Figures of Speech

Have you ever wondered how wonderful an invention the human language is?

Words can stand for meanings so specific, that people spend their entire lives, just mulling over each word, its possible synonyms, the subtleties in the differences of their meanings–writing judgements of court cases, or ‘terms and conditions’ on a web site, or a legal contract, or diplomats issuing statements addressed to various capitals of respective nations.

While on the other hand, we could twist words totally out of their native meanings in our attempt to evoke intended emotions. If I tell my girlfriend (who does not exist out of the confines of my meninges), “I shall bring you the stars and the Moon”, she would understand, I wouldn’t try to do that literally, not because I can’t do that, but because she’d know she’d die of starvation or oxygen-deprivation, or boredom on Moon, whereas proximity to stars would char her (don’t be suprised by her intelligence; she’d be my girlfriend after all! 😉 ). Or, if a sister tells her brother, “wo chocolate khaane se pehale tumhein meri laash par se guzaranaa hoga” [you’ll have to walk over my dead body to eat that chocolate], the brother would know that what she actually means is that she’s not in a mood to share the chocolate with him! And, a brother being male, would be clever enough to know that he could always circumvent her dead body to get the chocolate and need not actually walk over it! 😉 Or, if someone says, “He wears his heart on his sleeve”, everyone would know that having beautiful hearts to flaunt them has yet not become a fashion statement!

But, this figurative use of language gets most interesting when certain words get flashed all over the mass media, and get sprinkled about by politicians. Their meanings can change not just depending on the context, but even on which political party’s rally they are speaking in! Or, in case of media houses, which party’s ‘pay roll’ are they on!

Two such words that lend themselves most comfortably to fanciful usage, and thus making the user feel totally liberated from the confines of meaning and definition are ‘secularism’ and ‘equality’.

Read the following newspiece, a bit stale, but more illustrative of the phenomenon than my rant, here:

The newspiece (click)

17 thoughts on “Figures of Speech

  1. @Rakesh and Vishwas: Did you people really miss the link at the bottom of the article? Did it not shock or pain you? To know the head of our State stooping to such levels, absolutely unmindful of what such policies could do to the economic as well as the social fabric of our country? If it is generalized apathy towards Indians politics (which I too harbor), then, it’s alright. But if it is something else, I’d like to know what it was that kept you from addressing the core issue of my post? I’m somewhat hurt that the issue I wanted to point to has been taken lightly.

    @Rakesh: You’re much older than me and that’s one of the minor reasons I respect you. But there are other more important reasons too, for instance, the ones which led you to write that article on Section 377. Is this issue any less important to you? Is it stale? Is our country still not being divided on religious and casteist (communal) grounds? I’m concerned only because I’ve seen you express your opinions on such issues elsewhere. But mere blog ne kya paap kiya hai? Apart from committinn a few murders here and there? 😉

    Vishwas: I’ve not seen you ever discuss the politics of India. I’d also not dwell on how should we be responsible citizens and be vocal about politics and all that (‘cuz I don’t think it anyway makes a difference). But I only wanted to know if that newspiece elicited any emotional response from you or not, and if it did, what was it? If it did not, I really congratulate you (I’m not being sarcastic), because this kind of apathy has to be earned after years of futile attempts at changing things for better, and really contributes a lot to our peace of mind in matters we can’t change (sic)!

    TC, both of you.

  2. Ketan, we’re completely under the spell of political correctness…..and that is not doing anyone – including the nation – any good. I am passionate about an egalitarian, secular society – but, as you pointed out, these words have multiple definitions.

    Yes, our country’s fabric is being torn apart, but people like us are also complicit in this. It is not just the radical elements who are to blame.

    While you’re on hiatus, you may want to read some thoughts of mine on these matters:


    Quirky Indian

  3. Ketan, I said funny headline for the headline of the newspiece.

    The thing is that this headline is so stale, it almost felt nostalgic. I’d banged my head a lot during that time.

    This discussion about Secular and Equality always gets me to ponder a lot but not arrive at one final conclusion. I can’t just take a stand.

    I do not agree with such statements but neither do I agree that the entire English media is biased against the BJP. I think they do spread enough vitrolic shit to do harm to the country for their political gain. So I don’t take one stand in this issue – it’s more on a case by case basis.

  4. Ketan,
    To start off, I was quite amused and was wondering if that snippet of news was actually true. But I’m not going to dwell on the authenticity of that news bit. We humans are a complicated lot. The most unexpected comments/remarks sometimes come from the most unexpected people. I’ve come across a lot of politicians,bureaucrats,leaders etc say the most atrocious,senseless,baseless,trivial things about some very important issues. I think its part of our innate human nature to goof up regularly. Although I don’t have evidence to prove what I have just said. I still strongly feel such comments stem from apathy toward sensitive issues.
    What our beloved PM said doesn’t really make sense to me. For example, how can anyone prove the number of water molecules from the Ganga river a Hindu is entitled to. If that’s what Dr. Manmohan Singh means.
    No actually I wasn’t shocked or hurt by what I read. Our country is in a sad state. No wait, actually its in a pathetic state! Lets not blame the poor bribe-taking politician for once. If you must know, its we the people who bribe them lazy bones to get our work done. So who’s fault is it?
    Our Indian psyche is extremely unique [read weird]. We accept the lowest standard of life/living for ourselves. If only someone could shove a surgical hand deep down into our narrow-minded alleys of our cheap mentality and yank out the deep seated lack of empathy. Perhaps then at least,hopefully, things would turn around.
    The reason, Ketan, why I usually don’t discuss Indian politics is because I strongly believe its all just a farce and discussing endlessly over it doesn’t produce anything concrete. Its all just a Tamasha for them politicians. But having said that, I have seen a handful of people who have a bright vision for our Nation.

