Draft Version: Samjha Karo
India has always had catchphrases that capture the country’s essence, the clear winner in this being the eternal, “Adjust please”. Whether said straightfacedly on a bus or a train, where a seat meant for two can seat at least five or more, depending upon how many angles one can imagine in the set up – or implied, in a posh office space, where the silent trampling over innocent workers teaches then the art of making room for others where none seemed to exist. Adjust re, we will make it work!
Another phrase that riles up a lot of people still, is Hindu Rate of Growth. Some object to the Hindu, particularly some Hindus, others to rate(shifting baselines and all), and still others to growth(who ever knew how it was ever calculated…ahem…estimated!). All in all a pathetic failure as a concept but an incredibly long lived phrase.
Chalta hai replaced Cholbe na!, both harbingers of industrial doom, and presumably contributing to the embarrassments of the Hindu Rate of Growth. Cholbe Na came from the horrors of strike- land, years when the pendulum swung too hard against the excesses of capitalism, so much so as to cripple entire industries, and worse, push workers deep into poverty. India’s failed experiments with workers as activists has evolved in its own inimitable way, and that becomes a graphic novel in itself. Chalta hai, is a class apart. An attitude, a response, a diffuser of battles that could have mattered, but then who had the energy for it.
Chalta Hai as a phrase was ubiquitous, used in so many ways, and in essence saying that it did not matter if things did not get done. Nor did it matter if things did not get done well, or on time. A lackadaisical approach that denied any possibility of professionalism and led many to cry out – chalta hai, par daudta kyon nahin hain! It walks, but why does it not run. Chalta hai was about making do with mediocrity, with less than that even, as long as we did not have to exert ourselves. After all, what could one gain in such times anyway. Matched by the alt phrase – Koi baat nahin, which meant so much more than the literal translation of “It doesn’t matter”. Koi Nahin, came as a response, if your car bumped into my scooter, if one bonus was more than another, if pappu failed another exam – it was a way of bouncing back when things would inevitably go wrong. If it did not matter, then how could it hurt? Times were tough, and moving swiftly past quotidian tragedies was
Chalta hai kept some people sane, and able to accept their circumstances. Chalta hai drove other people insane – with such vast potential wasted! Chalta hai, much like adjust, was the national attitude encapsulated in a phrase. Till the tide rose with liberalisation, and we took a peak past the high banks, and saw that with some energy, chalta hai could be surpassed. Chalta hai took a back seat, finally.
Sitting in the back benches, it found another loser – the phrase – “aise hi to hota hai” (AHTHH) which then stepped up to take its place in the son. Despite the humoungous efforts to create an innovation culture in India, it remains trapped in the aise hi to hota hai. Try to get a window designed diagonally, the carpenter shakes his head and creates the predictable boxy version, saying, aise hi to hota hai. Try to get the music changed away from retro crooners, aise hi to chalta hai – a complex doubling up rears its head! Try to do anything that has not been done before – because it gets better results, you will come face to face with and “aise kaise?!” look, followed by a dogged ‘aise hi to hota hai”. Try it the next time you want to do something that your listener has not visualised – they cannot, because they cannot see beyond what they have been taught – kyonki – aisie hi to hota hai.
Of course I blame the education system for that – and that’s one of the phrases we love, but I’m not calling on it today. The Aise Kaise culture is deeply rooted in the rote learning, there is only one right answer, and how will you get full marks if you try to figure it out your own way system that counts for education in India. It is, indeed, an indoctrination into “aise hi to hota hai”, to the exclusion of all other intended capacities of the brain. Thankfully, humans are a bit of a rebellious race, and we do stand a chance to emerge from the cesspit of “aise hi…’’
We may actually evolve out of the AHTHH, because our survival depends upon it – else of course we will be colonised all over again by those who did it smarter, and won the race. But now, we find ourselves facing the land of #Samjha Karo! Samjha Karo (SK) is working its way up, but is implicit in all that we do. Starting with the context less questions in our math textbooks that would leave any rational person spinning with possibilities – but our reliable SK gang knows exactly what to assume and fill the blanks. This, of course is natural in a high context system – where guess work is half the communication. Think of all the conversations you have with your mum – no one else would get it, but you do. But that’s close relations, not an entire text! This is spilling over to life too – grammar and language being the first casualties. Samjha Karo (please understand) what I meant o say, when I say something totally different in the language that I certainly will mangle with the privilege granted to be for being oppressed by colonisation for two centuries. Undeniable – but really – what you said was clearly not what you meant to say! Samjha Karo, comes the unsaid response!
Samjha Karo is very dangerous really, but we are so there now. It is about half baked thinking, and it asks you, the listener to adjust, to assume, and to fill in the gaps. Of course the speaker thinks they have thought, parsed and communicated well, and it is true that this has been done the way they always have – aisa hi to hota hai meets chalta hai. It is often conditioning, but when we don’t bother to question our conditioning, then we are, de facto lazy thinkers. Assuming thinking and speaking are connected, the implicit ‘samjha karo’ in our communication starts with laziness, and leaves much to context and interpretation.
Now, in response, two paths emerge. The first option is that the listener understands it differently. Since the listener, of course operates with their own mindset, and hears with their own filters based on their values and experiences. What is said, and what is heard could be very different. Shashi Tharoor’s classic ‘cattle class’ imbroglio was the harbinger of many more misunderstandings that led to a serious schism. There were those who prided themselves on their poor vocabulary, and others who found themselves on the defensive (for a short while) about being well read in a global tongue. Conversations continued in English, or seemingly so, but like the Chinese instruction booklets, Indian English began to confidently evolve in its own direction. Political disputes continue to erupt on social media when what is said, and what is understood are different – and thus provocative. This is now a game played by all sides – and could easily be called a game of Samjha Karo. In everyday transactions too, it is a wonder we understand each other – when a speaker speaks of ‘impassionate’ when they mean dispassionate, I really don’t know what to make of it. (Yes, I should write a few dozen humorous examples here, and maybe I will add them some day). When someone uses the word ‘ravished’ instead of ‘famished’, and ‘voluptous’ instead of ‘voluminous’ – both true stories, we know they don’t mean to be indecent – or do we? In the land of Samjha karo, much leeway is given to the crude. This is not about poor English – that is a learning process and I have a great deal of respect for all learners. This is about half baked efforts that lead to distortions, misunderstandings or worse.
Even worse, of course, is when Samjha Karo doesn’t lead to misinterpretation. There is only one case in which it doesn’t – and that is when everybody fills in the logical, ideological and semantic gaps in exactly the same way. This means that either everyone is following a social script – not an original thought or feeling, or that everyone has decided to conform to one thought process and level. Since all cannot naturally operate at the same level, Samjha Karo conversations within closed groups become elitist and cliquey, with shared jokes and jargon that only they understand. At the other extreme, the generic understanding of a Samjha Karo sentence would mean that everyone is operating at the same level – and this is possible only at the lowest common denominator. Of course the easiest shared conversations are the simplest ones, and I wonder if you have noticed, that often, it is only simple conversations that abound in these times. Try it, at a family gathering, or at a party – try talking about things that matter, that have meaning, could be analysed or would exercise a tiny piece of the grey cells – someone is bound to come up to you and chide you for – thinking.
The Land of Samjha Karo, paradoxically does not like the exercise of thinking – since independent thinking will lead to divergent ‘samajh’ (understanding). And that would never do. Please understand, please understand exactly, and only what we say. I promise you you will never need to bother your little head with anything else. Why trouble yourself with your own thoughts when you have so many of ours to fill your head? Come, join the tribe, Samjha karo, (please understand), this is samajhdaari (wisdom).