Imagine this: You are working late on a muggy July night in Delhi, the oppressive humidity provides little respite. Like a newspaper sub-editor or a coder in a cubicle, your successes are anonymous, the failures often not. How much would joyous would you have to be about your job to unbutton a shirt, tie a bandana around your face and break into a spontaneous dance? CCTV footage from July 10 has shown to the world a man who clearly loves his job. And the viral video of a thief doing a happy jig has many asking: What is the secret to his work-night happiness?
Perhaps the anonymous burglar, dancing after breaking into a shop with two of his colleagues, was experiencing the joy of a political ideal fulfilled: If all property is theft, he certainly showed an upright merchant the irony and fragility of that achievement. Or maybe his accomplices were close friends, the kind with whom the adventure of breaking-and-entering is pure bliss. It could be that the enterprise was a new one, and the start-up founder was celebrating the early success of his would-be criminal empire. Or, given the distinctly bhangra-esque swing to his step, was it an act of cultural assertion?
The hint at the true answer behind the dancer’s delight, however, is likely much sadder. A careful re-watching of the CCTV footage makes clear that the performance follows a recognition of, and then histrionics for, the camera. Like the party animal’s Facebook albums, or the Instagram posts of those gripped by “wanderlust”, it is a carefully curated show for audiences, imagined and real. Just as there are few photographs of hangovers and posts about the crippling costs of travelling, the bhangra burglar hid the tensions of crime, the uncertainties of freelance work and the lack of security that comes with following one’s passion. Rather than an ideal, he is a mirror. Like for every other working person, the camera became a way of projecting a joy that probably will never be.