The Industry Of Outrage

Desperate for a controversy over “hurt sentiments”, the media decided to pin Karnad down to his statement on Tagore’s plays.

Flipping through TV channels last Friday, I came across Arnab Goswami hyperventilating over another controversy surrounding Girish Karnad. Surely it can’t be coming out of Karnad’s talk yesterday at the University, I thought. As a matter of fact, it turned out to be just that. Karnad was being castigated for calling Rabindranath Tagore a “mediocre” playwright.

Karnad had delivered a speech on “Culture and Entertainment” at the Azim Premji University at Bangalore on Thursday as a part of our Colloquium series. I went to the talk, half-expecting it to turn into an occasion where Karnad’s statements on Naipaul would once again become the bone of contention. But Karnad (unlike his Mumbai adventure) stayed true to the topic that was agreed on and never mentioned Naipaul at any point, even in the Q&A session which followed the talk.

Karnad spoke about the complex relationship between art/culture and entertainment and examined the evolution of various forms of arts – music, dance, theatre, painting, architecture, film – in modern India. He spoke about the impact of colonisation on the arts and remarked that prior to the staging of Shakespearean plays by the British, theatre had little snob value in India as it was largely staged by people belonging to the “lower” castes. However, with Shakespeare’s popularity among the English in India, members of the Indian genteel class, including Tagore, ventured into it. In this context, Karnad remarked that none of the Indian plays during the British era were notable and even Tagore’s plays were mediocre.

Karnad’s address was, judging by the reaction of an alert audience, well appreciated. I could not sense any feeling of outrage or displeasure over any part of his speech. None of the questions by the audience in the Q&A session dealt with his statements on Tagore. The Times of India carried a fairly extensive report on the talk which did not mention anything about Tagore. I don’t think anyone in the room that day would have thought that Karnad’s talk would result in a national squabble.

But the media, it seems, desparately wanted a controversial story from Karnad. And since he did not say anything about Naipaul, they decided to pin it down to his statement on Tagore’s plays. Soon the tamasha kicked in. Reporters were sent to Karnad for a re-statement of his views on Tagore. Bengali writers and politicians were asked to comment on Karnad’s statement. A predictable story was emerging.

It is disturbingly odd that the Hindustan Times report on Karnad’s speech is filed from Mumbai. Importantly, the by-lined report does not attribute the story to any news agency. How the Mumbai reporter quoted Karnad’s address in Bangalore remains a mystery.

All newspapers had a similar story to tell. After targeting Naipaul, Karnad has now gone on an outburst against Tagore. Twitter spread the rage. Karnad was already an object of hate for the anti-pseudo-secular brigade after he berated their newfound hero – VS Naipaul. The viral ultra-nationalist was joined by the disgruntled Bengali parochialist in rebuking Karnad. The nation was slowly getting outraged. That was the cue for Arnab to step in.

So Arnab got a battery of Bengalis on his show and the panellists succeeded in painting Karnad as an irrelevant man trying hard to remain in the limelight. Swapan Dasgupta felt that Karnad said what he did as he was “overwhelmed” by the “hosannas” he got for attacking Naipaul. Bachi Karkaria said that by suddenly attacking literary greats, he was acting like a controversy junkie who was going through a “literary menopause”. Cricket expert, Boria Majumdar objected to the “language” used by Karnad to “denigrate” Tagore, which he felt should not be allowed in a democracy. “Is he deliberately giving up subtlety to attract attention?” asked Arnab.

To suggest that Karnad was on an attention-seeking mission is absurd. The immediate audience of his supposedly sacrilegious speech, which included professors, researchers, students and members from the general public, raised no voices against it. Still television channels would like us to believe that “the nation” is outraged.

