Bohemian rhapsody: The case for irony

Monday Musing

[ Asok Pillai ]

There are two kinds of people who use irony to devastating effect: those who have a sense of humour, and those who don’t.
Witty people have the ability to make you smile by creating a context in which what they say is so starkly truthful it tickles your funny bone when you think about it. Like the time my friend and fellow, Ranju Dodum, had written how a former parliamentary secretary was dressed… “in a crisp white kurta, blue chinos, and a pair of Louis Vuitton shoes”… in a report he had filed for The Dawnlit Post.
I enjoyed reading that piece, the way he wrote it: in a subtly tongue-in-cheek manner, describing the air generated by the appearance of a politician who had a formidable sense of style and knew it too. I thought that was a nice touch.
What Ranju had stated was the obvious fact – that’s how the gentleman had indeed been dressed at the press conference, Louis Vuitton shoes and all – but the way he introduced the description into the sombre, almost dutiful tone of the report, it was actually incredibly funny. The joke, in other words, was winking right at you – you had to be smart enough to catch it. If you ask me, it was a well-turned report even from a technical standpoint… based on my modest understanding of the technicalities.
– Then there is the other type, who, being devoid of a refined sense of humour, compounded by a heightened sense of self-importance, employ irony in a derisory fashion, even when they are trying to be humorous. But let’s not get into that now.
The irony is that those who can see the funny side of life are quite often people who know that this world has gone to the dogs anyway. Such people are not cynics; they just find it funny the way this world operates. Some of such people end up becoming journalists, so every now and then they will try to part ways with the norm, as, for instance, Ranju does, and try to write something different – break the stereotype, as it were – and see if it makes any sense to others. They would tell you that writing for one’s own pleasure sometimes can be a therapeutic thing to do.
I myself used to (or at least tried to) experiment with different writing techniques back when I was a novice in journalism. Here I was, in Itanagar, straight out of Seppa, and I was working for a newspaper and I had to write editorials. What could I do? I had never written an editorial in my life – hardly ever read them – and now I had to churn out editorials six days a week, apart from my other responsibilities.
At first I panicked. Then I realized the futility of panicking. My career depended on my complete inability to write editorials. Therefore I rolled up my sleeves, and started writing just whatever came to my mind, pottering around with different styles of the craft. Not that I was any good at it, you understand, but at least I was hammering out five hundred words on the computer every evening.
I quit the paper before the year was over, and, several months thence, joined another daily, where they paid me a pittance and appointed me as a subeditor.
There, one day I wrote this really long article about UFOs. Along with pictures (lifted from the internet), the article took up the entire back page of the newspaper.
I thought it was a pretty good write-up. But the editor – he actually travelled all the way from Naharlagun to Itanagar, with a copy of that day’s issue of the daily in his hand, showing it to other journalists, pleading with them to explain to him the meaning of the article I had written.
He could have made it less dramatic, I guess – even spiked the article before it had gone to press – but no, he had to show it to everyone and complain about the “rubbish” (as he reportedly described it) that had been published by his own daily…. That was a pretty ironic thing to do, when you think about it.
To my sorrow, however, apparently not many others had understood that piece either. It was a somewhat lighthearted article about UFOs; they were probably expecting a trenchant discourse on serious social issues…
And that’s how I came to stop writing offbeat stuff altogether. It didn’t seem to be working out, at all. So I kissed it goodbye, and never looked back.
– Years have passed since, and the times have changed. And yet – call it irony or fate – tonight I find myself in a situation akin to back when I had written the series of unfortunate editorials all those years ago…. Tonight I have to crank out seven hundred or so words for the ‘Monday Musing’ column, and I’m hopelessly unable to think of anything important to say.