Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Rahul Gandhi

OUT OF MY HEAD
(Published in Bengal Post, 19th October 2010)

I’m not ashamed to admit that I’m growing fonder and fonder of Rahul Gandhi with every passing second. And it’s got absolutely nothing to do with his dimples! He’s been like a Jack-in-the-box over the last few years, popping up in different parts of the nation, sometimes armed with a toothbrush for a surprise pyjama party in a village. His mere presence makes his political rivals (and also his allies, as we’ve seen recently with Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee) feel terribly insecure. Which, in a way, is a good thing. Hopefully, they’ll feel threatened enough to do a better job.

I started taking him a lot more seriously after he dropped in to Mumbai during the ridiculous My Name is Khan fracas and smoothly ensured that Bollywood actor Shahrukh Khan did not have to massage the Shiv Sena supremo’s XL ego. One whispered word in the dithering Maharashtra chief minister’s ear and practically the entire state machinery was deployed to foil the Shiv Sena ban. It worked like a charm, hooray, and it certainly showed the local bullies who’s the boss! If he can do this for a silly movie, imagine what wonderful things he can do with more important issues? We desperately need him back in Mumbai right now because the Shiv Sena supremo’s grandson has just got Rohinton Mistry’s Such A Long Journey withdrawn from the university syllabus; apparently Mistry made unflattering remarks in the book about the Shiv Sena. He got copies of it burnt as well. Don’t waste your time wondering if pyromania runs in the family. Some people burst crackers to launch their political careers, other people burn books.

Anyway, back to the scion of the genteel Gandhi family. Now Rahul Gandhi’s gone and said exactly what I’ve been thinking for years: “I know only that both SIMI and the RSS are fanatical and hold fundamentalist views.” It was great fun listening to the BJP, RSS and other Hindutva parties respond to this statement. I analysed their irate comments deeply and this is what I’ve come up with: Hindutva parties aren’t really in tune with each other. Some called him immature, others said he was senile (good heaven’s, they think he’s LK Advani’s age) and a few others called him insane. Surely they don’t think all three words mean the same thing, do they? Granted that if you browse through Roget’s Thesaurus you’ll find all these words on the same page, but they do have different meanings. I find it very worrying that they don’t get nuances, and this is the ten thousand and thirty first reason why I will never subscribe to Hindutva.

RSS spokesman Ram Madhav pompously added that people who make such statements have to first understand India and Indian society well. “It’s not enough to know only Italy and Colombia,” he said, smirking at his own jibe. Or maybe he was just grinning from ear to ear because he got a fabulous chance to be on TV and look frightfully important. By the way, in case the Columbia bit escaped you, he was slyly referring to one of Rahul Gandhi’s former girlfriends. Tragic, isn’t it, that foreign blood is the only stick they can beat the Gandhi family with - I don’t know about you, but it’s beginning to bore me to tears. Also, has it escaped his notice that Rahul Gandhi has Indian blood as well and was born and brought up in India? But then you never can expect fundamentalists to be rational, tut.

Interestingly, during the last few years, Rahul Gandhi has just given us a trailer of what he can do for the country. He’s left us (well, me at least) waiting eagerly for the actual movie to begin. Oddly enough, I hope that he’s not starring in it as prime minister of India. His mother has proved that the Gandhi family does much, much better work back stage - I believe they really do care about the nation, perhaps as much as the other legendary Gandhi whom they’re not related to. There are still loads of things to be accomplished and they should not waste precious time shaking hands, drinking tea and making small talk with leaders of other nations. I also believe that not becoming prime minister ever is Rahul Gandhi’s secret plan – fully endorsed by his mother. I may be wrong, but I hope I’m not.

People Watching

OUT OF MY HEAD
(Published in Bengal Post, 12th October 2010)

It’s been a few days since the grand Commonwealth Games opening ceremony, and I’m still feeling incredibly warm and fuzzy. Unlike the fickle media though, I’m not fuzzy enough to forgive Suresh Kalmadi (chairman of the CWG Organising Committee) with all my heart, liver, kidneys, pancreas and lungs. Call me Ice Maiden, but I still want all those allegations of corruption to be microscopically examined. Inflation notwithstanding, a roll of toilet paper cannot cost Rs. 4000. Not even if has been designed by say, Louis Vuitton.

However, I must give the devil his due. So I thank Kalmadi from the bottom of my heart, liver, kidneys, pancreas and lungs for outsourcing the spectacular opening show to slick professionals from the entertainment industry. If his bumbling core team had been in charge, the superb aerostat may have come crashing down on our hopes, dreams and credibility. Oh, and ego, as well!

The theme (unity in diversity) was not just warm and inclusive – it was also very, very clever. Bunging most of our states together in a series of events was a smart move: it shortened the proceedings considerably. That’s perhaps why all the Indian politicians present stayed wide awake during the show. I’m so used to seeing them yawning shamelessly or snoozing through Republic Day parades, particularly when floats representing each and every one of India’s twenty-something states (frankly, I’ve lost count) trundle down. That’s when I’m dead certain that vociferous demands for new, separate states will be deviously squashed. Incidentally, I’m with the sleepy politicians on this!

