Earlier this year, in the heat of the moment that was The Kashmir Files, I exited my family WhatsApp group. For years, I had ‘fought’ to voice the liberal moral sensibility on the group, hoping to change a mind or two, but it never felt like I was making any progress.
Often, it was as if we were not just on different sides of the political aisle, but speaking in different languages altogether. And I watched a recent interview of TM Krishna, where he articulated that precisely:
“I think there’s been a lack with the way modern liberal intellectual thought has permeated especially the intelligentsia in this country, I think it is also driven by condescension to a lot of things. One of the primary things we (liberals) have lacked having any sensibility for is this idea of faith…Even when we are seeing what we are seeing today, we don’t have a language to speak with faith. Liberal India doesn’t have a vocabulary for faith, we have defences or offences. That’s not a vocabulary.”
This got me thinking: There’s a lot of talk amongst us of saving ‘our people’ or ‘our religion.’ In what sense, though, am I even a Hindu? How am I different from a someone who just landed on a helicopter in an alien land with a political agenda? Do I understand my religion enough to claim any ownership in this community?
The other thing that strikes me now is that on my family group, I never wished anyone a happy birthday. I never shared or reacted to any pictures of the family. But each time someone said anything remotely political, there I was, defending the liberal position with all my might. My failure to get across might’ve been a result of various factors, but one of them had to be that I was not, in essence, a member of the community at all.
Perhaps it was a mistake to have entered these conversations with a moral agenda. People are very good at recognising a salesman. Perhaps the only way to learn to have political conversations through the fence is to first have conversations at all. Maybe the best answer to an uncle asking ‘So what do you think about Modi?’ is to first ask with genuine curiosity, ‘How have you been?’
There’s a lot more in this interview, and I think it might help us all start and maintain conversations across the fence. If you don’t have the time, here’s another quote to take away from the interview that felt urgent to me:
There are so many greys. Where do rituals exist? Don’t we need a conversation there? Don’t we need to find out what is that ritual? What is the liberal within that ritual? The idea of the liberal cannot be positioned as the opposite of conservatism. It is not that, it is fluid… There is a liberal group, english-speaking intellectual group, that is positioning a certain kind of liberal position: only if you tick these boxes are you truly distancing yourself from that violence. I’m saying it’s not as simple as that.