Poster Boy

Flop!

The crisp newspaper I was holding in my hand drooped, as if in response to the brute force of an invisible mushroom cloud emanating from the calmly spoken, but nuclear-powered word.

It had started calmly enough. Leafing through the newspaper I had chanced upon an ad for Padmavati, the latest Bollywood release. As the movie only claims to be “based” upon historical events, its release is being objected to by a section of the population claiming that it presents a distorted version of history. Nobody else would have guessed that its presentation is not an accurate representation of history. And, since it is a private, commercial movie, that never claimed to be an accurate representation of a period in history that is, at best, fuzzy and vague, it needs to be violently objected to as not doing so would tantamount to not upholding the honour of the nation.

BBEI9kb I was showing the ad to my wife to suggest that we catch it over the weekend, afraid that if we miss this one we would have to wait for another week (since new movies are released only on Fridays) to see a Bollywood movie that was being violently objected to by a section of the population in order to defend the honour of the nation.

One glance at the ad and the verdict had been announced by my wife. In one word.

B-b-but why do you say that?, I asked tremulously, not willing to give up so easily.

Can’t you see it? Or, rather, can you not see what is missing?

Never having developed the ability to see what was not there, I looked around helplessly.

Look more closely.

Since the ad mainly consisted of close-ups of Deepika Padukone, the lead actress who was playing the title role of Padmavati, I looked more closely.

You still don’t see what is not there, don’t you?

I nodded helplessly. That faculty had still not developed.

Tell me, where is the picture of our Prime Minister (PM), Mr. Modi in this ad?

There is only so much a man can take. Why should there be a picture of the PM in an ad for a Bollywood movie? Is he an actor in the movie? Is he the director? Is he the producer? Is he the music composer? Is he even an extra in the movie? If he starts working in the movies, who will go around coining slogans for our development?

Knowing who I was up against, I had the good sense to not voice these words. But my face probably gave me away.

She got up quietly, went to the cabinet where the old newspapers were stacked and returned with a sheaf of them.

She casually opened up one of them and thrust it in front of me. There was an ad in front of my eyes.

Modi2

I looked up at her.

What does this ad tell you?

Beyond telling me that the more money I spend the more I will save, ads have never really told me anything. This one was no different. It told me nothing. I merely stared blankly at it.

You will probably want to tell me that the back-breaking work of connecting the remote parts of the country and enable digitisation has been done by thousands, perhaps millions of lowly-paid workers and hundreds of dedicated engineers, toiling in hostile conditions.

Is he an actor in the movie? Is he the director? Is he the producer? Is he the music composer? Is he even an extra in the movie? You may even wish to ask if he is an engineer or a worker.

Isn’t it clear from this ad where the credit belongs? Isn’t it clear who is responsible for achieving success in connecting the remote areas? Do you see the picture of any engineer or worker in this ad? But the PM’s picture is there, isn’t it?

It was an open and shut case as far as she was concerned, but seeing the still slightly hostile look on my face, she flung another half-opened old newspaper towards me. As if by magic, the old newspaper, while in flight, opened up to another ad when it landed in front of me.

Modi4

 

Knowing you, you will perhaps argue that the rapid strides in medical facilities, eradication of killer diseases across the length and breadth of the nation has been done by doctors spending the prime of their lives in studying and understanding medicine, and then committing themselves, alongwith health and social workers, to improving the lives of millions of poor people across the country.

Is he an actor in the movie? Is he the director? Is he the producer? Is he the music composer? Is he even an extra in the movie? You may even wish to ask if he is a doctor or a nurse.

Isn’t it clear from this ad where the credit belongs? Isn’t it clear who is responsible for the success of prevention and control of diabetes, and many other diseases? Apart from the model, do you see the picture of any doctor or nurse in this ad?

Though still unable to see what was not there, I was decidedly getting the drift, as I often do when my wife gives it to me. The drift that is. But she was not done with me. Not just yet. She picked  up another old newspaper and opened it right under my nose.

Again there was an ad in front of my eyes.

Modi1

You will surely try to tell me that the reduction in GST rates for leather exports is the result of the hard work and research done by traders and producers in the industry who got together to put up a rational and logical case for the reduction of GST being in the best interest of the country leading to its reduction.

Is he an actor in the movie? Is he the director? Is he the producer? Is he the music composer? Is he even an extra in the movie? You may even wish to ask if he is a leather trader or exporter.

