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

Posted on July 10, 2015 in Culture-Vulture, Interviews

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):

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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.

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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.”