A literally modest proposal on raising awareness about “chronic irony misunderstanding” disorder

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.



3 thoughts on “A literally modest proposal on raising awareness about “chronic irony misunderstanding” disorder

    • Thanks for the link, Salil. It did do me quite some good. It made me realise that there is a lot of intellectual dishonesty amongst writers. Contrary to what everyone is suggesting about Nandy making a “complex argument”; his argument about Dalits’ corruption being an equalising force is pretty straightforward; one has to be extremely daft not to realise that argument. But while trying to come in defence of Nandy’s controversial remark about Dalits being the most corrupt (which was a follow up statement to his “complex argument” ideated along with Tarun Tejpal during the course of the panel discussion), writers such as Vinay Lal, yourself, Nilanjana Roy and many others have attempted to conveniently hide Nandy’s supporting statement for Dalits being the most corrupt by taking the example of West Bengal under the Communist rule. Why this fudging of facts, half disclosures and the dishonesty? If you want to stand up for Nandy’s right to free speech then do so by all means but do not do the man an injustice by trying to hide what the man in question himself had taken pains to express. For all I care Nandy is entitled to have his casteist opinion; but to do so in the guise of being an intellectual without giving any iota of evidence shows the standard of public intellectuals in this country. You may read my first post on this subject explaining the same; it has been designed to do intellectuals “a world of good”. https://anupknair.wordpress.com/2013/01/27/the-masquerade-of-the-finest-intellectuals-at-jaipur-lit-fest/

  1. Pingback: The Gandhian way of Dalit discourse | Endless, Nameless

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