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What the Aryan Khan episode tells us

Leher Kala writes: Whether you have grown up ensconced in layers of privilege or hail from middle-class origins, slander is devastating — and a prison stint is likely to be a (unpleasant) transformative experience.

Written by Leher Kala |
Updated: October 18, 2021 7:27:21 am
Bollywood actor Shah Rukh Khan's son Aryan Khan being taken to Arthur Road jail from Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) office. (PTI)

In the very entertaining Netflix show Sex Education, a mother cautions her 17-year-old son before he leaves for a party, that he should “buddy up” (have a responsible friend around) if he is planning on doing any “drugs”. The very practical advice, dispersed so casually, acknowledges the mundane reality of illicit substances in all our midst. The show makes room for the viewer to consider that dabbling may even be necessary to discovering who you (don’t) want to be. The big story, the arrest of Shah Rukh Khan’s son and several others for allegedly consuming unspecified narcotics, has kickstarted a national conversation on a usually fraught topic — smoking up.

It’s too easy to subscribe to the lazy stereotype, and dismiss weed and other party drugs as a problem of dissolute, aimless kids. Marijuana, especially, is everywhere, across strata, the familiar, acrid aroma floating in the air in gatherings of old and young alike, whether the outdoors of a Delhi mall or on Holi (the slang for it is Shivji ka prasad). References to marijuana in popular culture are impossible to miss; on That ’70s Show or the news recently, that a state in the US incentivised college students to take Covid vaccine by handing out free joints. Tech icon Elon Musk unwittingly legitimised pot by smoking during a press conference, upending stoner cliches of users being chronic underachievers. However, social sanction from peers is meaningless while the law criminalises usage.

Whether you have grown up ensconced in layers of privilege or hail from middle-class origins, slander is devastating — and a prison stint is likely to be a (unpleasant) transformative experience. A day in jail lasts an eternity in the absence of stimulation to alleviate the cruelly meticulous passing of time. One way to see it, at least in the case of the young Khan, is that it is an ordeal he will be none the worse for, the bizarre episode a brutal lesson that systems created to ensure fairness don’t necessarily work. The collateral damage is more for the other young people arrested with Khan, their names and faces flashing across TV channels over the last fortnight. Due process and the rule of law — innocent till proven guilty — means nothing, faced with the juggernaut of social media that so cunningly amplifies our negatives. Google doesn’t let a past die and this incident is bound to resurface through their lives at the most inopportune of moments.

When I look around and see the pressures adolescents and young people face today, I can’t help but feel relief that I grew up in the ’90s when nobody knew what I did, where I went and whom I met. Mercifully, there is no evidence, and the beauty of anonymity is never having to explain or correct preconceived notions that so casually deem you guilty by association. It’s something this generation of youngsters will never know, since their lives mirror The Truman Show, the Jim Carrey film where the sweet, unsuspecting protagonist discovers his every move is beamed to the entire country for entertainment. You could spend the rest of your days tracing events back to one evening of revelry, long after you have grown out of sampling trendy intoxicants, wondering how fate placed you at the centre of a vicious plan to derail a beloved superstar.

As Aryan Khan and all other human beings invariably learn over the course of life, there are times when you have no choice but to sit still patiently and wait it out. It’s surprising the clarity one gains in isolation, as we all discovered in small ways this Covid year, mainly that power and control are largely illusions. A way to rationalise a disaster is to recognise that everyone has their own dramas going on, whether illness, financial insecurities or a failing relationship. Much as we aim for perfection, life can’t only be good, we would get sick of it. Occasional setbacks create their own awakenings.

The writer is director, Hutkay Films

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