January 23, 2020
Fake news is a reality we’re all forced to deal with on a daily basis. Fake news leads to misinformation which, in turn, leads to ignorance, only to be followed by chaos. It allows people in power to convince the masses to believe in a false reality, thereby brushing the real issues under the proverbial carpet. As citizens of India, we are entitled to certain fundamental rights that include freedom of speech and expression. However, the problem arises when this freedom gets abused and is used to spread narratives that are false and cause harm to individuals and other communities. It was Anukrti’s frustration with this deliberate circulation of fake news that worked to convince the masses that prompted her to write ‘The Elephant’.
‘They have insulted our Elephant!’ the agitated man said, as soon as the door opened. ‘They have abused him, mocked him! It is beyond all tolerance!’
‘What?’ The householder appeared puzzled.
‘Yes. Difficult to believe, isn’t it? We gave them shelter in our city, we allowed them to live here, work, earn money. We let them build homes, raise families, celebrate festivals, and this is how they repay us? By throwing vile insults at our glorious Elephant?’
‘But…,’ the householder stuttered, ‘I don’t understand…’
‘What is there to not understand? The symbol of our city has been insulted. We cannot take it lying down. Come, we must teach them a lesson.’
‘But,’ the householder glanced back at his small daughter sitting on the floor among wooden blocks. They had been building a house.
‘What are you thinking? Don’t you know that insulting our noble Elephant is just the beginning? They actually want to insult our innocent daughters. This is all part of their evil plan.’
The householder’s face flushed, ‘Is that so?’ He stepped out and followed the agitated man.
As they walked down the street, they came across a bicycle-rider. He had a cloth bag hanging from the handle of his bicycle out of which peeped greens and other vegetables.
‘Hey!’ called the agitated man. ‘How could you go around buying vegetables at such a time as this? Don’t you know they have abused our Elephant, the joy and pride of our city? Come with us. It is a fight for our self-respect.’
The bicycle-rider stopped. ‘Oh,’ he said, ‘but I need to get home soon. My wife is waiting for me to bring the vegetables so she can cook a meal for the family.’
‘There’s not a moment is to be lost,’ the agitated man said sternly. ‘Don’t you see that what they are really after are our wives? First our great Elephant, then our honourable wives, that’s their dastardly plot.’
‘Is that so?’ The bicycle-rider’s voice rose in anger.
‘Yes,’ the householder chimed in. ‘They have already begun insulting our innocent daughters. They need to be taught a lesson.’
The bicycle-rider leant his bicycle against a wall and followed the agitated man and the householder.
Further down the street they met a woman. She had a large shoulder bag slung on her shoulder and walked with her head bowed.
‘Hey,’ the agitated man called out. ‘What are you doing out on the street? Don’t you know they have insulted our mighty Elephant and there is going to be a fight to the finish?’
The woman looked startled. ‘I am just going to work…’
‘Work? Are you insane? Go back home and stay there,’ the agitated man shouted.
‘Yes, yes, go back home,’ the householder and bicycle-rider cried. ‘Don’t you know they are insulting our innocent daughters and our honourable wives? If you don’t want to lose your honour, go, stay at home.’
The woman ducked her head just as a strong man walked up to them. He had arms that were thick like logs and a chest as wide as a door.
‘Hey,’ the agitated man addressed him, ‘come with us. They have abused our glory, our pride, our sacred Elephant. We are going to fight them.’
‘Yes, yes, they have dishonoured our daughters and wives,’ chorused the householder and the bicycle-rider. ‘We cannot bear this any longer.’
‘We are not safe inside or outside our homes anymore,’ murmured the woman.
The strong man looked at them. ‘Is that so?’
‘Yes. It is a question of our pride now. Only a coward would back away when insulted the way they have insulted us,’ the agitated man stated firmly.
The strong man’s body burnt with rage. He joined the agitated man, the householder and the bicycle-rider.
As they progressed through the city, more and more people joined them. By the time they reached the city square, they were a mass of anger. Angry voices hissed all around. Angry faces scowled; angry eyes glowered. The temperature went up by several degrees because of their anger. A searing wind blew, filling everyone’s eyes with dust, robbing every heart of any lingering softness. A man tending a flowerbed in the city square looked up, bewildered, as they approached. ‘What has happened?’ he asked. ‘Where are you all headed to?’
‘You are fiddling with plants and flowers when everything is burning, when our honour is being sullied?’ the agitated man chided. ‘Don’t you know they have cast invectives at the magnificent Elephant of our city?’
‘Elephant?’ the gardener repeated, looking even more confused.
Several voices called out at once, ‘Yes, yes, our Elephant, the symbol of our city, the incarnation of our spirit, our holy Elephant. They have insulted him, they are insulting our daughters, our wives, our mothers, they are dishonouring them in the streets, they are throwing mud at our parents’ venerable heads, they are jeering at our manhood. They are preparing to destroy us, they are going to attack us…’
‘Good people,’ the gardener cried, ‘good people, what is this that you’re saying? I have been here in the city square all day. Believe me, nothing of this sort has happened. Besides…’
His voice was drowned out by angry shouts. ‘He is a traitor, a betrayer of our city, he is a coward, a madman, a liar, he is a colluder, a spy, he is their agent …’ Angry feet trampled over the gardener and the flowerbeds he had so carefully planted and nurtured as they raced to the other side of the city.
‘Good people, good people,’ he called out under the deafening roar as he was crushed underfoot. ‘Good people, our city has no Elephant. There isn’t an Elephant, good people…lies…lies…’
Anukrti Upadhyay writes fiction and poetry in both English and Hindi. Japani Sarai, a collection of Hindi short stories and two English novellas, Daura and Bhaunri, have been published to date, and a number of works are in progress. Her short stories have appeared in numerous prestigious literary journals. With post-graduate degrees in Management and Literature and a graduate degree in Law, she also wrote a doctoral thesis on Hindi Literature. She divides her time between Bombay and Singapore.
You can read her articles here.