Isn’t it clear from this ad where the credit belongs? Isn’t it clear who is responsible for the industry achieving success in reducing GST rates? Isn’t it clear that the PM, out of the goodness of his heart, has decided to shower this munificence on the leather export industry at this time, for the good of the nation of course. Do you see the picture of any hardworking leather producer or trader in this ad?

I was speechless. As usual.

Are you now convinced?

I am a reasonable man. Faced with a wife with an opinion in direct conflict with mine, and a bundle of old newspapers still unflung, I became thoroughly convinced.

Tell me, if the makers of a Bollywood movie do not have the self-respect to include a prominent picture of the PM in their ads without him having any role in it, what kind of a movie do you think it will be?

Flop!

Advertisements

If It Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix It

“How many dead?”

“None.”

“Burned beyond recognition? At least seriously injured or maimed?”

“Hmmm…I don’t think any.”

“Any coverage in the media?”

“To the best of my knowledge, nil.”

Answering the Minister’s questions was a bright graduate of the elite Administrative Services College of the country, whose smile had been growing wider and wider as he responded to each question thinking about how effectively he had been managing his area of responsibility, and now went from one ear to the other.

“Is this an issue which the western world has expressed concerns about and which might lead to cancellation of overseas jaunts of senior ministers?”

“Not at all. We keep giving them other issues to express concerns about.”

The bright graduate was positively beaming, imagining his future prospects.

The Minister, so far looking down at a piece of paper on his desk, with a pen in his hand as if poised to sign, looked up. He took off his glasses, wiped them on his kurta sleeve, and put them down next to the offending piece of paper, which seemed to be triggering his questions.

The bright graduate quailed. The muffled sound of the glasses being placed on the desk sounded like a thunderclap.

Looking him squarely in the eye, the Minister asked, “Did you hear about the Elphinstone Road foot over-bridge stampede?”

Of course he did. It was the latest man-made disaster in a distinguished series of man-made disasters over many years and through tenures of multiple governments. On the 29th of September, till the time of writing of this article, twenty three people had died in a stampede on a foot over-bridge at the Elphinstone Road station of the inhumanly crowded Mumbai suburban rail network.

“Yes…yessir,” he stammered.

“Since when has the suburban rail network of Mumbai been inhumanly overcrowded?”, the Minister continued, even before his stammered phrase could be completed.

“I don’t know sir. I have known it to be overcrowded ever since I gained consciousness.” He was a Mumbai lad and was well versed with the history of his city.

The Minister was on a roll. He was not asking those questions to get answers. He was driving home some messages. He was fed-up of bright graduates coming out of elite colleges spouting theory at him and asking for approval for frivolous proposals. It was time they learnt some practical lessons. “How many times have safety concerns been expressed arising out of overcrowding of platforms, overcrowding of bridges, overcrowding of coaches?”, he shot back.

“Many times sir.” He was a bright student and was warming up to the format. He had excelled in quizzes in school and college and followed news and current events closely.

The Minister leaned back in his chair. A smile was playing at the corner of his lips.

“Now tell me, did you read about the forty people who did not die because the Corporation fixed the platform tiles so that people did not accidentally slip and fall in the path of an oncoming train?”

The graduate was flummoxed. He had not come across such a news item. His face expressed his lack of awareness.

“Or the seventy who did not get electrocuted when the Corporation fixed the live wires that had come loose and were hanging dangerously close to passers by?” the Minister continued without pausing.

“When did that happen sir?” he could not help asking, and displaying his ignorance.

The minister looked at him squarely in the eyes once again. He shifted uncomfortably. The Minister asked, “Tell me, what is the primary duty of a democratically elected government?”

“Why, to look after the people of course”, he brightened up, on getting a question he knew the answer to.

“Exactly. And such incidents, where nobody dies, and which nobody ever hears about, who would they give any comfort to? Would these incidents give a feeling to the common man that the government has his back?”

“Obviously no-one sir.” He was getting the drift he thought. He loosened up a little.

“What is a responsible government to do? With great power comes great responsibility. Spending the tax collections is an exercise of great responsibility and a hard-earned one. Why will a government, not just ours, any government, waste it on measures that do not give comfort to the common man?”

He was flummoxed again. ‘Twas the day for him to be flummoxed. “Then what does the government do, sir?” He could see the issue, but did not have the mental capacity to imagine the solution.

