Tall and Taller…

It is an established historical fact known to all Indian politicians that the height of a statue determines the stature of a person. Sorry, that came out wrong. Let me clarify. Not the stature of the person whose likeness the statue is, but the politicians associating themselves with building that statue. And the benefits it delivers to people. The taller the statue, the greater the benefit delivered to people.

Like the “Statue of Unity” dedicated to Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, known as the Ironman of India, credited with uniting hundreds of principalities and fiefdoms under the umbrella of a single nation at the end of the British Raj, whose statue, on the banks of the Narmada river, has recently been inaugurated by the Prime Minister. At a height of 182 meters, it is said to be the tallest statue in the world. In a touching gesture, the statue has been dedicated to the nation. Built by the money of the nation, built by the labour of the nation, built by the technical expertise of the nation, there must have been many choices for the dedication, assuming one was required, but still the leaders chose to selflessly dedicate it to the nation. The nation should be grateful.

The government of Maharashtra led by Devendra Fadnavis, the Chief Minister, is under pressure from their coalition partner to announce that the proposed statue of Chhatrapati Shivaji, the seventeenth century Maratha warrior, who single-handedly waged successful battles against the might of the Mughal empire, and carved out a kingdom for his people, will be the tallest in the world. They also want a name for the statue. What is a staue without a name, even if it is of a famous person? If the Ironman’s statue can have a name, why not that of Chhatrapati? “Statue of Courage” is the favoured option.

Not to be outdone, Yogi Adityanath, the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state, has lost no time in announcing the construction of a statue dedicated to Lord Ram, on the banks of the Saryu river. Lord Ram, the mythological character, protagonist of the Hindu epic Ramayan, the seventh reincarnation of Lord Vishnu, and an epitome of Hindu virtuosity. And a rallying point for Hindu votes.

“Do I need to clarify? You guys should read the news,” he chided reporters asking him for a cost-benefit analysis of building the proposed statue. “The Gujarat government has clearly stated that the Statue of Unity has been built to boost tourism in the state and generate direct jobs for more than fifteen thousand tribal people every year. It is an established model.” He added, “Not only that, despite being built with people’s money, their technical expertise, and labour, it will be dedicated to the nation.”

When it was pointed out that there were no tribal populations in the state, at least not in any significant numbers, he responded, demonstrating deep understanding of both tribals and non-tribals, “Have you seen the way people live in our state? Do you think that the living condition of tribals would be worse than that of people in our state, leaving politicians aside of course?”

Mayawati, a former Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, and credited with the vision of converting public spaces and open lands into constructed-over memorials with hundreds of statues of Dalit leaders, is laughing all the way to the bank. The political vote bank. “I will appropriate today what other political leaders might think of appropriating five years later,” is her new slogan for the upcoming elections. She has promised to construct a tallest in the world statue of Babasaheb B R Ambedkar, the chief architect of the Indian Constitution and the Indian Republic, and a symbol of Dalit pride.

State governments with no known plans of building a tallest in the world statue are worried.

The Chief Minister of Bengal is understood to have floated a proposal within the party to construct a statue of Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore at the renowned Viswa Bharti University, founded by Gurudev, apparently with the money he received for his Nobel prize, in Shantiniketan, that will be the tallest in the world. This proposal has met with stiff opposition from a section of the party who want the tallest statue in the world to be that of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose, leader of the Indian National Army, who had defined an alternate path to independence from the British and vanished, never to resurface, in mysterious circumstances in a plane crash in Taiwan in 1945, and who feel that Netaji has not received his due recognition in the struggle for attainment of independence.

The government in Tamil Nadu is waiting and watching. They have drawn up a list of leaders whose tallest in the world statues they will construct along Marina Beach in Chennai. But only after the others have constructed theirs so that they know how tall to build it.

Descendants of Pandit Deen Dayal Upadhyay, the RSS ideologue and former leader of the Jan Sangh, a forerunner of today’s Bharatiya Janata Party, the ruling party at the Centre, are miffed. Why has he been relegated to having only colleges and the Mughalsarai train station named after him? “Could a tallest in the world statue that boosted tourism and gave direct employment to over fifteen thousand tribals not have been constructed at Mughalsarai station?” They have queried.

