How to “Whatabout” Your Way Around Every Debate

“Why did you fail in Geography?” the questioning would begin, with me in the hot seat like Mark Zuckerberg. My parents and relatives were everyone else, taking turns to destroy me.
“But dad, what about the fact that the entire class failed?” I would ask. I had no clue where oranges were growing in Maharashtra but even as a 10-year-old, I had mastered the classic Soviet tactic of “whataboutery”, or deflecting the problem by raising another problem, that the New Yorker labelled as “a strategy of false moral equivalences”. If everyone failed then it became acceptable for you also to fail. You don’t have to deal with the larger problem of being poor in the subject if you can raise suspicion over the evil Geography teacher itself. How could she fail everyone?
Make no mistake, I wasn’t the only one in my family doing it. We engage in whataboutery every day, all the time. The other day I was pointing out how dad’s stock investments were tanking like Ravindra Jadeja’s career and his quick comeback was “But what about the windfall profit we made in 2006?” Well, dad, it’s no longer 2006. Mom is a lot subtler and goes for the emotional punch. “But what about all the years that I’ve sacrificed for you? They count for nothing?” All I had just done was pointed out that the dal was missing some salt. If I ask my sister to get me something, her automated response is “Fuck off! What about that time when I asked you to get me XYZ?”
There are no socially acceptable comebacks to any of these statements.
Whataboutery dates back to the 1960s, as this piece headlined “Due West: ‘Whataboutism’ Is Back – and Thriving” points out. “It was used to ironically describe the Soviet Union’s efforts at countering Western criticism. To those who lambasted their human rights record the Soviets would reply with something along the lines of ‘What about America, where they lynch blacks?!’ or ‘What about your unemployment rate? Ordinary people in the US (or the UK or Germany) are denied the basic right to work and pay!’” Of course, this line of logic is familiar to anyone who has spent five minutes on Indian Twitter.
Whataboutery can solve everything. There isn’t a problem you cannot avoid – in politics, social life, crime or history – by bringing up another problem. Everyone from a social media troll to Donald Trump is on it these days. Lately, however, we’ve entered the dark side, plunging to the depths of human decency and moral behaviour.
Asifa’s case breaks your heart? But what about the Hindu girl in Assam? What about rapes by Maulanas? Oh the Unnao rape was by a BJP legislator? How about all the rapes that took place under the last 70 years of Congress rule?
Security issues with Aadhaar? But what about the Facebook data leak? Did you stop using Facebook after that? Communal riots have been on the rise? But what about 1984? What about Muzaffarnagar? Fraudsters are flying out of the country? But what about 2G? What about Coalgate? Certain channels are peddling fake news? But what about NDTV and Barkha with their campaigns to defame India?
Whataboutery is not merely an argument anymore – it’s a competition. It’s my hashtag vs your hashtag, my online army vs your online army. The way to ace it is to be aware of all reference points through which you can bring down your opponent.
Accusing people of selective outrage is the hallmark of great whataboutery. It is practically impossible for everyone to be connected all the time and equally outrage on every single issue in a way that the other side deems fit. So obviously, it is fertile ground for a takedown. “Oh where were you on the third Tuesday of March in 2003 when Ricky Ponting was batting with a spring in his willow?” they ask.
When in doubt, turn to the classics.
“Why didn’t you speak up in 1984?”
“Well I was born in 1992.”
“Ugh, fuck off.”
A faithful companion to whataboutery is the strawman argument, or the spiritedly refuting an argument that wasn’t presented in the first place. “Oh so you want free speech for college students? Then don’t complain when these students destroy the country and we have to give up Kashmir!”.
Another great strategy is to discredit the other side with a counter allegation to insinuate that they have no standing or moral right to ask questions. I might have done something horrid but you also did something bad in the past, which means that you lose all credibility for all time and forfeit the right to question me? Instead, let us both celebrate our inefficiency and mislead the population.
“What about Nirav Modi?”
“But what about Lalit Modi?”
We don’t need intelligent debate and questioning because that runs the risk of exposing our shortcomings and failures. The whole point of whataboutery is to avoid a problem by pointing out a different problem. That way, neither problem gets solved and you win brownie points for your oratory skills.
Always remember, the goal of all whataboutery is to never get to the bottom of difficult questions – and to never ask the right ones.