“The government does the only thing that a responsible government can do; wait for an accident to happen, as we did in the case of the Elphinstone Road foot overbridge stampede that killed several people. And now that it has happened, once again, like any responsible government, we have cancelled the leave of all officials and flown them in from various parts of the country for urgent consultations. After all, the taxpayer money has to be spent productively, isn’t it?”

“These officials, as we know, are from an elite corps, and have already hit the ground running. After analysing the situation they will reach a conclusion that everyone has known for many years. But these officials will reach the conclusion while lodged in expensive hotels and eating expensive food, hence their conclusion can be considered to be the final word on the event. Moreover, they will even absolve everyone concerned of any responsibility and attribute the accident to a freak confluence of events that everyone could have predicted.”

“But there will always be Doubting Thomases questioning the intent and effort of the government. Therefore, further analysis will be done by the high-powered group who will decide to spend more money on a review of all random things that can be thought of in such a high-pressure situation, like testing the strength of airport runways in the country, checking the depth of water in lakes and canals and installing traffic lights where not required. For the safety and security of the common man of course.”

He was beginning to see the real picture. He may have received his college degree many years back, but he was getting educated today. He could picture himself sitting in the minister’s chair in the not too distant future, serving the nation and the common man. Dreamily he asked, “Then what sir?”

“Then what? Then we will wait for the next stampede at an overcrowded Kumbh Mela in Allahabad. Or the next unplanned town to be washed away in a cloubburst in Uttarakhand. Or the next 8-year old to be murdered in a school in Gurgaon. Or the next unsafe building to catch fire in Delhi with tenders unable to access the site. And roll out the time-tested plan for ensuring the safety and security of the common man.”

“Tell me. Have you not heard of Nirbhaya?”

The bright graduate suddenly came to. After all, who had not heard of the gruesome rape in Delhi several years back that led to a slew of initiatives to prevent rapes, from pink coloured taxis to women-only banks.

“And have rapes stopped? Or slowed down?”

His eyes lit up. It was all clear to him now. With a touch of reverence in his voice, he asked, “But how do you handle all this, sir? After all, manmade disasters are such an innate part of the fabric of our great society.”

The Minister took a deep breath, and slowly released it as if trying to release the burden of his great responsibility to the common man. “It is a tightrope walk. Between running advertisements announcing great achievements of the government, security detail for ministers and self-appointed godmen (and women), money paid to consultants for coining new and imaginative names for government schemes, and providing safety and security to the common man. But, like I said earlier, with great power comes great responsibility. We have to take judicious decisions keeping all interests in mind.”

The Minister was floating on a cloud of his great responsibility towards the common man and did not notice the bright graduate quietly picking up the printed proposal he had taken to the Minister for his approval for the Corporation to fix platform tiles so that people did not accidentally slip and fall in the path of an oncoming train, the piece of paper that had started the interrogation, and walk out of the  office while crumpling the proposal into a ball and expertly tossing it into a basket placed strategically near the exit.

 

Responsibility

I used to worry about the ability of the younger generation to take responsibility. Even chiding my children occasionally, to the utter lack of amusement on my wife’s part, leading to more nights on the living-room couch.

But recent events have proved me wrong. Once again.

It seems that while I was busy worrying and chiding my children, and sleeping on the living-room couch, organisations that stand up and take responsibility have been growing and prospering, as I discovered from a friend’s recent post.

They even have a name.

They are called political parties. And governments. And they mostly do it (take responsibility) on other people’s money. And one of the key responsibilities of governments, as I have learned, is to take responsibility for what they have either done or not done, or what others have done or not done.

Were it not for the full page adverts in major national dailies, purchased with my money of course, I would not have known how responsible this government is.

For instance, I would not have known that the present government, that came to power three years back, is responsible for the unprecedented success of the space programme that has delivered unprecedented successes many times since its inception over sixty years back. Foolishly, I had assumed that it was the vision of the founding fathers that had created the space programme.

I would not have known that the present government is responsible for the surgical strikes that not only served as a strong warning to terrorists and resulted in spectacular lack of success on the Kashmir issue, but also introduced a new term to the vocabulary of most Indians. How many previous governments can rightfully claim to have expanded the common man’s vocabulary?

I would not have known that the present government is responsible for providing universal access to banking services. Not drinking water, not grid-supplied power, but banking services.