But I digress. Back to the CWG opening ceremony. I think we are all agreed that it was a show that did Indians proud. Even more heart-warming, it was the Indians at the show who did India proud.Here’s why:

1. Consider the loud cheers that went up for Pakistan’s contingent. Do you think Palestinians would have done the same for their traditional enemy Israel, or vice versa? Either the India-Pakistan citizens for peace initiative (Aman ki Asha) is working wonderfully well, or we’re just exceptionally lovely people. Apart, of course, from a few local political parties in Mumbai who are trying to stop Pakistani nationals from participating in idiotic reality shows. What a tragic way to attempt to get your photograph in the papers!

2. Also consider the deafening applause that went up for former president Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam. Proof that it doesn’t matter what religion anyone in our secular nation belongs to. Young Indians respect achievers - more so if they’re honest and humble. Our divisive politicians would do well to remember that! Since Kalmadi is fairly hard-boiled, let’s give him an easier task: he can start by remembering Kalam’s correct name, at the very least! My jaw dropped to my knees when he got it wrong at the opening ceremony. But I forgave him a few days later when he got Prince Charles’s name and sex wrong. He referred to him as Princess Diana at a press conference– and no, I’m not making this up! The poor chap is so stressed he appears to be losing his mind. I think we should be compassionate and relieve him of all his duties the second the games are over. Let us donate generously towards his retirement fund – oh wait – he’s got loads of our money already, right?

3. As far as I’m concerned, the CWG Delhi opening ceremony was a bigger treat and more memorable than the inauguration ceremony at the Beijing Olympics. Not just because of the show, but because of the enthusiastic jeers reserved for Kalmadi alone. If public criticism against a politician had happened in Beijing, China’s jails may have be packed sardine-tight throughout the entire duration of the Olympics. I do hope that all the hawk-eyed international economists and investors who (we are repeatedly told) are watching these games closely, have taken note of the loud booing. It speaks volumes about India’s healthy democracy. Of course, some Indian citizens are muttering “tsk tsk” and primly saying that the spectators made a spectacle of themselves. They maintain that it was in bad taste, particularly with foreign dignitaries around. I disagree. I was bought up to believe that corruption is worse than irreverence. And I’m glad young Indians are being vocal about their displeasure. This is a brave new India and I salute it!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Cry, the beloved country

OUT OF MY HEAD
By Rupa Gulab
(Published in Bengal post, 5th October 2010)

Not all of us are as fortunate as senior Congress leader Manishankar Aiyar aka Suresh Kalmadi’s bĂȘte noire. Aiyar has cheerfully announced that he’s “getting the hell out of the country” before the Commonwealth Games begin. I assume he’ll be going in disguise as an Arab sheikh perhaps, to cleverly conceal his Indian identity. It’s not nice to go abroad and have the natives sniggering at you.

Meanwhile, the rest of us are thinking of creative ways to punish Kalmadi for making us look like a third-world nation – mainly because we are dead certain that Kalmadi will never be brought to justice. The wily old Congress party loyalist has been given enough time (he already has the money and resources) to destroy all evidence of corruption. Perhaps that’s why he says with so much conviction, “Hang me if you find me guilty.”

Hopefully every unimaginative school teacher’s favourite essay subjects (1. What I did on my summer/diwali/winter holidays, 2. My cow, 3. The elephant is a wondrous animal) will be replaced by a lively ‘What should we do to make Suresh Kalmadi cry like a baby?’ Children come up with the most marvellous out-of-the-box solutions.

However, there is one thing we must acknowledge and appreciate while we’re passionately flinging shoes at the TV screen every time Kalmadi shows up: The exercise is good for our arm muscles – our biceps and triceps may never sag. Seriously though, the shoddy organisation of the CWG games has thrown up valuable lessons that every Indian would do well to remember:

1. Pakistan is not India’s Enemy No. 1 – this title belongs to our inept politicians.

2. When working on a project always keep in mind that the execution must be as good as the idea. By which I’m definitely not implying that Kalmadi should have a grand execution ceremony, inaugurated jointly (after acrimonious TV debates) by India’s President Pratibha Patil and Britain’s Prince Charles. I would much rather have him alive and squirming like the rest of us are right now.

3. Corruption can be forgiven and forgotten – only if the corrupt deliver!

4. Money can’t buy you class. Approx. 70,000 crore has been squandered on the games (and still counting – remember, housekeeping hasn’t been accounted for yet). At the end of which we look third-world (I’m never going to get over this, sigh).

5. Always double-check every little detail no matter how tedious it may be. Environment minister Jairam Ramesh has just discovered that the elephant featured in an Incredible India ad is African and not an Indian tusker! Fortunately, heads are rolling for a change.

6. It is much healthier to spend time outdoors – ceilings fall.

7. Never hire Sports Minister MS Gill to organise a wedding in your family. Never! Not even a child’s birthday party.

8. Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dixit is the ideal person to endorse anti-anxiety pills. Bridges may collapse, ceilings may fall yet she continues to smile sweetly, warmly assuring us that there’s nothing to worry about. What is she on?

