The fine Art of Sitting on the Fence

social media

I am annoyed. And it is not easy to annoy me. I am sure there are millions, who like me, are facing a similar predicament. I am finding myself bulldozed into stupid, wasteful discussions, where one’s opinions or views are being sought! For over three decades, I had a simple defense, “I keep away from such issues. I am apolitical”. It would not just suffice, it would actually enhance my prestige. Here is a man, who stays focused on the most important things in life – studying, working, eating, partying and creating wealth – folks would say. Many would be green with envy. Much as they would try, the skill of being neutral, ambiguous, non-committal or preferably vague – is one that cannot be acquired easily even over a life time. 

These classical skills honed over decades, are now under assault. From friends who seek opinions on issues of pre-historic insignificance. Was India’s fight for freedom a cleverly orchestrated charade? Was a temple judgement an unusual mix of reward and retribution? Does the caste system actually exist? Is the Constitution under threat? Will a particular state election determine the course of the country’s polity? Have you seen Vikas? When will Ache Din come? (that by the way is simple – never. Cause the King of Good Times left the country). There is a constant barrage. From those, who have acquired a hyperactive persona on WhatsApp. From those, who believe that everything they see on social media must be responded to and firmly dealt with. From those, who are always in an “alarmist” mode. From those with an undesirably heightened civic sense. From those with an unseemly desire to respond to “injustice”. 

I have had to adopt some modern techniques to keep these folks at bay:

1.    Exiting social media groups – yes this works. I usually say that I am taking a break, but I never return!

2.    The clever ones find ways to bombard me with issues by reaching me directly. For them, I have an “auto-response vocabulary” that can be activated with simple clicks. One click gives “I see”. Two clicks yield “Interesting”, three “Wow!”, four “Boy, that’s unexpected!” and five “Jeez, that’s a lot of food for thought!”. In most cases, these have the required calming effects. These diabolically cunning responses, with some suitable modifications, work even at parties, where one cannot avoid these chaps. My favorite one remains “You do have a point. One must examine every aspect, look in every nook and cranny, in the times we live in. Because you don’t know what will happen. Deliberation is indeed the need of the hour”

3.    Yet, there are folks who are relentless. These folks are made of sterner stuff. They send me links to subjects I couldn’t care about and even provide a “reading list” to understand how, for instance, Mughals destroyed Hindustan! Or why India will flourish under a benevolent dictator. Or why Women and Students are creating history, as we speak. I deal with them through the A / B swap. A is sent material received from B and vice versa. Of course, one must be careful that A and B do not have contrarian views on the subject. This takes some effort, but if one must remain secure in one’s own bubble, it is an effort worth taking!

4.    For the absolute hardcore ones, who send me invites to events such as “Democracy and Dissent”, “Reclaiming the Republic”, “Students Against Hatred”, “Zanana Ka Zamana”, “Celebrating Secularism, Pluralism, Democracy and Freedom”, and insist that I attend – I have another “auto-response vocabulary” – “I am away on work travel, perhaps another time”, “What a pity! I have a family engagement that I must attend”. Both responses reinforce my image of a focused person devoted to his family – which I am.

Recently my daughter took a short break from her studies and came to visit me. I started to plan our holiday together – consulting my friends on contemporary restaurants, movies, music gigs, dance and theatre. As I proudly sent my proposed plan, with neatly laid out reviews, I received a chilling request from her “Let’s go to a protest site each day and understand the issues first hand. We will create posters and banners, reflecting our stand and show our solidarity to the cause!” Clearly, the “fence-sitter” gene had skipped a generation!




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