Even state governments have come to the party.

Kerala has claimed full responsibility for introducing the Fat Tax. Just imagine!

Chhattisgarh has claimed full responsibility for electrification of 98% villages. Without any responsibility for supplying power.

Bengal has claimed full responsibility for marching forward in its endeavour to make the vision of a golden Bengal come true. Not green. Not white. Not silver. Golden.

Each claiming its share of responsibility with its own paid advert in national dailies.

Even though we found out why Kattappa killed Bahubali, before the government could claim any responsibility for it, could it be possible that we have found an answer to some of the most enduring mysteries of the world?

In the seventies, a number of ships and planes are said to have vanished in the Bermuda Triangle. Could this government be responsible?

Would my childhood friend, who was disconsolate after losing his pet pooch when we were both children, get closure after all these years? Can we safely conclude that this government was responsible?

Quite a handful already, isn’t it?

But, as usual, the common man is never satisfied. He wants more. He has started expecting the government to take responsibility for even real day-to-day problems.

He now expects the government to take responsibility for the poor state of roads in Gurgaon.

He expects the government to take responsibility for the precipitous drop in water levels in rivers, ponds and lakes across the country?

He expects the government to take responsibility for the security of women.

Is that fair? After all, how much can a government do? Ourtax money can only buy so much advertising space.

But the government is game. To take on more responsibility.

Even though it expresses inability to take responsibility for real day-to-day issues, it has offered to take responsibility for having brought down the Ganga and other perennial rivers from their glacial abode in the Himalayans.

It has offered to take responsibility for designing and commissioning the annual system of monsoon rains.

It has offered to take responsibility for inventing the game of cricket and Bollywood.

It has even offered to take responsibility for the first man to be sent into space sent by Russia and for Chelsea Football Club winning the latest edition of the English Premier League football.

Can you ask for more?

With the government poised to take on so much more responsibility, the responsible common man can continue to provide proof of his nationalism on WhatsApp?

Black and White

“Is it not clear? By asking for explanations, you are wasting the precious time of senior government officials that can be put to use for issuing more confusing and unnecessary rules.”

A senior government functionary made his displeasure evident when cornered by a section of the media on the burning issue of demonitisation of currency notes of the two largest denominations, 500 and 1000, that contribute 86% to the currency in circulation in India, for dealing a body blow to “black money” in national interest, that subsequently changed to “move towards digital transactions” in national interest, that have anyway been growing rapidly on their own, and the latest decision of the government in this regard, of asking people, who seek to deposit the old notes even within the originally declared deadline, to provide a satisfactory explanation of why they did not deposit earlier.

“Let me explain for one last time. On 8th November, and several times thereafter, we have said that people should not be in a hurry and can deposit their stock of old, demonetised currency notes in their bank account till 30th December. Hence, anyone who tries to deposit these notes on the 20th of December or anytime after, till 30th December, is obviously flouting that rule and now needs to explain why he has delayed depositing this money. These people have brought it upon themselves.

The rule-book says stop at a red light, people don’t follow.

The rule-book says form a queue at the ticket counter, people don’t follow.

The rule-book says don’t throw trash in the open, people don’t follow.

Are you telling me that our countrymen have suddenly chosen to become rule-book followers? This is obviously an attempt of the Opposition parties to get people to follow the rule-book and embarrass the government. These people will be punished for their faith in the government’s assurances. Their actions are against national interest. If all the old notes come back to banks, how will the government make any money on this initiative and spend it on unnecessary projects?

Our hand has been forced. This is why it has been decided that people who seek to deposit the old notes need to provide a satisfactory explanation of why they did not deposit them earlier despite the government’s assurance that the deposits could be made till the 30th of December. What’s more, this explanation needs to be recorded in the presence of two bank officials, because bank employees have no guidance or authority on which explanation to accept as suitable and which to not.

As elected representatives of the people, if we don’t call upon commercial entities like banks to sacrifice their business interests, who will?

As you might know, apart from accepting deposits, issuing advances, managing operations and risk, opening and closing accounts, selling financial instruments like mutual funds and insurance, transferring money, handling trade transactions, dispensing and accepting cash, our bankers have really very little to do. We successfully employed them in fruitless activities like repeated exchanges of discontinued currency notes from 8th November. As the exchange scheme was withdrawn randomly one fine day, we have now involved bankers to witness recording of statements from mostly honest account holders as to why they did not deposit money earlier, despite the deadline still being ten days away. Think of the millions of youngsters graduating from college every year, many of them aspiring to work for banks, especially the engineering graduates. We have to protect their future as well. If the situation starts improving anytime soon, we may increase the number of bank officials required to witness depositor explanations to three, or even four.

