In the world’s largest democracy, there has been a draconian crackdown on a prominent civil rights activist. The Mumbai Police want all traces of this man erased from the internet. The Maharashtra Navnirman Sena, a leading regional political party, says it will cause him physical harm if they spot him on the street. The man in question, Tanmay Bhat, can neither run nor hide (relax, that is not a fat joke).

India now has its own Edward Snowden (not to be mistaken with Jon Snow because that reference is slightly touchy currently) and Julian Assange, vigilantes who were forced to become fugitives once the establishment turned on them. Bhat, as we speak, is filing for asylum in the Ecuador embassy and is considering joint parenting of Assange’s cat (apparently Julian is throwing a bit of a hissy fit at that).

I managed to catch up with Bhat to understand how this heavyweight intellectual and thinker of our times (calm down again, this isn’t a fat joke) came to represent the fight for free speech and civil rights in India

Me: So imagine I crawled from under a rock – what did you do to become the most hunted man in India? Did you leak classified information from the government files which showed how it was snooping on us?
Bhat: (gloats) Well, I made a video...

Me: (interrupts) and that was Wikileaks style – a result of your concerted hacking into the data bases of government agencies?
Bhat: (scowls) it wasn’t that predictable. I used Snapchat...

Me: Isn’t that used by seven year olds? But I get you probably used it to send some confidential information that your secret human rights outfit wanted. The Ek Tha Tiger model of espionage – so simple that only Salman Khan can pull it off.
Bhat: I used the face swap filters and did a version of what if Lata Mangeshkar & Sachin Tendulkar were in kindergarten and were bickering over Virat Kohli.

Me: How stupid of you.
Bhat: In retrospect...

Me: It was very stupid of you. Everyone knows when Lata and Sachin were in kindergarten, Virat wasn’t even born.
Bhat: (rolls his eyes) they were not really in KG – they just spoke that way. And then Sachin...I said that Lata Tai should die because Jon Snow did.

Me: That is hilarious one. Also technically, Jon Snow didn’t die. So you actually gave her the ability to spring back to life from stone dead situations. That was kind of sweet.
Bhat: (sadly) Lata Tai also sang completely off tune in the video

Me: Which we are used to...but never mind. Why are you telling me this random story? What feat of courage or activism did you pull off to stand for the attack on our liberal values?
Bhat: I told you. This…

Me: You cracked a stupid joke and broke the internet and the MNS now wants to break your bones. For a Snapchat video? For as little effort as that? In Bangladesh, you have to at least write a 1,000-word blog before they come for you. Minimum. This is like the crash diet version of infamy. (No. Not a fat joke. Shush.)
Bhat: (dreamily) That is why I love this country – it doesn’t take too much to become a symbol. No sweat. You don’t need to do the complicated things like stand for something actually important or of real consequence. Crack a bad joke, they get offended, you trend on social media and then with some luck, some political party decides to beat you up – and you are a hero. And in all of that, if they had just ignored the joke you would have been just another obnoxious jerk.

Me: This gentleman that wants to beat you if he spots you somewhere – he is from the MNS right?
Bhat: The MNS – they are the ones who want to burn the autorickshaws of North Indian migrants in Mumbai. Among other things.

Me: Oh, I like how you sneaked in that little detail. But at least they are not being mean to old people and stuff. Burning autos is criminal, but they are not disrespecting anyone. They got the moral high ground covered, dude.
Bhat: (flushes uncomfortably).

Me: (softening) But hey you know that guy from MNS who issued the threat to beat you up – Ameya Khopkar. I googled him. And if he does spot you on the street. It is a no match. You just sit on him. That would be the end of that.
Bhat: Was that a horribly inappropriate tasteless fat joke?

Me: Sort of. But hey – no one died.
Bhat: (beams in kinship) Julian’s cat – maybe we could take turns feeding it. I have a feeling you will love it in the Ecuador embassy.

Fade to black. In the background, Lata Mangeskar sings the title song of Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Ghum.