A cartoon carried by today’s The Hindu newspaper:

26thcartoon-2

I am beginning to understand the meaning of a tall leader. And taller. But not our leaders. They only understand the tallest.

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Beauty and the Beast

The level of scholarly debate in the country has been upped several notches with a newly appointed Chief Minister (CM) of one of the North Eastern states, jointly known as the Seven Sisters, weighing in with his erudition.

With a need to impress his political bosses, perhaps in return for an out of turn favour of being given the huge responsibility of running a state, he has lost no time in trying to cement his position in the party by putting his foot in his mouth speedily.

He has stated that Diana Hayden of India, crowned Miss World in 1997, did not have the beauty to deserve the Miss World title in 1997. He should know. After all, he is a democratically elected representative of the people and appointed CM of a state. If he does not know about women and beauty, barring spiritual gurus and movie moguls, who will? Moreover, he is an Indian male.

It seems the only women to deserve the Miss Universe and Miss World titled are the Venezuelan women, the American women, the Russian women, the Australian women, the Chinese women, the Filipino women, the Colombian women, the Angolan women, the Dominican Republic women, the Japanese women, the Swedish women, the South African women, and women from the many other countries that could not be immediately named.

But Indian women, no way. Except if you are Aishwarya Rai. Because he knows. Because he is a democratically elected representative of the people and appointed CM of a state. If he does not know about women and beauty, barring spiritual gurus and movie moguls, who will? Moreover, he is an Indian male.

For proof, one need not look far. Show him an Indian man in his right mind who would choose an Indian woman over a Caucasian woman, assuming he will have such a choice, assuming a Caucasian woman has been found who is willing to consider an Indian male, and he will show you a liar. Of course, excepting when he needs someone to cook dal and chapati for him. Like our grandmothers used to.

According to him, Indians were crowned Miss Universe or Miss World in quick succession. Quick succession meaning a period of about a quarter of a century. Like in 1994, in 1997, in 1997, in 1999, in 2000 and in 2017, till the time of writing this article. Such crowning stopped after the cosmetics market was captured. It was a clever ruse of the cosmetic companies of the world to corner the market in India.

This was a pertinent argument because in almost all other cases, foreign companies did not need any subterfuge to get Indian consumers to adopt foreign products. Indian consumers have taken to foreign products like ducks to water.

Do you remember any Master Healthy World or Little Miss Healthy Universe contests? You don’t because there were no such contests. But packaged breakfast cereals made by foreign companies are now consumed by children across the length and breadth of the country.

Do you remember any Mister Healthless World or Mister Healthless Universe contests? You don’t because there were no such contests. But carbonated soft drinks made by foreign companies are now consumed across the length and breadth of the country.

Our women, as per the CM, used leaves and seeds to keep their bodies in shape. And that is what they should continue to use. Like our grandmothers used to. Only men, sorry Indian men, need to keep pace with the changes taking place in the world. And since he is an Indian male, he obviously has the right to decide for Indian women what they should and should not do. After all, how are we going to eliminate heinous crimes against women unless men like him are allowed to take decisions for women.

Thank You For The Music

Dear Mr. Khattar,

(For the uninitiated, Mr. Manohar Lal Khattar is the Chief Minister of Haryana, the state where Gurgaon, where I live, lies)

Thank you for the music on the night of Friday, 18th August, extending into the wee hours of Saturday, 19th August. Yes last night.

Music that I neither asked for nor wanted.

Music that I understand is supposed to stop at 10 PM.

I realise the pains you have to go through to provide these little pleasures to your residents. Pleasures that residents of few leading cities in the world get to savour. Of free, unasked for music at unearthly hours. Not for nothing is Gurgaon known as the millennium city. After the destruction of overground vegetation and underground water reservoirs, this is perhaps a logical way forward for a modern, progressive city.