And this decision has not been taken in isolation. We have gradually built up to this by issuing false promises and assurances from time to time, like this is a short-term pain, like it will take only three weeks for the situation to improve, like there is enough stock of new currency, like the government is closely monitoring the situation, and many more. Even today, the common man seems to be expecting that he will soon be able to withdraw and deposit his own money from and into his bank account.

Meanwhile, as you may have heard, the Finance Minister has clarified that RBI has enough stock of new currency to fulfil the need of all banks and account holders. They are just not releasing them to banks. Just like that.

This is necessary for patriotism. If we had not brought the banking system, and all business, to a grinding halt, would you feel that you are undergoing this pain in the national interest? Tell me honestly, would you ever?

Some of you might even want to know the logic behind the introduction of the Rs. 2000- note. Do you?

Well, just like that.

Yes, just like that.

Because there is no logic.

Tell me, what better way to thwart potential black-money hoarders, the objective initially put out, than by creating utter confusion?

Since we ourselves have no idea why we have introduced a Rs. 2000 note, how do you expect anyone to, be it the common man, the politician or the black-money hoarder?

And since they have no idea, how do you expect them to indulge in their corrupt practices?

The common man, on the other hand, has tasted blood. He wants to contribute to the national interest. He wants more. More de-monetisation. More pain. More suffering. He is willing to live in perpetual penury so that black money can be eliminated for his good. May his tribe increase.

Where do we go from here?

First, we prevented people from using their own money that they had in cash. Then, we successfully prevented people from using their own money lying in bank accounts by creating unending queues for withdrawal. Now, we have prevented people from depositing the cash they held. I think the virtuous circle is complete.

But, for an elected representative of the people, the work is never complete. Since people have elected us and reposed their faith in us, it is left to us to decide what constitutes national interest and patriotism. The battle is far from over. People are clever. They have deposited all the money we had called “black”, back in bank accounts. In such a situation what can a well-meaning government do? Launch a witch-hunt of course against citizens.

Further, in order to promote the patriotic spirit and national interest further, we plan to soon bring out rules that prevent people from living in their own houses, wearing their own jewellery and driving their own cars and bikes.

We are geared for the challenge. By the time you go to press with this interview tomorrow, we would have already rolled back, though only partially, the rule introduced with great fanfare yesterday, requiring people depositing old notes to explain reasons for the delay. We will also ensure that only a small section of the impacted banks are advised of the change. We will then partially roll back the roll back announced.

I don’t want to reveal the hand, but you should soon start seeing a removal of the curbs on withdrawal of cash from accounts. However, since banks will not be given any cash, they will not be able to pay any to customers. It will be the problem created by the inefficiency of banks, despite the best intentions of the government.

As you may have overheard the common man say confidently, ‘only the execution is faulty’ :-).”

Traitors

“Hold your horses woman. You will have us exiled before we can say Singapore. Or Equator. Or any three syllable word for that matter. Or even two. And our patriotism questioned to boot.”

My wife was complaining about the short but harsh winter in Delhi and wondering how nice it would be to be in an equatorial climate like that of Singapore at this time.

I looked around furtively to make sure we were not within earshot of anyone. In a country of 1.3 billion, it can be a task. Even inside your own house.

“Do you think our great leaders think about foreign climes when faced with harsh weather, whether it is the winter of Delhi, monsoon of Mumbai or summer, again of Delhi? Do you think Dr. Ambedkar, the founding father, and mother (I added as an afterthought lest a zealous, nameless, self-appointed guardian of something or the other label me something or the other) of the Indian Constitution, was never faced with harsh weather in his life? Do you think he dreamt of sunny equatorial climes?” I confidently added, knowing fully well that she would have no idea what our great leaders thought but did not express. Neither did I for that matter, not being one of the omniscient, zealous, nameless, self-appointed guardians of something or the other who somehow always know exactly what a great leader of the past, dead long since, thought and meant, even though he, or she, is not known to have ever shared that particular thought.

