Six days after the world discovered that a five- time Wimbledon champion hasn’t heard of Sachin Tendulkar #whoismariasharapova continues to be a top trend on Twitter. Poor Sachin. Completely unassuming, he’s always been a reluctant torchbearer for gentlemanly sportsmanship. He must be cringing at becoming a talking point over something so ludicrous.
The vitriol spilling over on social media over a perceived slight to India’s greatest sports star is an indication that Indian stupidity has gone completely mainstream. There’s just no escaping it; it’s everywhere. We’re a nation built on fragile egos and massive insecurity, ready to fly into a rage over almost anything. Excellence in any sphere has become so rare that we hang on for dear life to the handful of icons India has produced. Why should a Russian tennis player who lives in America where cricket is barely heard of much less played, care who Tendulkar is? Sharapova is not a quizzer.
To try and make sense of this very peculiar issue it’s important to remember that in India we attach a lot of importance to cluttering our minds with useless information: and call it general knowledge. So we can’t imagine that Sharapova is just fine going through life oblivious of a Tendulkar. It also explains how Indian children consistently win the American spelling bee. They’re marvellous rote learners and know the language of origin of a word like knaidel (no, I have no idea what it means).
There’s a lot of pressure from childhood itself to be bright and knowledgable, and with some luck, superior to your peers. After several seasons of Koffee With Karan (at the risk of not sounding smart at all I have to admit it’s one of my favourite shows) Karan Johar has introduced a quiz. Many of his film star guests have confessed how nervous the questions make them and how they work on their GK before coming on the show. These are people earning in crores, beloved by millions and they’re feeling sheepish about not knowing the full form of BJP. Current heartthrob Alia Bhatt has still not managed to live down the fact that she had no idea who the Chief Minister of Maharashtra is.
Of course, it’s nice to be well-informed. It’ll make you more interesting for sure. People who have no interest in other people or in what’s going on around them tend to be self absorbed and talk too much about themselves. But does knowing who the Vice President of India make you a smarter person? It seems like a really narrow way of testing intelligence. I think your time is far better invested in seeking answers to loftier questions, like how much time you have left on earth and how best to use it.
The question of wisdom remains compelling, well-explained by the cliche, “Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit, wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.” There’s something to be said for simplifying your life, retaining information that matters and ruthlessly chucking out the rest, which clearly Sharapova knows something about. But in an era of constantly streaming data, it has become almost blasphemous to say: “I don’t know”.
One must have a terrifying range of opinions, on gas prices, the monsoon, the economy, and of course, be able to use ‘Kafkaesque’ in the right context. A good start: Google “wanna-be” to cope with IQ ambiguity.
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