My last faint memory of the night is of purple lights blinking inside my head to the thumping of loud, remixed music. This must have been around 12.50 PM at night. But I could be mistaken. The only certain marker of time I have from last night is of the last call I received from the Sector 29 Police Station informing me that they will arrange for a Police Control Room (PCR) van to go to the establishment spreading the joy and ask them to switch off the music. That was around 12.40 AM.

My wife had initially called to complain (silly woman – complaining about a civic nuisance!) at about 11.25 PM. She had called the Sector 40 Police Station under whose jurisdiction our housing society falls.

Of course, till 12.30 AM nothing had been done. In fact, the music had grown louder and was belting out some foot-tapping scores.

Reluctantly I called the same Police Station again. After failing to connect with the PCR on “100”. The person answering the call expressed surprise that the music had not stopped despite him having done nothing about it. I offered that the music might be coming from across the road, from the eatery attached to the shiny new liquor vend that has come up near our building.

Though he might have expected the music to have stopped on its own, on hearing this he immediately said that that area is under the jurisdiction of the Sector 29 Police Station. The Doklam standoff between China and India may have nothing on this border dispute between the Police Stations of Sector 29 and Sector 40.

Notwithstanding the border dispute, he was kind enough to give me another number for reaching the PCR which, unfortunately, connected. The PCR might have conveyed the message to the Sector 29 Police Station which is perhaps why they called me.

I must stop here and apologise for my rudeness to the person who called. I asked him if they at the Police Station could not hear the music and why did they have to wait for a complaint. I also had the temerity to ask him about the punitive action that would be taken against the establishment. What was I thinking? If he gave a response I did not hear it. If you get a chance, please convey my sincere apologies to the person for asking inappropriate questions.

I am also extremely sorry I was not able to participate in the festivities longer than 12.50 AM. I have made a mental note to sleep through the day tomorrow so that I can enjoy the late night festivities you and your administration have arranged for unsuspecting and ungrateful residents like me.

I will also try to communicate the same to children who need to get up early for school and seniors living in our building to ensure that they also sleep through the day so that we can all enjoy this unexpected treat from the authorities together. It will hopefully bring us all together cutting across lines of age, gender, religion, occupation, etc. We cannot thank you enough.

Of course I understand. If we cannot stop rapes, molestations and murders in the city, what right do we have to expect such trifles to be prevented? How can the police be expected to know that an establishment in their vicinity is playing loud music beyond permitted hours and censure them? They can only know if a resident complains. Isn’t it?

On another note, I also thank you for the early practice, as the silly season begins in October when the weather turns for the better and outdoor merriment starts. It is good to get one’s ear accustomed to unauthorised late night music as HUDA Gymkhana Club and Kingdom of Dreams, both within a stone’s throw of our building, who have been the bellwethers of unauthorised late night music in our neck of the woods till last year, begin their respective acts.

Equally, it is wonderful to see that the administration, as behoves an administration in a market economy, is leaving no stone unturned to introduce greater competition in this area as well. After all, why should HUDA Gymkhana Club and Kingdom of Dreams have a free run on late night unauthorised music?

Would it be possible to publish a playlist for the night’s unauthorised music playing so that residents can be better prepared with the right accompaniments for the music being dished out? If not, can we introduce a system through which “requests” can be sent to the erring establishment so that the unauthorised music could be to the liking of the forced audience?

Even if the above requests cannot be entertained, please don’t fret. You are keeping us entertained, albeit against our wishes. Your good deeds will stand you well. Remind me again when the next elections are due.

If I sound distracted in writing this thank you note, I apologise. I am writing this at 2.30 AM, after waking from a fitful sleep with those purple lights still flashing inside my head. It seems the music has restarted. Thanks again. Apologies if my complaint caused the music to be shut down for a few minutes, or was it seconds. I realise that one should not look a gift horse in the mouth. Who knows, we may be condemned to live in a city with rule of law.

Sincerely,

An ungrateful resident.

Game Of The Name

Because it is a myth, silly boy!

The event was a meeting of the town council to select a new name for their town where the “silly boy”, one of the younger prticipants, had been chastised for asking a logical question. At important events logical questions have only one logical response, round chastisement of the “asker”.