  5. Our diverse culture,languages,caste/creed has been our biggest enemy. But, if channelized well, it could be our biggest asset. Our diversity hasn’t been respected well by our own people. For example, a North Indian person hates everything that’s not North Indian but still doesn’t mind living anywhere. It sounds very trivial but I’ve had firsthand experience and I always [most of the times] speak with experience. Similarly, a South Indian hates everything that’s not familiar or not South Indian but still doesn’t mind living anywhere. Now who is to be blamed? Are you going to blame the South Indian for not respecting everything, that’s not South Indian or are you going to blame the North Indian? Whatever the direction of our Nation, most of us have no respect for our own culture. I’ve come across people who migrate temporarily/permanently to, say, Bangalore. The day start living in Bangalore they begin to complain about the traffic, the polluted air, the lack of night life, the South Indian food, how most native people speak the local language. I begin to wonder, why don’t they understand that whatever is available in the City is what its made of! Bangalore is a place where most people eat vegetarian South Indian delicacies. I had come across one bloke who’d come down for work and he had written a blog about how the rickshawalla couldn’t speak Hindi/English and that Idly Sambar was the most commonly found and irritating food he had ever eaten! The comments on his blog were extremely brutal and insulting! But he tried clarifying the fact that it was his attempt to humorously point out differences of living in Bangalore and other places but to no avail! I did comment on his blog saying that it was nice that he had blogged about his experience, but to me it didn’t feel like he was trying to humorously portray his experience in Bangalore. I also said he should learn to appreciate the local culture wherever he goes so that he doesn’t get whooped around by local angry extremists!
    Similarly I met someone from Bangalore in Scotland a few months ago who had been working there for a few years now. And during our conversation I just happened to mention about immigration problems faced by the UK. So our friend says “Sir we should shoo away all the non native people from our State so that we can live peacefully and we should not let them settle or work in our State!” I was for a minute very taken aback when I heard those words. I took a while to digest what he had uttered and I plainly asked him “Then why are you working in Scotland even though you clearly are neither a Scotsman nor an Englishman?” Our friend was left red faced because he quite older than I am so his ego was badly bruised! But I nonchalantly pointed out that his outlook was prejudiced and someone else having the same opinion/outlook would bring a lot of friction around us.
    No it did not elicit

  6. Sorry I didn’t complete the previous response fully.

    *No it did not elicit any emotional response. party because I was not sober enough to react to it! Lol

    But I do hope as always things change for better soon!


  7. Well Rakesh, it suprises me that the PM’s statement made you ponder over the meanings of secularism and equality. This is what I’d meant by how the politicians/sections of educated elite have twisted the meaning of certain words so much that we’ve forgotten their original meanings!

    You’ll find one of the meanings here (click), which is as follows:

    “A position that religious belief should not influence public and governmental decisions”

    Well since that definition comes from an open-source web site, you might find it unreliable.

    Let’s see the definition from Concise Oxford English Dictionary 11th edition (2004). It offers two pertinent meanings for secular:

    1. not religious, sacred or spiritual

    2. not subject to or bound by religious rule

    Also, I’m surprised how did you not find that statement a vitriolic one. Even without feeding an extra word into his mouth, the direct corollary of what he said is this:

    “All those who are not Muslim minority are second rung citizens, and they must wait for their turn for national resources even if they are as much deserving or needy.”

    Let’s see, under what circumstances this statement is not vitriolic.

    Prime Minister (PM): Minority have the first claim over resources.

    Common man (CM): But who’s a minority?

    PM: We’d prepared a list 50 years back, so the third generation of those who were not treated well back then are the minority.

    CM: But sir, all my class mates who’re minority have all studied in equally good schools as me, from the same text books. Some of their parents even own hospitals/clinics worth crores. How are they disadvantaged?

    PM: Their great, great grand parents were not treated well by the society, you see!

    CM: But sir… Okay tell me, out of all those who’re disadvantaged, why be partial only to Muslims? Why not devote resources on the basis of one who’s more needy, rather than their religion?

    PM: Because that’s what’s best for balanced growth of our country. I’m the PM, after all, I know the best. Now don’t ask too many questions, lest you be called a narrow-minded communal fool.

    CM: Oh, sorry sir! I’ll remember, all the Indians, irrespective of their religion and caste are my brothers and sisters. I love them…

  8. …I don’t mind losing a seat or two here and there, or a few thousand rupees of my tax. Thanks for giving me a challenging exercise in universal brotherhood and love! You’re the greatest leader ever born in history of India! Jai Hind!

