In a Soup

Madhuri Dixit, a leading Bollywood actress of the nineties, is in a thick soup. Not an ordinary soup. A thick Maggi soup. 

It appears that a packet of Maggi, of which she is a brand ambassador, has been found to contain Monosodium Glutamate (MSG), a taste-enhancer, which is a restricted substance, without a declaration on the packing of the product. To add salt to Maggi, or insult to injury, the discovery has been made simultaneously in Barabanki and Muzaffarpur, remote towns deep in the states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, as well known across the nation for their rule of law and morally upright administration, as they are for the ethical, uncompromising stand on testing of food taken by the common man.

Such amateurish behaviour was not expected from an actress of her stature. It is learnt from reliable sources that she did not even rush to her private lab to check the ingredients under a microscope before signing on the dotted line. All she is reported to have done is seek confirmation from company officials regarding the quality of the product.

Such negligence deserves punishment.

The government, poor souls, have been forced to take this action against the brand ambassador, since they have no way of knowing that the product was manufactured by Nestle, one of the world’s leading packaged food manufacturers.

How can they?

Are they children who consume the product?

Or are they expected to read the printed matter on packets of the product?

Or are they expected to maintain records and governance information that could lead people to believe that they have some idea of what is going on in their jurisdiction?

Even if they did, how are they expected to know how to contact Nestle or how to serve a notice to them? So, as smart, reasonable government officials, they sent a notice to Madhuri Dixit.

The government is sending out a clear signal to the younger generation. It is just not enough to be a good, popular actor. You also need to have a private product testing lab.

Salman Khan, a popular Bollywood actor, who endorses a brand of cotton vests, is running scared. As is Aishwarya Rai, former Miss World, who is endorsing a commercial real estate development in Mumbai. With a fair and transparent government at work, there is no knowing which product MSG might surface in next.

Shopkeepers around the country who have stocked it are already under the scanner. Why did they not check the packets in their own labs before selling them, is a question baffling experts?

Sooner or later, it is bound to come back to the parents. What were they thinking? Don’t they even have labs at home where they can test the products they are feeding their children? Do they expect the government to do even that? When will they start taking responsibility?

The Information and Broadcasting Minister, having failed to detect the presence of MSG in the product, and allowed product ads to be aired on TV, in a principled stand, has resigned his position as Minister and become the governor of a state.

Realising that Madhuri Dixit started endorsing Maggi only recently, the government machinery is leaving no stone unturned to uncover the names of celebrities who have endorsed Maggi in the past so that blame can be placed where it belongs.

Following the lead given by the government, the courts are creating a precedent whereby responsibility for future indiscretions regarding a product can be clearly assigned.

If it is found that Fair and Handsome does not really make you any fairer or more handsome, who will the blame lie with? Of course Shahrukh Khan, another leading Bollywood actor, who endorses the product.

We don’t need to tell you whose responsibility it would be in case it is discovered, in Barabanki or Muzaffarpur, that Boost, the chocolate energy drink for children, does not really give any additional natural energy to children. Of course it will be Sachin Tendulkar’s responsibility. Everyone knows Sachin. And everyone should know why it is his responsibility.

The government and courts have also given a resounding endorsement of the decision-making capability of the common man. They possess such sound judgment, the government believes, that they are forced to buy all products endorsed by a celebrity, even though they have no use for them.

The product will be banned with retrospective effect, as has been so successfully done by some of our leaders.

But wait! Why should the product be banned? Is it the fault of the product? No way. It is the fault of Madhuri Dixit.

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Con-science

Do you want more evidence?

The words were spoken calmly. Each syllable clearly standing out, much like the character of Professor Snape in the Harry Potter movies enunciating his lines, speaking to a young, disbelieving Harry. The voice was soft, barely audible. But they had the effect of a thunderclap on the listener.

A hush descended over the audience.

“Nnnno”, came the feeble reply, as soon as he came to. But for the audience the matter had already been settled.

The speaker of “Nnnno” was a renowned scientist. In a panel discussion on the existence and usage of an Access Control System superior to the ones used today, he had dared to question the veracity of claims made by a prominent leader of a political party, who had produced arguments in favour of the fact. The fact, as the leader had knowledgeably articulated, was that there were, indeed, Access Control Systems superior to the ones used today, that were commonly used. 

After some light debate, while patronising the lack of knowledge of the scientist and hoping he would back off and avoid a public embarrassment, the political leader had finally got irked and, rising to his full height, said, “have you not heard of the ‘Laxman Rekha’?” which had produced a stunned silence in the hall, to break which he had calmly queried, “do you want more evidence?”

Now who has not heard of the ‘Laxman Rekha’, the magical access control system practiced by Laxman who, while going away to look for his brother Ram in the jungle, had drawn a line around Ram’s wife Seeta’s dwelling to ensure nobody could cross that line and harm her? What was it if not access control? Created, not be maniacal data-punching into a computer and issuing plastic cards, but simply by drawing a line with the tip of one of the arrows in his quiver. Activated neither by proximity nor by insertion of the issued card, but by the mere presence of an individual in the vicinity, hence based on advanced bio-technology.

The scientist, clearly, had not researched his facts.

The Prime Minister had set the ball rolling immediately after winning the election and forming a new government, by informing an incredulous crowd at a rally that plastic surgery was commonly practiced in the country in ancient times.

