All comedians in India know such a day is just around the corner always. But it still is disorienting and heartbreaking when it happens. Motilal Nehru National Institute of Technology, Allahabad, had called the comedy collective Aisi Taisi Democracy to perform at gnoTalks 2016 and we were very excited as college gigs are always the most satisfying.
The show started at 7 pm in an auditorium packed to the brim with more than 1,800 screaming students. An hour into the show, with more applause-breaks than we have ever had, I started my bit about how we Indians are so uncomfortable talking about sex and at the core of it lies our severe lack of sex education. While narrating personal experiences, I was consciously looking at the reaction of female students (clearly segregated, sitting in front) just to make sure they were not feeling alienated or uncomfortable. And they absolutely were not.
The section had no cuss-words or insult comedy, not even talking down to the moral policing that’s been a leitmotif of all our lives here in India, but I still could see some of the faculty members leaving their chairs and walking out. This happened exactly at the moment I started talking about the core problem – lack of sex education while sharing a story about my school teacher who would pronounce sexual as "hexual" in biology class as he was (probably) creeped out by the idea of saying the correct word in public.
Thirty seconds later, in the middle of a punchline, the power in the mic was gone. As an instinctive reaction, I grabbed fellow comic Sanjay Rajoura’s mic and tried speaking into it but it was gone too. Seeing some movement around the sound console, where our show manager Anurag Rao was stationed, my brain told me for the first time that something was wrong and it wasn't the electricity connection. I still went ahead to check Rahul Ram’s mic and that was working (because he had a separate line for his guitar mic) but by then Anurag Rao climbed on to the stage and whispered to us, "The show is over. They want us to leave."
The students, by now a confused mass of anticipation and oncoming-dejection, were making murmurs. Rahul Ram’s mic was also gone by then, so he announced, without a mic,- “Your professors don’t want us to continue. You guys were fantastic but unfortunately this ends here.”
Backstage, we came to know that one senior faculty member took great offense to the fact that we were using such dirty words "in front of ladies" (dirty words being parts of human anatomy.) The student organisers apologised profusely for the mess and reasonably shared their helplessness in front of a faculty too powerful and sanskaari. We were led out as all the students (including the female students they were protecting) booed the faculty and waved at us with sadness in their eyes. Many of them (again, both male and female students) later wrote to us in private messages how ashamed they feel of this mindset of moral-clampdown.
I think, as long as students stand with freedom of speech and talking about uncomfortable issues (as they overwhelmingly were), hope stands. The orthodoxy has only all of human history to revisit to understand why it’s called orthodoxy in the first place and why it will just go down the drain.
One hilarious nugget that came from the sound console guy: as the offended professor walked up to him, he said , "Taar kheencho!" (Pull the plug). Sound guy told him, "Sir, ab taar nahin hota hai. Button hai yahaan!" (Sir, there are no wires now. Here's the button.) That’s how much out of touch these seniors are with where the world has reached.