    Though this post was not at all about the BJP or the Congress (I’ve made reference to only one statement by the (then and current) Prime Minister of India, I don’t remember, ABV, saying any such thing while he was the PM. I don’t remember him saying Hindus deserve first claim over anything! Even BJP’s national leadership has never made such communally polarizing statements! Whereas, while making the above statement, Manmohan Singh was the head of the state–supposedly, expected to be impartial. Why should any honest, tax-paying non Muslim not find such a statement vitriolic? But what’s more shocking is his image of a clean, honest politician with good economic policies for our country among the educated and enlightened citizen (for instance, a huge section of bloggers)!

    I know the news is stale, but the issue is not (in my opinion). Before we know it, in run up to the next elections, job reservations in the private sector are going to be introduced.

    However, I’ll also not pretend that just by my blogging on this issue, things are going to change. But I also fail to understand why BJP’s original demand to have a temple at the birth place of arguably the most important Hindu God is deemed as vitriolic shit, whereas the PM’s above statement is not!

    If the logic behind not building a temple in place of a mosque is to not try to reverse an injustice done before independence to Hindus, how come is it logical to try to reverse injustice done before independence to backward classes by extending education and job reservations to them now??!! Status quo should be not interfered with in both the cases, right? I’m not arguing for building of a temple, because for me, it personally, doesn’t make a difference, but I just wanted to point out how our collective opinions have got skewed, bereft of any logic or rationality, only in attempt to conform to this image of being ‘broadminded’ and ‘secular’.


  9. Hello Vishwas!

    Well, good you didn’t dwell on the authenticity of the news ‘cuz it comes from the Indian Express (one of the highest selling newspapers–must’ve heard about it? 😛 ), and that speech must have been captured by countless cameras and microphones! 😛

    You’re very right how we ourselves are to be blamed for deep-seated communalism (ethnocentricity) we experience in our daily lives. But see, in the story of two cats and a monkey, the cats were foolish, but not that monkey was not at fault! (Do let me know if you don’t remember the fable!). We can’t keep on calling that monkey the best arbitrator ever!

    See, it’s possibly the ‘clean’ image of our PM that made you first doubt the authenticity of that news!

    Why that statement is utterly malevolent is because it totally goes against all the principles of fairness, equality, and even much-touted secularism. Please see my response above to Rakesh. It goes against your rights as a tax-payer (or whoever pays taxes in your household!). And that’s where I differ from you. Such statements do not stem from carelessness (PM’s statements must be drafted by at least 10 people; and policies decided by at least 50!), but outright cunningness (votebank politics as is called colloquially).

    Votebank politics is very bad, but totally reprehensible when indulged in by the head of the state!

    And Vishwas, I don’t mind if you’re apathetic at all (for reasons I explained above). For instance, I know even with my this post, nothing will change!

    As I explained to you, I’d not considered the possibility of your having missed the newspiece.

    I totally can’t believe what that guy in Scotland said!!! It’s totally insane! 😮 That’s the prototypical example of double standards!

    Good, you were enjoying yourself, and not reading one of those ugly books! 😛

    Thanks for the response!


  10. Hello Garima-ji, and welcome to my blog as Spark Star!

    I gather your exams must be over, and you must be in mood for some intense blogging!

    Thanks for reading, and showing your two tongues!


  11. @Spark Star:

    Semi-hiatus is to save myself from withdrawal symptoms of total and abrupt hiatus. But as indicated, this will ease into a complete hiatus. Why? Because to get even a reasonably good PG seat, I’ll have to get at least 1000 ranks out of more than 60000 students!

    And apparently, all the other 59999 students have been studying harder than me!

    You also chose to skip commenting on the newspiece?


  12. I am just curious to know your opinion on the reservation for SC/ST/MBC candidates. I can understand your resentment for the news piece as you chose to read between the lines where what is said is not anytime what is meant (at least the Govt. press releases).

    I think a hypocritic people deserve a hypocritic Government.

    Destination Infinity

  13. Destination Infinity,

    I actually could not get your query/comment properly.

    If you are asking me if the government is right in having caste based reservations in educational institutes/government jobs for SC/ST/OBC, then I would most certainly say, it is not!

    The issue I was highlighting was how the word–‘secularism‘ has been abused. Because, what he stated, even without reading between the lines, clearly goes against the established meaning of that word. And, even the preamble of our Constitution says that secularism must be observed in governance. Incidentally, secularism is a word that exclusively deals with equality between religions and not castes! Unfortunately, in the Constitution, word ‘socialist‘ has also been insinuated, which by a very far shot gives some flimsy credence to caste-based reservations, but does not mean, I support the idea.

    And most unfortunately, the word ‘egalitarianism’ does not find a mention anywhere! Guess, those drafting the Constitution had used an abridged version of the English dictionary, which had excluded such high-society, impractical words! 😛

    And add to all this the very ironic (in my humble opinion) fact that he is considered to an economist with ‘good’ secular credentials by the vary majority (the immeasurable SI unit of democracy)!

    You meant, India shall we saw, and India shall we rip (apart)? Nice thought!

    Thanks for dropping by!

    Take care.

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