India is of course a nation with people waiting for their sentiments to get hurt. From Tagore to Tendulkar, from Gandhi to Gau Mata, our culture of reverence does not encourage anyone to speak their mind. There are actually many realities in India that should cause all right-thinking Indian to get outraged. But despite Justice Katju’s forceful reminders, the TV media and its viewers refuse to get similarly outraged by farmer suicides, malnutrition, or female foeticide.

Outrage is fast becoming the singular selling point of India’s news channels. Though, it is difficult to come up with something new for our daily outrage, Arnab and Co. seem to perform this impossible task miraculously. The media should actually be thankful to the UPA government for providing so many opportunities for getting outraged. The Department of Leaks in the government and CAG have also provided some fodder for media outrage. The latest supplier of outrage is a man called Kejriwal, whose press conferences have become an excuse for the media not to do any serious journalism. Despite all this, the high demands of the outrage industry are not met.

Hence, “controversial statements” are what news channels repeatedly turn to for reducing the supply deficit. Television media often gives disproportionally long airtime to nonsensical statements made by irrelevant, dim-witted people in the far flung corners of Bharat, simply because it gives them a chance to outrage. Every news organisation, I believe, also maintains a file titled – People Who Make Outrageous Statements. Whatever comes out of the mouths of those in this list are endlessly followed, as they act as a feeder service to the outrage industry. The industry of outrage is ably supported by the People’s Forum for Continuous Outrage – aka Twitter.

Girish Karnad, by speaking against Naipaul at the Mumbai Litfest has unwittingly made his entry into this desecrated list. Suffice it to say that Karnad’s speech at the university would not have made news if he had not spoken against Naipaul a few days back. The only consolation is that the industry of outrage runs out of steam fast and things are forgotten when a new topic of outrage comes along.


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  • gaurav86

    Now even Newslaundary is also biddable. Huge space is available to air personal opinions directly picked up from one’s own blog. It never allow itself to loose the tradition of “peaks and troughs” while putting articles in pipe.

  • Paromita Das

    Dear Mr Idiculla,

    You have rightly said that “our culture of reverence does not encourage anyone to speak their (sic) mind” – don’t you think that Naipaul had spoken his mind when he criticised the influence of a particular religion? How was his opinion treated by Karnad, that too in the absence of the former? If a Nobel laureate’s award can be questioned, mainly because he had criticised one religion, is it any wonder that others do not speak their mind?

    With regards,

    • gaurav86

      You are right. But people writing on newslaundary don’t have this much of brain to apply the same principles on different locations. the whole site is full of such absurd articles with very few dr. prasad, Anand Rnagnathan or chitra. Rest all is crap. They preferably and conveniently apply it where its suitable for them to come out as pseudo secular like the writer of this article. I am following this site since its conception and i must say they are on downhill. Few more articles of this category and its equal to TOI/HT editorials.

  • Ram

    this is an outrageous article !!

  • Nicely written article…but alas, for defending the indefenssible. For one, Controversy is both – Fashion & Passion. Be it Media, Literrati, Glitarrati, or Powerrati…everone loves it and pursues it. Your assesment that – “Karnad was already an object of hate for the anti-pseudo-secular brigade after he berated their newfound hero – VS Naipaul. The viral ultra-nationalist was joined by the disgruntled Bengali parochialist in rebuking Karnad” almost certifies Karnad as innocent and his comments innocuous. Which is not so. Karnad expected a barage of Tweets and invitations for Interviews from TV channels. What could be said fairly is: Media played into Karnad’s hands and gave us a needless controversy yet again. K R Vaishampayan

  • Varun Rajpurohit


  • Shyam

    We don’t have outrage. Its ‘selective outrage’ or ‘outrage on demand’ on TV

    I don’t see any outrage about the farmers suicides or that fact that it’s been more than 3 weeks since the National Herald land grab expose came out. Where are the cameras hounding the shareholders? All channels were relieved that Diwali was close and there is cricket starting, Yay! They can conveniently hide behind those topics.

    Neither does the author know the real intentions of Karnad nor do i. So lets not waste time on the ‘why’. It would just be a pointless speculation and blind defense of each one’s assumptions.

