Manipravalam On The Kubha

by Venu Gopal Narayanan - Aug 19, 2021 06:06 PM +05:30 IST
Manipravalam On The KubhaThiruvananthapuram MP, Shashi Tharoor.
  • How self-proclaimed liberals in India dug a hole for themselves over an unverified video allegedly showing Taliban terrorists speaking in Malayalam.

Manipravalam: Classical Malayalam.

Kubha: ancient name of the Kabul river.

Optics is everything. Anyone or anything marketable, be it an umbrella, an idea, or a politician, needs a pre-crafted image to make a sale. This is particularly so in a digital age, where doom scrolling through social media masquerades as productive activity, attention spans are measured in milliseconds, and where every pitch for every product, service or concept, is deftly condensed onto a touchscreen the size of your palm.

The Taliban knew that, which is why their victorious entry into Kabul was marked not by a barrage of artillery shells, but by one of the media variety. Within hours of conquering Afghanistan, the Internet was flooded with video clips of suave spokesmen speaking politely to female television anchors, jubilant jihadis go-karting in an amusement park, and triumphant Talibani fighters benignly eating ice cream. A few even danced in joy.

Gone in a flash was that fearsome old image, of rustic, prudish savages who beheaded you for even half a sin, or whipped you with medieval bestiality if your beard was half an inch shorter than the regulation length. By the looks of it, the Taliban’s makers in Rawalpindi were set to weep with elation, as they proudly signed letters of meritorious commendation for the noble conquerors they had birthed.

This tightly-scripted moment had been 20 arduous years in the making, and they would be damned if any member of either cast or crew put a foot wrong at this vital juncture. America, the vile shaitan, was finally gone, back to its home, leaving this sullied land of the pure to become Dar ul Islam once more.

The show was well staged, and enough gullible souls bought it to make an adage, about one being born every minute, ring true. In fact, market surveys indicate that sales were among the highest in India, where politically correct cashier’s tellers at the checkout counter rang loud and long, in a drum rolling crescendo of secular fervour. The Taliban were back, and to cry anything other than hurrah was rank Islamophobia.

And then, the travelling show ran smack into a wall. Like everything else in life these days, the incident happened on social media: a video clip emerged of a jihadi slumped on the ground, with his semi-automatic rifle by his knee, and a smartphone in his hand. He seemed overcome by emotion — presumably by the Taliban’s victory, and wiped a tear as his brothers in arms encouraged him to gather his composure.

The only problem was that a portion of the encouragement was offered in Malayalam. While the audio is indistinct in parts, with voices overlapping, one word was clear: ‘samsarikya’, meaning ‘speak’. It was repeated twice, as an instruction, meaning that one Malayalee was speaking to another.

The implications were astounding; at least two of the Taliban’s terrorists who overran Afghanistan were from Kerala. In a flash, social media’s formidable forensics brigade rushed into action with such alacrity, that it would have put Sherlock Holmes to shame. And before you knew it, cyberspace transformed into a courtroom, with unsolicited solicitors eagerly appearing for the defence.

This wasn’t Malayalam, but Brahui, one self-appointed expert witness of philology said. The word spoken was ‘samsara’, not ‘samsarikya’, a future 'Chief Injustice' argued; this was, in fact, a Pashtun harking back to his Gandharan, Buddhist roots. Full marks for effort, but to think that, the metaphysics of Gautama the Enlightened would be invoked by the same puritanical barbarians, who wrested eternal notoriety by destroying the Bamiyan Buddhas, was a bit much.

Still, what was the fuss all about? Everyone knew for years, that misguided youngsters of Kerala had increasingly become successful targets of recruitment by jihadi outfits in the Middle East. Rising Islamic radicalisation was the sad reality god’s own country had to deal with, so, a furious Internet buzz aside, what was really so surprising about two Keralite jihadis in the Kabul valley?

Besides, this was an undated video of indeterminate location and unknown provenance with zero legal validity. You couldn’t even prove that the video was shot in Kabul. And that is where the matter should have ended, with a little excitement, for the silliest of reasons, just as it happens on social media 50 times a day. At best, someone might have invoked a Vedic metaphor, and employed linguistic dexterity, to craft a wisecrack about ‘Manipravalam on The Kubha’, or something along those lines.

Instead, the issue snowballed, when Congress MP, Dr Shashi Tharoor, tweeted the video clip along with his authoritative, confirmatory comments, that it was indeed two ‘Malayali Taliban’ (his words). The groan in liberal circles could be heard two galaxies away.

Why, oh why, they sighed, would their own talisman needlessly, and so thoughtlessly, provide ammunition to the other side? Now, the evil saffron lot would once again dredge up the old bogey of Muslim cultural separatism, the unspeakable horrors inflicted upon Hindus during the Moplah rebellion of 1921 (whose centenary, mainstream media just about managed to sideline thanks to the second wave), and the threats posed to India’s internal security by extremist Islamist outfits like the PFI and SDPI.

Truth is, Tharoor couldn’t have managed worse timing, even if he tried (we must gift the man some benefit of the doubt, and assume that he didn’t). As it is, the Muslim League and their sort were hard pressed, trying to clamp down on public expression of glee, at the Taliban’s re-conquest of Afghanistan.

Readers may note that, while a Muslim MP of the Samajwadi Party from Sambhal, in Uttar Pradesh, kick-started his party’s provincial election campaign by welcoming the Taliban’s return, exultation in Malappuram was markedly subdued. There was some online chatter in Brahui-sounding Malayalam, but nothing really incendiary, and nothing official.

At the same time, Onam was approaching. This was the period when the communists traditionally sought to establish that the harvest festival had nothing to do with Hindus; last year’s efforts included a tweet by former state finance minister, Thomas Isaac, who called Maha Vishnu’s Vamana avatar a cheater. This year was worse, since the Marxists had temporarily lifted lockdown restrictions during Eid, only to exacerbate the epidemic situation, and then spent the time since, sanctimoniously advising Keralites to not celebrate Onam with their usual passion, for public health reasons.

Did secular folks, gearing up for a secular Onam, really need a secular Congressman informing our secular world that Malayalee Jihadis were wandering around Kabul? Oy vey, but with friends like Tharoor, the liberals didn’t need enemies. In a world where optics was everything, an overenthusiastic digit through the cornea had nearly put paid to sight, foresight, hindsight, and a distinguished political career.

And that quandary, in a nutshell, summed up the fundamental fallacies infesting politically correct societies: speaking the truth alienates pet vote banks, and demolishes electoral prospects.

Nevertheless, a festive season is for pious, noble ideas, not progressive, liberal thought, so here’s wishing Dr Tharoor, all Malayalees employed with the Taliban, and all of you, a happy and prosperous Onam in advance.

Venu Gopal Narayanan is an independent upstream petroleum consultant who focuses on energy, geopolitics, current affairs and electoral arithmetic. He tweets at @ideorogue.
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