A new name for the town had become a necessity after it was realised that there was no earthly reason to change it.

Tempers at the council meeting had been frayed as finding a suitable name had been an uphill task. Council members had read and re-read all known epics, and some unknown ones as well, to locate a suitable name. The elders knew that if the name did not emerge from a myth, there was no way it would be recognised as a historical fact by the central government.

Not finding a name to their liking, the town council had finally decided to invent a name. And not wishing to leave a job only half done, they had also commissioned a set of popular writers to conjure up a new epic, flowing with the valour and wisdom of the ancestors of the current ruling dispensation so that the text could soon be recognised as historical fact.

There was no time to lose. Who was to say that the criteria for granting “Smart” status to a city would not be the number of times the city had changed its name without reason. Or its name being drawn from a popular myth.

It was under these extraordinary circumstances the “silly boy” had displayed the effrontery of asking for the logic behind the selection of the new name, and had been roundly chastised.

The floodgates had opened on 12th April, when the Haryana government took the decision of renaming Gurgaon to Gurugram.

The last couple of decades have sped past as our leaders have methodically gone about the task of uplifting our collective esteem by changing colonial-era names to, well, non-colonial-era names. Time flies when one is having fun.

But, as Bombay made way for Mumbai, Bangalore for Bengaluru, Calcutta for Kolkata and Madras for Chennai, there was an increasing sense of disquiet in the common man.

Would the good times soon come to an end? Are we running out of colonial-era names to change? Would we have to go back to the days when political leaders had to at least try to govern instead of changing names? What would they do once these names had been changed?

But we need not have worried.

In corporate circles they say a capable employee will always deliver value to the organisation.

So it is with able politicians, as has been my learning these past few weeks. Elect a capable leader and leave the worrying to him. He will always deliver value.

As we have perhaps seen in the case of great corporations, each business has evolved from a human need. But once that need has been satisfied, they have kept on creating unneeded needs and the common man has kept responding, by desperately needing those unneeded needs, and buying.

So is the case with the government of Haryana, that has found ways of delivering value, as is expected of able governments working for the welfare of the common man. If changing of colonial-era names is done, what stops us from changing non-colonial-era names to, well, different non-colonial-era names? Which other state government had the foresight to offer this welfare scheme to the common man of their state? Separates the men from the boys, doesn’t it?

And it is no ordinary change. It is a change dripping with historical significance. Because it is based on a mythological fact. In Mahabharat, one of the great Hindu epics, Yudhishtir, the eldest of the Pandav princes, had gifted this site to their teacher, Guru Dronacharya. Hence its original name was Gurugram, which, translated, means Village of the Teacher, to which it has been rightfully restored. We know this since it is a mythological fact. Case closed.

Delving a little deeper into the story, sorry historical fact, Guru Dronacharya was the one who refused martial arts education to Eklavya, a child of low birth. The guru who, a few years later, astounded by the prowess of the child who he had once refused to teach, asks for his thumb as guru-dakshina (offering for the teacher) so that he could never compete with the princes he was instructing. How was the guru to know that democratic and fair winds would be blowing in the 21st century, calling upon all human beings to be treated equal. How could he have envisaged that? Hence it is important that we name it after the guru and not after Eklavya.

The sigh of relief across the nation is palpable. Yes we can. We can change the names of places. Whether colonial or non-colonial.

It follows, therefore, that we will be able to dodge nuclear missiles and hydrogen bombs from hostile states.

Bareilley to Barasat and Mandu to Meerut, each self-respecting village, taluka and town is voraciously reading up historical myths to find a suitable name that will lead them to everlasting happiness. They don’t want to be left behind.

The Haryana government, it appears, even after taking this momentous decision, was humble enough to acknowledge the role the common man has played. “This has been done because of a demand from the people”, they have graciously acknowledged.

Now we know why potholes in roads have not been filled. Why electricity supply is erratic. Why there is no street lighting. Why loudspeakers are allowed to operate beyond 10 PM at night. Simply because there has been no demand from people. What other reason can there be?