His claim was met with a stony silence. The PM had paused, expecting a thunderous ovation. But he had reckoned without the rationality of the gathered crowd. Sensing the mood, which he was so good at, having only recently become PM, he weighed his options. Based on a long and old tradition, evidence was looked down upon, particularly when one had to provide it. But this was not your usual situation. The credibility of the PM, and of the new government, was at stake. He reluctantly asked, “How do you think Lord Ganesh got the head of an elephant?”

It was a rhetorical question, and the crowd erupted in response. The smoking gun, with fresh fingerprints, had been produced. No other evidence was required.

Soon after, in another rally, the Home Minister informed the gathered crowd that genetic sciences were commonly practiced during the time of the Mahabharat.

The crowd was taken aback. They had heard about the plastic surgery capability that had been revealed to a crowd at another place by the PM, but were not, it appears, ready for another blow to their dearly held beliefs. Displaying traits of an informed, logical crowd, they met the claim with a stony silence.

It was the Home Minister’s turn to be taken aback. After the tough time the PM had faced in convincing a crowd of the nation’s ancient plastic surgery capability, he had expected this disclosure to be met with less resistance. But he had reckoned without the rationality of crowds attending political rallies.

Faced with a similar dilemma as the PM a few days back, he asked, “how do you think Karn was born outside his mother’s womb?”

Once again, it was a rhetorical question, and once again, as only a logical crowd would, it erupted in response. Could this be real? Was it possible to produce two solid pieces of evidence in such quick succession? Who had not watched the serialisation of the Mahabharat on TV only a few years back? How had they missed this crucial part? But they were a generous crowd. They recognised greatness when they saw it. They acknowledged that the Home Minister had been able to rise to his exalted position only because of such powers of observation which he was now sharing with them. They had missed the part as they are ordinary mortals. With these happy thoughts, the rally ended.

The ruling party has been on a roll ever since. Skeletons have been tumbling out of cupboards all over the country.

We now know that we discovered Pythagoras’ theorem, even though we did not even have anyone named Pythagoras in any of our myths. Having had to make a choice between installing Pythagoras amid our pantheon of Gods and Goddesses and lending the discovery to someone else where the name would be more likely to appear in myths, we apparently lent it to the Greeks.

Flying was common. In aircraft alongwith other people, as well as solo. Who has not heard of Raavan flying off with Seeta in the ‘Pushpak Vimaan’? Who dare question that Hanuman flew off to ‘Doonagiri Parbat’ in the Himalayas to get the ‘Sanjeevni Booti’, a medicine, for Laxman, when he was struck by an arrow? Would Laxman not be dead if Hanuman had not flown solo? Even though not required, sketches have emerged of huge rectangular boxes which do not adhere to any of the laws of flying discovered by the modern world. If ancients could make those boxes fly, they could make anything fly.

And can anyone question the availability of nuclear missiles? Who can forget Ram and Laxman, in the televised version of Ramayan, touching an arrow to their forehead, saying a silent prayer, and unleashing terrible death and destruction with the missile? They even propagated the concept of the nuclear switch that has been adopted by modern rulers. Only the top two, Ram and Laxman respectively, had access to launching those missiles.

The Earth is round – this has apparently been stated by modern man a few centuries back. We have always known it. Don’t we know that Lord Vishnu’s Varaha avatar (incarnation as a boar) lifted it out of water to save it from deluge and destruction. Recently illustrated versions of the myth depict Varaha with the Earth on its nose. And since the Earth is round in these illustrations, it proves that we knew the Earth was round even in those times. Even though the story had not been illustrated with a round Earth in the times it had been told.

We are on the lookout for creating more such scientific and undisputable data. These discoveries are even more significant because nobody else believes them. There is a lot that remains to be done. We have to find reasons for claiming that we built submarines in ancient times. We need to find reasons for having discovered remedies to threatening ailments like Cancer that either did not exist in those times or had not been discovered. With the vast array of mythological treasure trove at our disposal, no peak appears too high.

Several noteworthy initiatives are already underway. A path-breaking research has been undertaken at a prestigious institution to prove that the chemical composition of water in the Nile, H2O, is the same as that of water in the Ganga. Does it not prove that Ganga is the font of all rivers in the world?

I am humbled by all these revelations and the ones still to be made. Nay, not humbled, ashamed. I have taken pride in our history and traditions without even knowing the facts. How am I any better than the unthinking masses who I often mock? I need to make amends.

As a first step, I consider it a humble duty to take forward this rich legacy; this rich legacy of writing great stories that have no fundamental logic underlying magical events. So that a millennia later, should some likeness of the magical events be translated into reality thanks to technological advances in the interim, our centuries-old technological prowess can continue to be proven without anyone else believing it.

And, I believe my generation is infinitely better placed than the sages of the past who penned most of our mythological literature, to do so. We have a purpose in mind; of continuing our great tradition of laying claims to technological advances that nobody else believes.

The old sages, in comparison, had no such vision. They did not have such political leaders to blaze the way for them. They were merely writing great stories of which, the two that I am most familiar with, ‘Ramayan’ and ‘Mahabharat’, remain the most relevant, riveting and compelling stories ever told. Cannot but feel pity for the poor sages.