Ok. I admit it. I am prejudiced when it comes to the writings of a certain “intellectual” named Salil Tripathi. I don’t know what it is about his writings but they seem to spur me into a response. Not that he or anyone else in the “intellectual” blogosphere, journalistic or academic community would actually care, but perhaps the motivating factor to respond to Tripathi’s writings arise out of me wrongly harbouring grand illusions of contributing meaningfully to the greater intellectual issues of our time.
Anywhoo, now that I have confessed my sin of prejudice to our Dear Lord in Heaven I can now move on to committing my next sin of mocking Tripathi’s 31 Jan 2013 piece in Mint titled ‘Scissors and scared scholars’ .
In this short response, I will only restrict myself to a portion of Tripathi’s article which cover his attempted defence of Ashis Nandy’s comments at the recently concluded Jaipur Literature Festival.
I don’t want to add to the popular notion amongst right thinking individuals that Nandy’s comments were either an attempt to garner attention or an unfortunate display of his casteist mindset. But what I will most certainly do is to shine the light onto the dark corner of Tripathi’s mind that is the source of his half assed justifications and dishonest pieces. Tripathi starts off by saying India suffers from chronic irony deficiency and avers that modern India is not the place for irony or satire. The irony he is referring to relates to Nandy’s remark below; which Tripathi characterises as a glib one :
Nandy said, probably ironically, that some of India’s most disadvantaged groups were the most corrupt. He, of course, didn’t mean that quite so literally: Later he clarified that the corrupt from the so-called lower castes are more likely to get caught, unlike the corrupt among the elite, who have the means to cover their tracks.
It would be useful to have a look at what did Nandy actually say to understand if he was being ironical at all:
“It will be an undignified and vulgar statement but the fact is that most of the corrupt come from the OBC, the scheduled castes and now increasingly STs. As long as it was the case, the Indian republic would survive.”
“I will give an example. The state of least corruption is West Bengal. In the last 100 years, nobody from the backward classes and the SC and ST groups have come anywhere near power in West Bengal. It is an absolutely clean state”
Forgive me but I am quite new to this irony thing. Perhaps the irony in Nandy’s comments escapes me. Or perhaps Tripathi doesn’t understand the meaning of “literally”. When Nandy follows up in the same breath with the West Bengal example, you can be sure that he isn’t even remotely trying to be ironical. That example about West Bengal is a crystal clear indication of Nandy making an argument about how the presence of Dalits and Corruption are strongly correlated.
Now, like I said earlier, I probably couldn’t tell irony from a bar of soap; but I am pretty sure that my reading comprehension of the English language is reasonable enough to make a distinction between an argument and glib remark that may or may not be coated with irony. Nandy clearly and literally asserted that the absence of Dalits from any seat of power ensured that West Bengal was a Corruption free state under Communist rule. There wasn’t the slightest hint of irony in Nandy’s remark. Instead what is ironical is that some intellectuals are seeking to twist Nandy’s comments to mean something else than what he quite literally stated. Hope this short post elucidates what irony is and what it is not so that Tripathi is able to cure himself of his “chronic irony misunderstanding” disorder.