“It does take great maturity to understand that the opinion we are arguing for is merely the hypothesis we favor, necessarily imperfect, probably transitory, which only very limited minds can declare to be a certainty or a truth.” – Milan Kundera, ‘Encounter’
The late Bollywood actor, Mac Mohan and the artist M.F.Hussein
Last week, I got into a spat with a ‘friend of friend’ on Facebook. In fact he is a friend of many mutual friends. We never did cross over the line and reach out. There could have been an under-current – we must have known all along that we won’t be able to stand each other. At least I did.
Until now, after our public spat of course there is no possibility. Now, the question of being friends with him on Facebook probably ranks close to the likelihood of a prominent member of the bovinae subfamily attempting to jump over the moon.
The gentleman is a 65-year old who has a look that I would liken to a cross between the famed Indian artist, M.F. Hussein, who used to be called India’s Picasso and the late Bollywood character actor, Mac Mohan, who famously played Samba, Gabbar Singh’s sidekick, in the curry western, Sholay.
He has Hussein’s gaunt, enigmatic looks, though his mustache and beard are better maintained than the late artist’s. The short-sleeved T-Shirts, the plain trousers and the menacingly glowering smile give him the Samba look, though I can’t imagine him calling anybody ‘sarkar’. He is the ‘sarkar’, no question about it – haughty and professorial. His timeline affords no clue but I reckon he probably had been a senior bureaucrat or a headmaster at some point.
To other men, he might look quite plain and devoid of humor, maybe even a bit disapproving, but there is no question he has the exact qualities which well-informed, 30-something women would find very attractive – brooding, gaunt, wiry, courteous, controlled, poised, collected, decisive, firm and no-nonsense – all the personality traits that I lack. My eyes might be playing tricks on me but in his photos he always seems to be in the midst of a bevy of women who are hanging on to his every word or holding onto his arm.
He is very well regarded among his Facebook friends and even seems to meet and socialize frequently with some of those (mostly women of the aforementioned demographic) who live in the same city as he. He is often glowingly described as a gentle and learned person, although frankly, to me he seemed pompous and too full of himself, a self-important balloon that needed deflating from time to time.
He even has that look, one that I could never affect – enlightened, someone you would love to sit around at his feet, gaze up at him and raptly listen to him saying something profound. The gentleman appears to be a non-Bong who speaks Bengali, though I really can’t say – he uses a display name on Facebook that is most likely a pseudonym.
This gentleman is the sort of personality I have always wanted to be.
I have to be honest with you – I can’t stand him.
The spat was over a long-disappeared, feared-dead Indian (Bengali) political leader, a rebel who actively hobnobbed with the Nazis and the Japs, before and during the Second World War, as a means of throwing the Brits out of India and achieving independence. His philosophy, simply put, was – the end justifies the means – even if that meant courting raw evil.
On a mutual friend’s timeline, a conversation was on and to a comment by this gentleman eulogising the disappeared Nazi-groupie, I butted in and said that courting the Nazis was despicable and no cause can justify such an act. I accused the gentleman of being one of the misled masses and he in turn called me an ignoramus, though not in so many words. This was not the first time I expressed an against-the-grain opinion on Facebook and someone reacted with disbelief and horror.
Maybe if I really wanted to address his opinion, I should have messaged him and not publicly told him he was one of the deluded, in front of all of his friends. No one reacts positively to being called out in public. I guess his condescension got to me. And then there is a possibility that we both are the kind who are cautious of people who always claim to be absolutely right.
In any case, I am yet to learn from the adage that the most important tactic in an argument (next to being right) is to leave an escape hatch open for your opponent so that, without an embarrassing loss of face, he can gracefully swing over to, if not your point of view, at least a position where he is no longer so screwed into his tunnel vision. This is a failing I have to work on. Besides, I must be smart enough to know that I don’t know everything.
I won’t relive the argument itself because that is irrelevant at this point and definitely not why I sat down to write this piece. Neither is this piece an apology – condemning a eulogy to someone who was at best a misguided fool, requires no apology. I wanted to introspect and maybe try to change the way I interacted with others on Facebook.
The next time I feel compelled to argue with someone, I will walk away, that is definite. Facebook spats are like pillow fights, only less fun and less sexy. Getting my point across is meaningless if the other person is not likely to change his mind. Besides, given the reverence that he enjoys among his Facebook friends, this man is obviously not a jerk. Therefore I have to find a way to end arguments amicably in future, especially with men like him.
Unfortunately, the argument ended abruptly with me admonishing him and the gentleman did not respond. Now, it is entirely possible that he just got sick of the conversation, but he seems like someone who will always want to come back with a repartee. But then, maybe Mr. MFH-meets-S got it long before I did – that it is pointless to carry on an argument on Facebook.
I am hoping that somehow he will come upon this post and the moment he sees it, he will recognize himself in it and respond with a blistering soliloquy. I am getting goose pimples imagining him charging at me with Jimmy Stewart-like self-righteousness.
So, where am I going with all of this? Nowhere in particular, actually. There’s no grand point. I know it is wrong to be smugly satisfied I spoke last and put him in his place, but I am.
Pity. I would have let him have the last word.
From now on, I am strictly an ex-spat.