I was on a roll. Seasoned husbands would understand the rarity of the moment when one gets to pontificate to the better half. I was not about to let go.

“Be gone!

Run to your houses, fall upon your knees,

Pray to the gods to intermit the plague

That needs must light on this ingratitude.”

I would have assailed her with Shakespeare’s lines but discretion got the better of valour, knowing that she was adept at assailing me with many other lines, from Shakespeare to Sachs. I continued with a more sedate “Then what right have you to think? Do you want a bounty on your cheek, with some unit, publicly chided and privately rewarded, of a political party, offering a reward to anyone who slaps you, as has been done for Aamir Khan? Or do you want another political party to book our tickets to a neighbouring country, as, again, has been done for Aamir Khan?”

She kept quiet. Even though the last idea would have sounded tempting, considering our free travel, while looking busy and important, has stopped ever since I stopped working for large corporations.

It could be because the Sheena Bora murder case trial is playing out in the media. It can be a challenge when two issues of national importance occupy your mind.

The second, of course, is the case of Aamir Khan, Bollywood superstar, who, during an interview, when asked about the issue of rising intolerance in India, stated, frankly and honestly it seems, that his wife Kiran Rao had suggested moving out of the country fearing for their children under the conditions the country currently is in.

As it is a matter of national importance, and being everyone’s business to decide what Aamir Khan and family should and should not feel, and say, this comment was not taken lightly by many who targeted the actor for spreading fear instead of thinking about his influential status before speaking. Their unambiguous message to him was, “India is a tolerant country, and you better apologise for what you said. Or else….”

We have always known that wives can get you into trouble.

Anupam Kher, a popular Bollywood actor, took it upon himself to lambast Aamir Khan for his views on intolerance and called him unpatriotic, giving rise to the Kher law of inanity:

Expression of intolerance = Intolerance

Intolerance = Being unpatriotic

Hence, Expression of intolerance = Being unpatriotic

He is understood to be on course for a Nobel Prize.

Kher has been followed by many other actors, supporting one view or the other.

The teeming millions, already on the bandwagon of giving opinions when none are required, are freely taking sides. Some are criticising Aamir. Some are defending him. Some are doing both. And some are doing sometimes one and sometimes the other. Their self-belief is so strong, their courage of conviction so remarkable, that they follow whichever wind is blowing at the moment.

Now, I have never been blamed for being lucid and clear in my thought processes. But this controversy has left me even more thoroughly befuddled.

Is Aamir Khan expressing his views an expression of intolerance? Of what he perceives to be a rising tide of bigoted right-wing views.

Or is that tolerance? Of the national fabric by expressing concerns in a public forum, like a concerned citizen.

Is Anupam Kher lambasting Aamir Khan’s views an expression of intolerance? Of another person’s point of view.

Or is that tolerance? Because he is being intolerant of someone he perceives as being intolerant of the tolerant national fabric.

If the teeming millions criticise Anupam Kher, are they being intolerant? Of the views expressed by another countryman.

Or are they being tolerant? By being intolerant of the intolerance demonstrated by him on the statement of Aamir Khan.

If they support Anupam Kher, are they being intolerant? By being tolerant of the intolerance demonstrated by him on the statement of Aamir Khan.

Or are they being tolerant? By being tolerant of the intolerance demonstrated by him on the perceived intolerance of another to a tolerant national fabric.

Clear?

Meanwhile, as the debate rages on, our world is coming crumbling down around us. Pillars of society, both individuals and institutions, are turning out to be wolves in sheep’s clothing. We have been surrounded by traitors all this while, as is now becoming clear.

Big, public banks, for instance.

A well-known Indian businessman has accused banks of being intolerant. According to him banks have become intolerant of loans not being paid back. This is not the country our founding fathers, and mothers, wanted to create, he has lamented.

The well-known Indian businessman, for instance.

He is thinking of moving overseas to a more tolerant society. Is he so intolerant of the intolerance of banks?

The Indian diaspora, for instance.

They were intolerant of the lack of opportunity and overbearing politicians and chose to make a life elsewhere. It now transpires that the Prime Minister has been wooing an unpatriotic group ever since his party assumed office at the Centre a year and a half back. The PM is in a state of shock. His record-breaking accumulation of air-miles is at risk.

Youngsters trying to bring in change through their efforts, for instance.

Why do they need to bring in change? Are they intolerant of the suffering and misery they see around them?

The government, for instance.

