published: (updated: )
by Harshvardhan J. Pandit
drama satire story
The family of five huddled together in front of the TV, the father trying his best to settle everyone down before the start of the evening news. The television set was an antique model, more than 10 years old, its picture grainy and jarring. The sound was tiny, barely audible, and often had mournful jolts of alternating noise and silence. The family huddled together to fit in front of the tiny screen, a regular ritual since the many years no one kept count of.
The news started its onslaught with a blast of music and flashing signs and flying panels all over the screen. It boasted of how it had changed the life for each person ever since its inception all those years ago, how it was the best channel there simply ever could be, and anyone who dared receive their news from a different source was a moron. The anchor had put on a sharp suit that emphasised money and business. The studio was entirely made of glass, one could see the news people working on their desks behind. The upper corner flashed the channel’s logo, a constant sign and reminder of the patronage it commanded. The bottom was a ticker tape of breaking news, and nothing else. It seemed the channel only catered to reporting breaking news, or reported every news as breaking, no one could challenge or claim to know the difference anymore. The mood in the dingy hut where the family sat became solemn as the vehement anchor began the tirade of questions without answers, accusations without facts, and conclusions without consensus. No one questioned any of it, no one changed the channel.
The breaking story for the day was about The Godman, which ran with a constant question that provoked an irrational response in any viewer looking for facts. "Scam or Mentally ill?", screamed and asked both the ticker tape and the anchor. It seemed like it didn't matter to anyone what the answer was, as long as it was concluded violently with screaming and disagreements. It seemed the entire universe could only offer these two choices, that the Godman was either a scam, or was mentally ill, and any other illusion of an option eventually led back to either of these. The anchor did a good job of turning around conversations at the drop of a word, or raiding logical assertions with cheap rhetorics that compelled an answer at the threat of morality. The news show could have won any award it wanted - drama, suspense, thriller, action, even comedy, though the category was news because the channel said that’s what they did.
The panellists argued and shouted over each other, with one end going "How could someone claim to have conversed with God?" all the way to "That person is delusional, he must be put into a mental institution". "Blasphemy!", yelled a saintly looking persona with the fervour of a threatened beast backed into a corner. "How dare he hurt the sentiment of the people. How dare he talk about our God. How dare he…" The others merely looked on, not stupefied, but pitted into silence at the risk of insulting a widely respected icon of societal religion. One brave lady quipped, "Maybe he doesn’t realise what he is doing… Maybe he thinks all of this is not so serious…" but before she could complete her sentence, the anchor banged his stack of papers on the desk. Everyone could have noticed how they were not in his hand when her sentence began, but no one questioned it anyway. "How dare you.. How can you say this is not serious?", the anchor stared down while the lady quailed. "No one takes things lightly on my show. No one!". Like a third-rate action film where the talk is trashy and there’s no real action, the news stopped for a commercial break.
As soon as the break ended, the anchor waved his hand in frantic motion, and though the other panellists were still talking, arguing, he did mange to convey his point. "Ladies and gentlemen, we have exclusive footage of the godman being arrested." The small window on screen showed a man in handcuffs being escorted by the police amidst mobs of violent protestors. The camera flashed, zoomed, and circled the man's face as if hinting at some hidden guilt. The anchor, like a good cook, knew exactly what spices to blend in to elevate this dish. He repeated to the viewers who this godman was, what he had done, why he was in handcuffs, why everyone should be outraged, and why everyone with an opinion was wrong anyway.
One of the panellists, suddenly aware that the camera was projecting his face to the millions of viewers watching the show with apathetic attention, screamed out the first thing that came to his mind. "He should be lynched!" Others echoed his sentiments, reflecting their impotency in views. "The people should not forgive such an inhuman. He challenged our religion, our faith, our believes. How can we let someone like this be free in our society?" Other chimed in with their own little nods of agreement to what they perceived was safely a pool of growing consensus. "He disrespects the faith of others. Such intolerance should be punished."
The frowns upon the faces of others were difficult to differentiate from disgust. The anchor, sensing an impending disagreement and expulsion of words, promptly shifted the focus on to one of the dissenters. "Wait, wait…" he waved his hand to let others know he wanted them to stop. "Let madam say what she is here to say today". Madam, meanwhile, had already begun talking before the others had quieted down, or even before the anchor had stopped talking. "Let me remind everyone here that our constitution gives us the freedom…" and on she went explaining the nuances of the law and social rights. Some booed her in as much a manner as was permitted on television, some replied in an equally intellectual sentence that deviated from the topic much farther from what it claimed to address. Others carried forward the burning torch of the misguided sense of justice. "All religions mention talking to God. I don’t understand how one can accept one but not the other. If he is insane, then admit him to the mental hospital. Why take him to court." This was followed by an uproar based on whatever religious aspects were quoted by either side.
The anchor calmed everyone down, reminding that "we" were civilised people, and there was to be no in-fighting on the show. He also brought the viewers attention to the happenings outside the studio - where an angry crowd had confronted the godman, and a mob-fight had ensued. "No need to worry ladies and gentlemen, the police are at the location and are handling the situation. For anyone watching this show, I’d like to remind you that we live in modern times and must abide by the laws of this nation." Unfortunately, none of the violent mob were watching the news at that moment.
With time came news of the demise of the godman. The mob had lynched him, kicked him, and he was now dead. The police had scattered the people and were waiting for the arrival of an ambulance. The news channel continued its coverage of the event. The panellists remained divided. Some thought the godman deserved his death, others labelled it as a travesty of our times. Everyone remained seated in the relative comfort of the cushioned chair, the air around and inside them cold and comfortable. The tagline of the breaking news changed to "Godman dead - lynched by the barbaric mob" and "Is this how our police protect us?". The anchor thanked everyone for coming on the show, and promised tough questions to the judicial system for failing to protect a man. With that, the show ended.
The family of five continued to give their rapt attention to the news channel until the last second, even though none of them ever understood anything more than skin deep. As soon as the news broadcast was over, the father put on his glasses and picked up the newspaper, the mother changed the channel to watch her daily soap opera, the children ran back to their toys and their homework. The news of the godman and his demise often came up in conversations over the next few days, where opinions from others were made their own, reflected, boasted, and thrown about with an air of importance. The impact of the news on everyone's lives was reflected in the resumption of life as it had been before the news broadcast - a sum total of indifference.