But this humble acknowledgment has confused the common man. If it was a demand from the people, how many were killed and how many billions worth of property destroyed, they have demanded to know. After all, the last demand from the people in the state was for reservation by the Jat community a couple of months back in which several were killed and property worth billions destroyed, and rape allegations pertaining to which are still being investigated. When did this, the name-change, demand come from the people?

The government has clarified that for a demand from the people to be accepted by the government, it needs to be made on the night preceding the night of the full moon, at a time that is neither prior to 7 PM nor later than 8 PM, on a day when an earthquake of an intensity of at least 6.5 on the Richter scale has struck with an epicentre that is not more than a thousand miles away, the Chief Minister is wearing a pink kurta and had consumed three idlis for breakfast alongwith cold milk, and within 24 hours of the 75-year old Governor having run 100 metres in under 10 seconds.

If the above conditions are not met, then, to be successful, the demand from the people, whether made or not, will be for an ideology based decision the government has been dying to take.

“A rose by any other name would smell as sweet”, argued Juliet in William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. But that was her opinion. We have ours.

Executive fiat

In yet another demonstration of the transparent and deeply entrenched democratic traditions of the country, the Chief Minister of the country’s most populous state has forgiven the transgressions of a freshly minted IAS (Indian Administrative Services) Officer and revoked the suspension orders issued only a few weeks back against her.

In keeping with established decision-making principles of politicians in power, he has not let facts come in the way of decision-making. In much the same way that he could not be dissuaded by facts at the time the said officer was suspended, showing a consistency of approach rare for senior political leaders. The government has not given any reason for the revocation. Just like no reason was given for the suspension earlier.

IAS, for the uninitiated, is the elite administrative service of the country, whose cadres serve throughout the length and breadth of the country, in hot and cold weather, with rich and poor, amongst friendly and hostile people, braving, among other things, politicians of different hues. The best and brightest compete fiercely for a place in this elite corps, which is said to be both a rewarding and satisfying experience, a rare combination, unlike normal jobs, like the ones that involve selling coloured sugar-water with empty calories or the ones that require pushing people to buy arcane financial products, among others.

The transgression in question was the Officer’s action of ordering the demolition of the wall of a mosque being built illegally on government land on the outskirts of the capital – an act that may have led to communal disharmony in the area, the state government claimed. It had nothing to do with the said official scuppering the activities of the powerful sand-mining mafia active in the region. This the government did not claim.

The Chief Minister came to the meeting with his usual retinue of twenty gun-toting bodyguards, to protect him from the common man he serves.

In a controversial claim, the ruling party has said the IAS officer pleaded with the Chief Minister. “She came and apologized that it was her mistake; that she didn’t come to him and instead approached the media. The Chief Minister forgave her. If she had apologized earlier, this issue would not have prolonged,” a senior party leader said, without clarifying why she was not asked to repair the communal harmony that she had threatened through her actions in the first place.

The IAS  Training Academy, not one to sit on its laurels, has lost no time in updating its curriculum. It has introduced a number of new elective programmes:

  1. Techniques of taking legal, justifiable, sound actions and getting away with them – how to ensure that correct and justifiable decisions, backed by law and in the interest of society, do not upset political leaders.
  2. Strategies for saying sorry the effective way – the art of saying sorry when it is not required, without meaning it; accompanied by yoga classes on deep-breathing (for the politician you are saying sorry to) so that he does not burst a vein for which he will blame you. This course will also teach participants mood-enhancing techniques for creating an environment conducive to saying sorry without meaning it, like Tracy Chapman’s “I am sorry” playing in the background with dim lights.
  3. Proven strategies for getting you fired, and how to avoid them – This course will include a tour of seven countries in Europe for practical training on avoidance techniques popular in other cultures.
  4. Meaningless initiatives for rapid career advancement – the strategies politicians love, i.e. the ones that have no connection to the problem at hand, with case studies of successful implementations, like starting a Call Centre to solve the problem of rapidly reducing green cover in a major city. The Chief Minister of one of the most impoverished states in the country has consented to be the guest faculty for this programme.

Several other programmes are under active consideration.