It keeps talking about its intolerance of corruption and black money. Have we voted in the most unpatriotic government ever?

What about Mahatma Gandhi?

Was he intolerant of the opportunity in India, going to South Africa to practice law? What does that make him? What about his intolerance of the British rule?

Of course, many others are chipping in.

Taslima Nasreen, noted Bangladeshi writer, says Aamir Khan should be glad he is living in India and not Pakistan or Bangladesh, which are far less tolerant. Yes, we know. India has a great soccer team because it is ranked above Timor-Leste and Bhutan. And it only narrowly lost to Turkmenistan in the World Cup qualifiers.

“Whatever be the case, don’t be a traitor. Stop thinking. Start obeying”, I concluded, taking advantage of my wife’s silence.

Making India proud

“What a great day for India!”

Having just glanced through the front page of the printed newspaper, with its usual dose of an Opposition walkout in Parliament, a Central Minister being questioned for undue favours to a tainted businessperson, rapes, stampede deaths at a religious congregation, and not having a clue to what he was talking about, I pretended I did not hear.

I racked my brains. Wild thoughts were coursing through my mind; Did India move up to the 132nd place in world football rankings, by some stroke of luck? Or did we finally, irrevocably nail some senior politicians for stashing away illegally collected billions in secret Swiss bank accounts? Or was it religious tolerance; did the nation finally find a solution to its internecine religious squabbles?

“Don’t you know? Haven’t you heard?” In his excitement he had failed to notice my response, or the lack of it.

Affected by his excitement, even wilder thoughts started occurring to me; Did we finally manage to get people to start arriving on time for an appointment? Or did we get people to start respecting the vulnerable sections of society? Or, even more difficult, did we manage to get people to understand the purpose of traffic lights?

It still did not come to me. Not one to flinch in the face of adversity, I held my nerve. I did not give him the satisfaction of knowing that I did not know.

“Apna (Our) Sundar is the new CEO of Google”, he burst out excitedly, not caring whether I was participating in the conversation or not.

Sundar?

The question was, perhaps, visible on my face, because he said, “Yes, don’t you know Sundar?”

I racked my brains yet again. ‘Twas the day for the brains to be racked.

Like in any engaging and meaningful discussion between close friends, he continued without waiting for my response, “Sundar Pichai has been appointed as the new CEO of Google.”

As if on cue, my phone beeped. In one of the WhatsApp groups where I am a member, a college friend had posted, “do you know Sundar’s wife is from my state?”

“Wow!”, “You lucky dog”, “Did not know you were capable of this” and many other congratulatory messages immediately filled the screen of my phone, in recognition of the remarkable achievement of this friend being from the same state as Sundar’s wife; a state with a population of only 73 million. In such a sparsely populated state, obviously everyone would be on first-name terms with everyone else.

“His wife is from my city.” This message, on the same group, came like a thunderclap. Silence enveloped the WhatsApp group. Messages suddenly stopped. There was no way of topping that. Members, perhaps, realised they had been hasty in congratulating the guy who was from the same state as Sundar’s wife.

Now, I am not one to shy away from admitting when I have been bested. Truth be told, in the newspaper I was reading at the start, I had noticed a headline about Sundar’s elevation, but had neither paid any heed to it, nor connected it to being a great day for India. I was ashamed. Yet again.

To make amends, I asked, softly, “Why is it a great day for India?”

“Don’t you get it?”, he started, exasperated with my thickness. He halted, looked around, as if searching for the right phrase, and stammered out, “It is a…great day for India….because…because…it is a… great day…for India”. He got up and walked off, to avoid having to answer other silly questions.

It was a lucid explanation. I fell silent, as I usually do when faced with logic and reason, especially in addition to lucidity.

Between the excitement of the friend who was (or had been) with me, and the messages on this WhatsApp group, I was getting the drift. The enormity of the event was dawning on me. Now all by myself, I slipped into a haze of rose-tinted possibilities, imagining all the reasons why it must be a great day for India.

It must be a great day for India because a person, born and brought up in India, now heads an American corporation. It must also be a great day for India because this corporation, as all corporations do, is trying to become an even bigger and more profitable corporation.

It must be a great day for India because it must mean that shareholders of Google will now sell their shares in Google and donate their wealth to India, paving the way for everlasting success and happiness of all Indians.

