Taher Shah’s family is originally from Delhi. After Partition, his grandfather fled the country to resettle in Karachi. Shah, a young, sensitive and somewhat podgy boy, felt keenly the trauma of displacement and how manmade borders separated humanity.

He resolved that in his middle age, he would dress up as an aubergine and... actually, the original intent was to dress up symbolically as an aborigine, a member of another marginalised community. But Shah was never good with spellings and the brief to his stylist got botched up. So he dressed up as an aubergine (a man-sized brinjal), and sang a stirring song about being an angel for mankind at large.

The song followed another profound song themed broadly on how an eye for an eye can turn the world blind. However, since Shah is no Nazi, especially a grammar one, he mistakenly titled the song Eye to Eye instead of Eye for Eye. When the cause is that lofty, how does a misplaced preposition or two matter?

Here is what is going on with you now – as you read this, you book yourself a one-way ticket on a massive guilt trip. Taher Shah yodels beseechingly in your head, “I am an angel. Mankind’s Angel.” He is still tuneless and ridiculous – but those are minor details in the larger human story. You are no longer able to separate noble intention from farcical execution – and you find yourself penning an essay on how Shah stands for a self-confident sub-continental male unafraid of his singular lack of talent.

Actually, none of the above biographical details are true – Shah from all accounts has no emotional baggage and so you can start laughing again. Guilt and gluten free.

Wave of self-flagellation

But here is the thing – even if all of this had been true, you should have continued to find Shah ridiculous. Because he is. And so is Jacintha Morris. Comical and ludicrous. Morris, if you don’t know, is India’s latest internet sensation with her song Is Suzann A Sinner? and worthiest competition to Taher Shah. As Morris asks with no pretension at melody, “Is Suzann whose fragrance got them mesmerised, even dames of every age hypnotised, awestruck by her evergreen charm a sinner?”, you have to admit her sins of poor composition, lyrics and a so-bad-it-is-good music video are grave.

And yet, after the initial jeering subsided, there has been a wave of self-flagellation in the media. Morris has come to represent a brave Malayali woman taking on a sexist Kerala society and the internet is a wicked place with insensitive trolls (you don’t say!). In all of this, the video remains a cringe fest. Nobility of intention can only do that much.

It is a cause for alarm that trolling is now expected to be sensitive and to find a subtext, which defeats the purpose. Being somewhat of an expert on this matter, I will now attempt to put together a guide on the rules of internet trolling. And stop misguided souls from diluting the core objectives of trolling.

  1. The first and fundamental rule is the internet is not your living room, your college canteen or your family WhatsApp group. It is the public domain. Being in the public domain means anyone and everyone can have an opinion on what you post there. Don’t expect sensitivity and encouragement – we are not your parents.
  2. Intention and execution are two separate things. And when we troll, we judge what we can see clearly – the execution. If it is ridiculous – it doesn’t matter if it is Taher Shah or Jacintha Morris or you, we laugh. Sometimes if the provocation is extreme – we make memes. Deal with it.
  3. Resist all attempts at your reactions being manipulated by the use of sob stories. Mastizaade is a sex comedy. It will remain one – it won’t become an award-winning indie because you suddenly find out that the director is actually a displaced Kashmiri Pandit. (He is not, by the way – choke back your emotion).
  4. Anyone who has access to an internet connection and therefore Google and yet goofs up is liable to severe trolling. It doesn’t matter if you are Anadita Patel or Alia Bhatt – a follower count of 300 or 3,000,000 shouldn’t make a difference. If we feel sorry for Anadita Patel’s Muhammed Ali gaffe, we should feel equally sorry for Alia Bhatt. Sensitivity is not something we encourage here, but if you insist on it, there is no such thing as selective sensitivity. Troll without filters or discrimination. That is the only way it is fun.
  5. Careful what you wish for. Breaking the internet is a double-edged sword – you will never break it for the right reasons. We are like your unpleasant neighbours – we wait for you to fall flat on your face. And then we take screenshots. So that even if you want to forget, we won’t let you.
  6. If you don’t have a thick skin, buy a hidebound diary and write there instead. Don’t tweet or write blog posts.
  7. There is no limit to how much a joke can be stretched – refer to point no 1. This is the World Wide Web – newer sets of people discover you every minute. Get used to it or skulk away. Or sulk away. Or deactivate your account. Same difference.

Those broadly are the basic guidelines of trolling – we can keep adding nuance to their interpretation as we go along. Actually, nuance is a bad idea, so consider that unsaid. Let’s reclaim this space for the vicious, fault finding and outraging place it is – squash ruthlessly attempts at sensitivity, camaraderie and boring bonhomie. This is the internet, not Hum Aapke Hain Kaun. Troll away.