the mess created by the Union government in augmenting medical oxygen during this crisis. In his earlier column, ‘Beating the coronavirus’ (April 23), Mr. Sampath argued tongue in cheek, “...if you move faster than a coronavirus, it can never catch you” and came up with a number of absurd moves that we as citizens have to take in order to preserve the ‘positive narrative’ about the government.

However, this is also the time to record certain facts that neither fall in the category of parody or comedy. It is becoming really difficult to believe that some of the averments by those in power or by those who represent this government are real and not parody. Almost every assertion of Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, from his submission to the Supreme Court on the plight of migrant workers who walked to their homes last year following the nationwide lockdown to his arguments about oxygen supply, would have made sense only if they were meant to rival Mr. Sampath’s column.

Citizens are used to a divergence between the views of those in power and the views of a critical media. What we are witnessing today is not a divergence of views. The view from the government has no semblance to what journalists are witnessing. The cruel second wave of the pandemic has finally started ripping off the Teflon coat of hyper-nationalism that glossed over inefficiency and inhumanity.

Reporting the reality

Nieman Lab, which is part of Harvard University’s Nieman Foundation, and which tracks the state of journalism across the world, in its report on May 3 pointed out the difficulties faced by journalists in India during this pandemic. The report read: “It’s hard to overstate the enormity of the public health calamity unfolding in India as the nation of 1.4 billion people fights what seems like a losing battle against the virus. But did it have to be this way? Answering that question is the responsibility of the free press of the world’s largest democracy. They have the unenviable task of writing the first draft of this wretched chapter in the nation’s history. They shoulder the burden of speaking truth to power — recording the tales of colossal missteps like not preparing for a second wave, calling out the political hubris in allowing massive campaign rallies, and criminal negligence that led to severe shortages of essential hospital supplies like oxygen.” The report has a very disturbing, but accurate conclusion: “In India, the media’s ability to pursue truth and tell it without fear is a matter of life and death.”

It is important for the government to listen to critical voices from the media to understand the gravity of the situation. The official spokespersons of the government are not in competition with the parody column, ‘Allegedly’. They are expected to come up with decisive administrative moves that address the needs of the patients who are flocking to overburdened hospitals across the country.

Instead of arresting journalists like Siddique Kappan for trying to report on the Hathras gang-rape case and filing cases against those who either seek or amplify the need for oxygen, the government needs to address the impending problem highlighted by the respected scientific journal, The Lancet. Citing the study of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, the journal fears that the deaths due to COVID-19 in India may cross a million by August 1. We are at a stage where neither Thiruvalluvar nor Mr. Sampath can provide mitigation. It has to come from the government.

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Printable version | Jun 13, 2021 2:54:13 PM |

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