It must be a great day for India because Sundar, instead of working for the interest of his employer, who pays his salary, will suddenly start working for India, without pay.

It must be a great day for India because the elevation of Sundar is a validation of our time-tested policy of unwillingness and inability to engage bright minds that require an orderly environment to thrive, leading them to look for, and thrive in, greener pastures overseas.

And let us also spare a thought for America, the country to which the corporation in question belongs?

It must surely be a dark day for them. They continue to provide an environment that makes it a magnet for people from around the world. Not only that, they provide them equal opportunity for success. When will they learn?

It was beginning to make sense.

We deserve credit for Sundar’s success because we have been a party to creating hurdles in his way at each step. That he was able to overcome them and pursue his life, is a credit to us, not to him.

The timing is propitious. The sixty ninth Independence Day looms.

The PM, in his Independence Day speech from the ramparts of the Red Fort, is expected to ask the rhetorical question, “Did any Indian become CEO of Google before we came to power?”

To counter the impact of this revelation, it is also learnt that the Opposition is preparing a campaign, the highlight of which will be the statement “Sundar was born when we were in power.”

I am now a prouder Indian.

I made a mental note to check if Sundar, or his wife, or any other close or distant relatives, had ever passed through my town, or state, or intend to. Or if I, or any of my close relatives, had ever travelled to the city, or the state, where Sundar grew up.

 

Lies, damn lies, and elections

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has accused the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) of resorting to funding through illegal means…who has accused the BJP of irresponsible behaviour by taking credit for events they had nothing to do with, like reduction in fuel prices…who has accused the AAP of behaving irresponsibly while in government…who has accused Congress of failing to protect the honour and dignity of women when in power…who has accused BJP of inadequate political strength in the state as they had to parachute a Chief Ministerial (CM) candidate from outside the party…who has accused AAP of diversionary tactics as they have no substance…who has accused BJP that black money has not come back despite it being a national election promise made by them last year…who has accused AAP and the entire sub-caste to which the CM candidate belongs as being anarchists…who has accused BJP of unfairly tarnishing the image of a peacable and industrious community…who has accused AAP of making false promises and misleading people…who has accused BJP of tampering with voting machines that will be used in the elections…who has accused Congress of mismanagement of local affairs in their long reign…who has accused the BJP leader, also the country’s Prime Minister, of wearing expensive foreign clothes made in UK despite their “Make in India” call to the nation and the world…who has accused them right back of wearing expensive foreign clothes themselves and, to add insult to injury, expensive shoes as well…who has accused BJP of treating the Northeastern people as immigrants and, further, not being able to distinguish between Nagaland and Mizoram…who has accused AAP of trying to stay in the limelight through dubious means, and misleading and being negative as per old habit…who has accused BJP’s CM candidate of sourcing funds from abroad for her NGO without revealing the source…who has accused Congress of taking the people for granted during their years in power…who has accused BJP of portraying Mahapurush (Great Man) Anna Hazare as deceased…who has accused AAP of immaturity by politicising a routine political insult and failing to understand the metaphor…who has accused BJP of being in cahoots with industrialists, particularly the ones whose surname end with “ni”…who has accused Congress of being anti-development…who has accused AAP of forming a united front with BJP to wipe out their ideology…who has accused BJP of hiding the reasons why their CM candidate was removed as DIG (Deputy Inspector General) of Mizoram, Goa and Chandigarh…who has accused AAP of wasting public money by not joining forces without pre-conditions with BJP after the last elections leading to re-elections within a year…who has accused BJP of being inconsistent and issuing an advertisement that does not mock AAP…who has accused independent survey agencies being motivated by narrow commercial interests, especially if their results predict a loss for BJP…

Phew! I don’t know if this will qualify as the longest sentence written. It is certainly the longest written by me. Politics does this to you. Enables you to overcome your self-defined limits and reach beyond. Boldly go where you have not been before.

I hope by now you are pretty clear what each party stands for and what their strengths are.

At any rate, I am sure we are all clear what the other parties stand for and what their weaknesses are.

Delhi state elections are scheduled for the 7th. Results will be declared on the 10th. Campaigning gets over on the 5th (today). I will need something strong tomorrow to replace this excitement.

Get the picture?

My teenage son, who has just been through with the Student Body elections in his school, and watching news channels on TV with me cover the elections , seems to have an unasked question on his lips, “But why does our school tell us that we cannot malign other candidates?”