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‘The Art Of Nailing Celebrity Narcissism In 140 Characters Or Less’ With @RushdieExplains

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By Kanika Katyal:

If the first thing that you do after you hear of a national emergency is tweet about it, then this account is for you.

Let’s admit that Twitter is only as good as the people you follow, and there is nobody who gets India like this man. I can say that, because who else can come up with a BJP version of ‘When Harry Met Sally’?

Or figure-out Suhel Seth better than him ?

That’s Rushdie Explains India for you.

The bio mentions ‘Parody account’ and has been, ‘Graciously blessed by Sir himself’, quite literally so (as Twitter never forgets):

rushdie explains india screenshot 1

But unlike many parody accounts, he’s not your quintessential comic guy. His wit has wisdom.

Rushdie Explains India openly takes a dig at the ‘who’s who’ from the political and cultural landscape and has risen from obscurity into cult fame, mastering the art of nailing celebrity narcissism in 140 characters or less. From Narendra Modi, to Amartya Sen to Javed Akhtar, there is nobody who’s been spared by his wit.

With followers over 29.3K (at the time of publishing), including the likes of Shashi Tharoor, the account has grown to be a favourite among Twitter users in India.

rushdie explains india screenshot 2

For those of you who do not know who he is, take a look at some of his tweets.

1. I’m guessing she’s not the nation’s ‘Dreamgirl’ anymore:

2. Sharing Prasad with the Bhakts:

3. They said if you were able to find humour even in the most difficult situation you were already a winner; so he did: 

US-based Professor, Rohit Chopra, the man behind the humorous ‘Rushdie Explains India’ was kind enough to speak to Youth Ki Awaaz over email on – why the name Rushdie, his non-Twitter life, if Rahul Gandhi became the PM of India one day, and more.

Kanika Katyal (KK): While the world knows you as the man behind the Twitter handle, ‘RushdieExplainsIndia’, what is your non-Twitter life like?

RushdieExplains (RE): It’s a rich life in all kinds of ways. I greatly enjoy living in San Francisco, which is an extraordinarily vibrant city in terms of art, culture, technology, food, and media. The flexibility of an academic schedule means I can pursue interests like walking around the city for research on its South Asian pasts or exploring the natural beauty of the region. I’m addicted to the Pacific coastline and never miss a chance to drive down or go for a hike on one of the area’s trails with my son. New media and social media also enable me to stay in touch and keep conversations running with friends and colleagues back in India; that is immensely valuable to me personally.

KK: Why Rushdie? And do also tell us about why ‘Explains India’? Also, who do you want to explain it to?

RE: It wasn’t a premeditated, calculated decision. The idea for the account sprung from a casual Twitter conversation with two academic friends of mine, Kerim Friedman and Gautam Premnath. The account was meant as an insider joke for a few friends, aiming to speak in a Rushdie-esque manner about India. I was quite surprised and gratified that something about it struck a chord with folks on Twitter, so I have kept going, with the exception of a break for a few months and some pauses here and there. The initial idea was to play on how Rushdie might explain the 2014 election results to the world, but since then it has become more of a commentary on Indian events which, to an extent, presumes some familiarity with the Indian political and social context.

KK: You said, “It is always a bit startling to realise that one’s cultural experiences are not universal.” What were these cultural experiences that you are talking about?

RE: I was talking about the delightful and sometimes not-so-delightful experiences that are unique to being Indian, though I am sure other communities can speak of similar things. For example, the nosy neighborhood aunties, the Indian obsession with merit and competitive exams, the insufferable middle-class Indian parental boasting about kids’ achievements—I see some of this here in the US too among Indian-Americans. More mundane things too—the hallowed place of Maggi in Indian life, for example. My experiences significantly refer to 1980s India, in all its glorious weirdness. I remember how, after some television serials on Doordarshan, Indian middle class parents were terrified that “mera beta drugs karega.” Or the odd faux-wisdom that circulated in Indian houses: zyada TV dekhoge to aankhen kharab ho jayengi. Or poor Indian mothers convinced that Bournvita was nutritious and forcing their children to gulp milk mixed with it. Some of what I experienced no doubt has persisted but some I think is peculiar and specific to that time.

KK: Why did you choose the platform of Twitter? When you started you weren’t anonymous, what led to that? Did anonymity change things?

RE: Again, no design as such. It just happened. I try and keep my social media life manageable and Twitter is my poison of choice, so to speak. I’ve had wonderful conversations on Twitter, made great friends through being on it; the form suits my temperament I suppose. I find Facebook very creepy because of its shady privacy policies. It’s also kind of useless: people seem to share a lot of pointless stuff on it, like boring details about their vacations or kids’ birthday parties. Or boast about the fact that they also had a drink at a bar where the Marquis de Sade downed a rum in 1785 and so on.

The account was never meant to be anonymous, because there was no grand plan behind it. Anonymity, yes, brought its gifts. It was liberating, and I think worked well with the account. The account has become somewhat different since I outed myself and forsook that anonymity. Something is lost with forfeiting anonymity, but something gained too. The account is more direct and more political now, and not being anonymous perhaps adds a little more weight and credibility to some of my observations. I’m just very grateful that people still consider it worth following, even in its post-anonymous incarnation.

KK: What does “Blessed by Sir” signify? Also, what is the most memorable thing that author Salman Rushdie said to you?

RE: That was just in keeping with the parodic nature of the account. Rushdie has been knighted; hence the Sir. It was also a reference to the hyperbolic nature of Indian announcements and self-praise. And shortly after the account started, Rushdie had responded with a bemused tweet introducing me to the Kim Kardarshian parody account, which I liberally interpreted as his blessing. So it all kind of happily converged.

That Rushdie acknowledged the parody account at all was in itself memorable for me. It was extremely kind and generous of him. It was very nice of him to say he enjoyed it.

KK: You mentioned, “Baba Ramdev is a reservoir one can endlessly draw on. Arnab Goswami and Chetan Bhagat were the gifts that kept on giving.” What was it about them that made them such frequent mentions in you tweets? I also noticed that no women made it to the list? Why is that?

RE: Oh, just that they are prominent, over the top celebs, who are objects of fascination for the Indian public. To a significant extent, all of them are media creations—spectacular figures whose antics and pronouncements are riveting. So they are gifts for a parody account.

Well, there are one or two women who similarly have provided a rich vein of comments to mine for the account, if not to the same extent. But women are generally more sensible and don’t make fools of themselves as often as men do. I hope I will not be accused of gender discrimination now!

How would @RushdieExplainsIndia react to these (for now, hypothetical) news headlines:

Lok Sabha Elections 2019: Congress and BJP, to lead a united front.

“Arun Jaitley happy since he doesn’t have to clarify which party he belongs to anymore.”

Rahul Gandhi to be sworn as PM.

“Tavleen Singh books one-way ticket to Rome; hopes the Gandhi family doesn’t wield as much influence there as in Delhi”

Suhel Seth nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.

“On condition that he quit all forms of communication, in the interest of world sanity and peace.”

RushdieExplainsIndia receives a fatwa for his scandalous tweets.

“As long as it’s a parody fatwa on Twitter, cool.”

Subramanian Swamy decides to retire from active politics.

“I give thanks for India; I cry for RushdieExplains”

RSS demands sexuality education be made compulsory in India.

“Sex education textbooks to now feature pics of assorted flowers brushing each other. Flowers must be from same religion and caste, however.”

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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