With the advent of social media, we may be excused if we feel that fake news is a recent phenomenon. But it has always been there. One could come across it off and on, especially at times of great political or social turmoil. One such macabre fake news that I remember was during the emergency. People told each other, in hushed tones, that if you looked at the sky at night you could see four white clad men carrying a dead body for cremation, with a white clad, long haired woman wailing and walking behind it. I was already twenty-one then but still, I had a bone chilling experience. Fortunately, my parents had always pooh-poohed such stuff and we continued to have our dinner in the open yard of the house that summer without ever witnessing the dreaded tableau in the sky.
This story is so outlandish that I sometimes wonder if it is a product of my own imagination!
Fast forward to the mid-nineties.
I was working in a factory. Almost every day, on the way to work, I stopped at a roadside shop to buy a banana or two as a midday snack. I often saw a man at the shop having tea and chatting with the shopkeeper.
One day, this man was there when I went to the shop. He was clad, as usual, in a saffron dhoti and a white shirt. His face, with a finely trimmed predominantly grey moustache, was decorated with religious marks of sandal paste on his forehead and temple. He had a lit cigarette between the taut fingers of his left hand. The difference was that he had two reluctant listeners, who looked like retired gentlemen. He was haranguing them with a supercilious air. What he was saying was this. (The whole conversation was in Kannada* but I have given an English version of it here.)
“The imam of the Jama Masjid of Delhi had given a statement when Americans landed on the moon. He said, how can mere humans go and land on the moon! These Americans are fooling everyone. Imagine thinking so in this age! So what we are trying to do is educate these people for their own sake.”
This was like a red rag to a bull, for me. Or should I say, a saffron rag to the red bull in me? I turned to him and said, “Why? Did not the Shankaracharya of Puri say exactly the same thing? Moon is our god. How can humans land on him? So, please! You go educate your people, we will take care of our own people.”
I would like to imagine that he never caught on that I was not a Muslim!
I turned to his captive audience to tell them not to listen to such nonsense but they had quietly disappeared as if into thin air! And the “uplifter” of Muslims had turned away from me without a word.
I bought my supply of bananas and went on my way to work.
* ಉದ್ಧಾರಕನ ಮಾತನ್ನು ಓದುವಾಗ ದಕ್ಷಿಣ ಕನ್ನಡದವರ ಧಾಟಿಯಲ್ಲಿ ಓದಿಕೊಂಡರೆ ಆತನ ಮಾತಿನ ಧಾಟಿ ಅರಿವಾದೀತು.
ಉದ್ಧಾರಕ: "ಅಮೆರಿಕದವ್ರು ಚಂದ್ರನ ಮೇಲೆ ಇಳಿದಾಗ, ಜಾಮಾ ಮಸೀದಿಯ ಇಮಾಮ ಏನಂದ ಗೊತ್ತುಂಟ? ? "ಅದು ಹೇಗೆ ಸಾಧ್ಯ? ಹುಲು ಮನುಷ್ಯರು ಚಂದ್ರನ ಮೇಲೆ ಹೋಗಲು ಹೇಗೆ ಸಾಧ್ಯ? ಅಮೆರಿಕನ್ನರು ಎಲ್ಲರಿಗೂ ಮೋಸ ಮಾಡ್ತಿದಾರೆ!" ಅಂದ. ಈ ಕಾಲದಲ್ಲಿ ಹಾಗೆ ಹೇಳೋದು! ಅದಿಕ್ಕೇ, ನಾವು ಈ ಜನರನ್ನು ಉದ್ಧಾರ ಮಾಡುವ ಅಂತ ಹೊರಟಿದ್ದೀವಿ, ಅಷ್ಟೆ!"
ನಾನು: "ಯಾಕೆ ಸ್ವಾಮಿ? ಪುರಿಯ ನಿಮ್ಮ ಶಂಕರಾಚಾರ್ಯರೂ ಅದೇ ಅಲ್ವ ಹೇಳಿದ್ದು? "ಚಂದ್ರ ದೇವರು! ಮನುಷ್ಯರು ಅವನ ಮೇಲೆ ಇಳಿಯೋಣ ಅಂದ್ರೇನು", ಅಂತ? ನೀವು ನಿಮ್ಮವರನ್ನ ಉದ್ಧಾರ ಮಾಡ್ಕೊಳಿ. ನಮ್ಮವರನ್ನ ನಾವು ನೋಡ್ಕೋತೀವಿ"