9. The next time India dares to host another sporting event, we should not just sell broadcast rights to news channels – channels like National Geographic and Animal Planet should be part of the media package as well. Thus far, we’ve seen Great Indian Mongrels frolicking on beds, a snake in the residential village and a cobra in a stadium. Pretty impressive, huh? And it’s getting much better: Langoors have been hired to chase smaller monkeys away from the stadiums (incidentally, these small monkeys are the ones that bureaucrats depend on to eat and destroy vitally important government files, which is why the poor things can never be given a holiday). Anyway, I’m certain that other species of Indian wildlife will find a way in. Rest assured that if sportsmen won’t go to Corbett National Park, Corbett National Park will have to go to sportsmen. We are Jungle Book country, after all!

10. When you spend the night in a government rest house, place a feather on your guest bed to test its strength. It could save your life.

These are lessons we must never ever forget. So, let’s give the devil his due and put up statues of Suresh Kalmadi across the length and breadth of India. I think it would be appropriate to let pigeons do to him what he has done to India’s image.

Going Cuckoo

OUT OF MY HEAD
By Rupa Gulab
(Published in Bengal Post, 28th September 2010)

When I think of the current state of the nation, I fall into a deep gloom: There’s Kashmir, Maoists, other terrorists, inflation, poverty, scams, and so much more to moan and groan about, sigh. Which is why I’m so grateful to a couple of politicians who have made me smile over the last few days.

Political analysts don’t often agree with each other, but there seems to be a general consensus when they air their lofty views on Trinamool Congress chief and Railways Minister Mamata Banerjee:
1. She is moody and unpredictable: she changes her mind as often as pop-star Madonna changes her hairstyle.
2. She is a terribly insecure person: her favourite words are “conspiracy” and “sabotage”.
3. She screeches like a banshee.

And now, ever since Congress General Secretary Rahul Gandhi paid fleeting visits to Kolkata, a fourth trait has come to light: Mamata Banerjee is a poet. An honest to goodness ‘nature’ poet, in the noble tradition of William Wordsworth and other Romantics.
Inspired by her muse (Rahul Gandhi), she has kept me very amused. She hath verily said:

- There are people who come like a koel (cuckoo) before an election and disappear after chirping ‘kuhu kuhu’ once spring is over. (Now imagine if she’d said this in iambic pentameter, what a beautiful poem this may have been?)

- I am not a seasonal flower that is rarely seen. (Sadly, she did not specify which flower, but since Wordsworth has already taken daffodils, I do so hope she chooses something else – a local flower perhaps?)

- I do not do politics from a bed of gold, I do it standing on the ground round the year... holding rallies in the summer heat and the monsoon rain. (Hmm. A bit like the three witches in Shakespeare’s Macbeth, you know the, “When shall we three meet again, in thunder, lightning or in rain,” part.

I’m just ashamed that I hadn’t figured out before where Mamata’s true talent lies. It was so glaringly obvious, really. Put together temperamental, insecure and banshee, and everybody knows that what you get is a gifted poet, not a politician. Another dead giveaway is the fact that Mamata is wildly rebellious and unconventional. She sounded almost like a hip beatnik poet when she defiantly said, “I wear hawai chappals because I like wearing them and not because someone says so.”

I think it’s time for political analysts to bow out and literary critics to start commenting on Mamata’s illustrious career. I’m sure West Bengal’s jittery ruling party would be delighted to encourage Mamata’s true calling. Incidentally, Rahul Gandhi is absolutely certain that Mamata Banerjee wasn’t referring to him because (he firmly says) he does not look like a bird. The prosaic chap just doesn’t get literary allusions, tsk. But this must be said: if Mamata continues to write poetry on him, I’m certain he’ll go cuckoo.

***

Suresh Kalmadi (chairman of the CWG Organising Committee) had better get Harry Potter’s invisibility cloak as soon as possible or else he’ll have to face the music – not just AR Rahman’s dead boring anthem for the Commonwealth Games, but India’s entire population hurling invectives at him. Do you recall that he promised us that the grand show he’d put up for the Commonwealth Games would make India proud? And that all the Indians who were relentlessly criticizing him for the shoddily put together games were shockingly unpatriotic? Well, the supposedly world-class Commonwealth Games Village was recently unveiled, and New Zealand, Canada, Scotland and Ireland have expressed grave misgivings at the horrible mess the accommodation is in. They insist that their contingents be put up in hotels instead. It seems that Kalmadi squandered so much money on the toilet paper (Rs. 4000 a roll, remember?) that he couldn’t afford to hire housekeeping to clean the toilets. Meanwhile a foot over-bridge leading to the Nehru stadium has just collapsed and a false ceiling has caved in. I have a strange feeling that all the foreign teams will run away before the games even begin. I wonder if they’ll make new sprint records on the way to Indira Gandhi International Airport? Okay, I know I really should be crying with shame but I’m rolling on the floor with mirth instead. My friendly neighbourhood psychiatrist has warned me that this is a classic text-book sign of hysteria.