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Swara Bhaskar on Bollywood Bole Toh: Landing in the troll’s trap

imply Swara on Bollywood Bole Toh: Actor Swara Bhaskar, the sassy, smart young face of Mumbai’s entertaining-cum-alternative cinema, suffers no fools, online or offline. Read her as she speaks her mind every Friday,

Illustration/Ravi Jadhav

To say that as a female public figure present on social media, I am regularly trolled, attacked, abused and ridiculed is stating the obvious. I can safely bet that every morning any woman with a social media account who dares share an opinion must wake up to a litany of hate. I, of course, consistently stir the hornet’s nest by commenting ceaselessly on matters political, social, cultural and controversial and by making no bones about what side of the Gau-Mata debate I am on. So, every suprabhaatam, I wake up to Twitter hate with my soy-milk tea.

Normally, I adopt the Gandhian approach – I hate the evil, not the evil doer. One evening, however, I was in a foul mood. I logged onto Facebook after almost a month and checked my inbox. There were messages praising Anaarkali Of Aarah and Nil Battey Sannata; some random ‘Will you make fraandship with me?’ requests; and then there was a six-paragraph tirade of abuse. One Mr Gupta felt I was responsible for the death of our soldiers on the Indo-Pak border in Kashmir, and that my Facebook and Twitter posts were emboldening the Pakistani ISI and Army to keep up the military offensives against our soldiers. Not limiting himself to military analysis, Mr Gupta’s abusive rant also detailed what kind of sexual interactions I must have had with every Pakistani national and the sexual violence that must befall me once India decisively defeats Pakistan in a future epic battle. It ended with poetic lines about how even whores have conscience (dharam-imaan).

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Swara Bhaskar

Honestly, I’m no stranger to such messages. And to some extent I’m inured to this lewd hatred. But this message stung me. It was not so much the content as the fact that the gentleman hater needed six paras to spew venom against me. I had always imagined that it was serious criminals, who ought to be recipients of lengthy hate mail. But me? An ineffectual Twitter liberal? I did some emergency praanaayam and calmed myself.
Do the Gandhian stoic routine, I told myself, but suddenly, I was possessed by the spirit of Faiz Ahmed Faiz saying bol ke labh azad hain tere. In that moment which comes but rarely, when I am in the moral right and also angry, I decided to show Mr Gupta how a conscience-less whore would sound when provoked. I started crafting my reply, thinking up all the dirty Hindi words I knew, but was careful to not involve mothers, sisters or daughters. I used scatological references, and threw in intellectual condescension for good measure. I ended in a flourish with a cuss-word that was both offensive and comic. I put five exclamation points to claim my victory in the slanging match. A compact, unabashedly lewd, cheerfully filthy, intellectually smug, politically sound paragraph of an abusive comeback.

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I pressed ‘send’, and the frustration I had been feeling receded. I felt a sense of power and strutted about the house with a swag. In that dark, cyber-seductive moment, I felt like taking a screenshot of that interaction, and posting it on all my social media handles declaring, ‘Never assume a girl will not stoop as low as you’. I felt like group e-mailing everyone in my contact list and showing off. I felt like climbing the roof-top and yelling the reply out for one and all to savour.
I finally ended up WhatsApping a screenshot to my perennially unimpressed brother. “Hmmm,” he replied, “Good job replying to the idiot. But you are also technically a troll now.” Something began to deflate inside me. The victory, smugness, power, sense of achievement, feel-so-good sentiment and the swag suddenly appeared in the context of the cowardly safety of a cyber interaction that allows us to sink so easily to our basest self, because we know there are no consequences. I will probably never come face to face with Mr Gupta. And at that moment, it struck me: the freedom and rush of being unaccountable also offers a slippery slope to become our lowest, darkest version.Yes, I had become a troll. And how easy it had been!

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