I’m Hardik and I’m Not Always Aroused

“Sir, is your name… Hard-dick?”
By the age of 14, I had lost patience to correct every person who got my name wrong, so I just nodded at the immigration officer at Jerusalem airport. She showed my passport to her colleague sitting nearby and they both shared a giggle. I thought the horror show was over but I soon heard my name pronounced incorrectly again. This time, over the loudspeaker because I’d forgotten to collect a document. Some people around started laughing and my mom looked at me with a confused face and asked “Beta, kem hasse che badha (Why is everyone laughing?)”
My parents and relatives all studied in Gujarati-medium schools and in the language – as well as in Hindi and Marathi – Hardik has a sweet meaning. It means “from the heart”. I won’t go into the specifics, but let’s just say Gujarati is a deceptive language. Gota is a deep-fried delicacy and muthiya is a breakfast snack. So while my name had a positive connotation in the world of my parents, it had a very different meaning in my world, a six-year old enrolled in an English-medium convent.
As children, our attempts at roasting friends begins with innocence, as we slightly twist names. Aman-Chaman, Hunny-Bunny, Bijal-Brinjal, Hardik-Hardisk. I’m guessing that would have been the rationale behind naming a baby Taimur, to save him from the menace. How the fuck do you roast a Taimur, or even come up with something that rhymes with it?
It wouldn’t take too long for things to change though, as Hussain Kuwajerwala fucked over my happiness, roaming around Indian toilets with that dreaded blue “Harpic” bottle. I was Harpic for a good number of years. After all, you could directly associate a human being with a sandaas. If you want to bring someone down in school, that’s the kind of banter you need.
In adolescence, the big guns were out.
I received sex education long before the rest of my classmates, when a senior pointed out what my name “actually” meant. “Oh! My parents don’t know! Those gullible cuties,” I thought. They might have just accidentally ruined my childhood. But I was wrong, it wasn’t just going to be my childhood.
Dick references became an integral part of my life like diabetes in a Gujarati meal. Every picture I click is a dick-pic. My go-to sexting line is “Hardik swagat hai.” De Kock is my favourite cricketer. My best friends are Dixit and Sukhdeep. Some people call me Hard, others call me Dick and I’m yet to figure out which one’s worse. I get a Hardick birthday cake every year just for a laugh. The same cake, every year. I get more penis enlargement spam mails than the average person. Every person I meet, wants to show me that Russell Peters set about how I should be working in porn.
While having an inappropriate name is all fun and games in teenage years, it can get tense and awkward at the workplace. When I sent a “Hi, Diana” to a colleague from Spain on the office messenger, I only got a terse “Hi” back. She didn’t mention my name. After all, it could well be a prank. What person is named Hardick?
Skype conference calls with foreign colleagues have a tricky ice-breaker as you introduce yourself and watch the colour drain from their face. Nope, it’s not a screen glitch. You want to die of guilt for something that isn’t your fault. On a bad day, you’ll get a formal email addressed as “Dear Hardick”, because auto correct isn’t necessarily politically correct.
The only thing worse than travelling abroad with a funny name is travelling abroad with your family. When you visit distant relatives and their kids, you can notice how they are all judging your family for being ignorant but don’t want to say it out loud. Well fuck you Randy, I look forward to your visit to India. In an attempt to fit in with the Europeans, you start making up nicknames like Hardy to avoid embarrassment. If your family couldn’t come up with a great name, they sure as hell didn’t come up with a decent nickname either. Hardu? It sounds like a sour fruit that no one wants to eat.
While my world changed at school, college, and work, it never collided with my parents’ world, who are still blissfully unaware. Every time my name is on a political hoarding in Maharashtra or Gujarat, they brag about how popular my name is. Or when Shahrukh Khan does a “hardik swagat” for some presenter at IIFA, my dad will jokingly congratulate himself. Ironically, my dad has a pretty good eye for funny names. “Ye Butler, Billings, Drinkwater, aisa koi naam rakhta hai kya?” he comments while watching sport.
Oh dad, if only you knew. You are that person.
I have made up my mind about what I’ll name my kid. If it’s a boy, I’ll name him Mulayam so every time he enters his full name on a form i.e. Mulayam Hardik Rajgor, he’ll be reminded of what an arsehole his dad was. And that’ll motivate him to do well in life. I do believe names shape your personality – because they are itself so fundamental to life, it’s a unique word that everyone associates you with. Your entire life. Well, mine happens to be a synonym for boner and it certainly helped me deal with uncomfortable situations and taught me to laugh them off. To never take myself too seriously. After all, even the people laughing almost never say it in a demeaning tone. It just happens to be a funny name and there’s nothing wrong with a laugh.
If your neighbour had a cute baby named Tipu, would you ever guess that he’d grow up to conquer territory, win multiple wars, and build a summer palace in Bangalore with tiger skin hanging on the wall? I think it was the rather silly name and people looking down at him as a child that inspired his success, and helped him become the Tiger of Mysore.
What’s in a name? A lot. Even in a funny one like Hardik.