    The author could learn from Madhu Trehan how she gave it to Shashi Tharoor on the ‘theoutsider’ program with Tim Sebastian on how the govt can be selective in mob control (sleeping women and children at Ramllia ground are lathi charged, arvind kejriwal’s supporters were water cannoned, but muslim hooligans destroying Amar jyoti or molesting police women shouldn’t be touched for the sake of ‘keeping peace and calm’ and ‘preventing riots’ or ‘not to hurt sentiments’. Or 20-30 deobandis cannot be wound up to let Rushdie come to Jaipur? Where was the outrage then? Ah UP elections were on the horizon! See but even that appeasement didn’t help them any votes in UP either. Of course if they had gotten more votes, the credit would have gone to the prop – youth icon!

    Its not just Karnad. Its a mindset, its the left liberal mindset who has somehow convinced himself he upholds the torches of fairness, progress and equality thereby making everyone disagreeing with them the enemy. Such people are in the forefront in the arts (Karnad), media (most English media anchors), economics (A Sen), activism (bhushan, sisodia, kejriwal), historians (I Habib, R Thapar).

    Of course I’m leaving out the paid propagandists and the willful liars. Left liberal position is an intellectual trap for those who are actually well meaning but haven’t thought through and apply out of context solutions.

    • Observer

      Very sensible analysis

    • Alfred

      Thats what the Author wrote about – Outrage!.. and u know why??? for being the majority and still not being able to be hold the reins of the country, for not being able to make the country a Hindu Pakistan or a Hindu Iran. Yes a Left Liberal approach is the sanest than the Right approach which actually means save ur God and prostrate before america. The Intellectuals (called psuedo intellectuals by the Right Wing) – are far better than the lunattics who put their point of view like the sole guardians of India. Till the day the Outrage will win you an absolute majority – keep doing it,..the day is not far.

  • Dear Mathew you are defending someone un -defendable , Mr Karnad for his canard lost his credibility, its more or less unanimous that his tirade against Naipaul unmasked him as rabid sickularist , his uncharitable remarks also has false sense of history, he has no clue how Vijayanagar kingdom was lost….it was lost by secular ideas,when the war broke out between last king of Vijayanagar dynasty Rama Rayulu with five Bahamani sultans, his entire Muslim army raised on secular lines deserted him and joined the Bahamani kings on the battle front of Talikota ……………this is recorded history…………but Mr Karnad has a very different twist to the history unheard or unrecorded …such people are a big shame for true secularism! His comments of Tagore has attracted criticism fromlarge number of literary figures from Bengali language….and many of them from the same sicukar brigade

  • Observer

    Interesting to see how your heart goes out for the victimised canard, sorry, Karnad! The media was damned if it tolerated Karnad’s bashing of Naipaul and damned if it did not hail his ridiculing of Hinduism. Quite a predicament that cannot last long. Karnad himself offered the solution to wriggle the media out of the entrapment with his wisecrack (True, this one !) on Tagore. Khap Panchayat conducted and the scores settled. To toast the reunion of the buddys, we can expect Karnad’s intellectual discourse on ‘barbaric hinduism’ in MSM shortly. This may be his bachelor party before he is married to the Rajya Sabha under the aegis of you-know-who !

  • deepali

    Even this kind of crap take brain to put in words. The utter nonsense with writer is one dimensional application of all the freedoms available to human beings. The points for which he is applauding utter nonsense of karnard, are equally applicable to rest of the world including naipaul. But poor writer chap! No body informed him about this basic idea of objective analysis ( application of a concept or idea or for that matter even a perception, in multidimensional framework and not in domain of something like jingoism). By the way, when did newslaundary started publishing articles without second reading? or articles of writers who leave nothing for the reader’s imagination. I am here to read articles not to learn something through a cemented article by some teacher. Newslaundary, grow up.