There is very little that is social about social media. Or should the word be ‘sociable’? Maria Sharapova, bless the limitations of her knowledge, must have understood this fully by now, ever since more than 50,000 posts called her various unprintable names because she flatly denied knowing Sachin Tendulkar in an interview. For Mr Tendulkar’s Indian devotees, this was the ultimate blasphemy. And with the social media so conveniently at hand to convey every turn and twist of each fan’s outrage, there was nothing to stop the tidal wave of abuses directed at Ms Sharapova. She unknowingly made her case worse by acknowledging that she knew David Beckham — Mr Tendulkar sat close to him at Wimbledon — and admired him as a footballer and a family man. It is obviously unthinkable for Mr Tendulkar’s fans that a champion tennis player who necessarily lives and breathes tennis, and that too, from Russia, where cricket is not an issue, may actually have not heard of a great cricketer from India. It can happen. Besides, if Ms Sharapova wants to say that she does not know someone, whoever he or she may be, she has every right to do so without being abused. The folly of other people can have nothing to do with the horizons of her knowledge.
Folly, like humour, seems to be culture-specific. At least the folly of Mr Tendulkar’s irate fans certainly is. Hero-worship in India typically ascribes the greatest virtues to the worshipped heroes, who are then safely put out of the way on pedestals so that the worshippers are not expected to emulate them. Thus the country teems with icons; yet its ethical life grows more threadbare by the day. Can any of these very articulate fans imagine Mr Tendulkar reacting with such arrogance, or abusing not just a peer, but anyone at all, with such violence, and in sexist terms? Mr Tendulkar’s personality is as much a part of his magic as his great play — surely no fan would deny that? It is he who is likely to have been far more upset by this incident than Ms Sharapova. It is difficult to imagine him being proud of his devotees.
Worship, of heroes, or deities, obviously also induces violence. And this is particularly blatant when the object of the attack is perceived as ‘other’ in some way: in this case, ‘foreign’. This is again a mark of the culture in this land, where the hypocritical approach to worship and an ignorantly narrow mindset help make religion into a useful weapon in politics and in different kinds of cultural and social oppression. Hero worship, that should ideally broaden the mind, here breeds hatred instead. The problem is that Indians, with social media at their fingertips, can no longer keep these embarrassing facts about themselves a secret from the world. Not that they have the sense to do that either.