By Nataranjan Bohidar
Copywriters will regale at this rhymage – er, coinage - announced over the airwaves by Arnav Goswami as an interesting fallout of the recent imbroglio between People & Parliament, but are bound to fault the anchor for calling it an oxymoron! Now, “People’s Parliament” may be rapidly becoming an oxymoron or an anachronism, depending on which part of the ruling party you sympathize with, but calling the title of this article an oxymoron is surely a very literate Indian-middle-class media gaffe. Now, such faux pas are not necessarily the sole domain of the media. Arundhati Roy had only some weeks ago at her book launch touted ''militarized democracy'' as her very own oxymoron, which many will find as “dull as dishwater” and an irony at best , but one cannot but marvel at the rhymes & reasons, themes & rhythms, twists & treacheries, ironies & iterations, plays & puns, morons - oxy and/or otherwise - & onomatopoeias that were spawned, heard , seen and found buzzing about throughout the recent thirteen day ''let a thousand Ram Lilacs bloom'' coverage!
When we were young we would ask the restaurant waiter after the repast to “get us the William”. It was cruel, downright sadistic, to watch the waiter squirm knowing not what he was expected to now bring when at the end of the meal all he was supposed to do by the management – and by service training - to produce the bill. “That is exactly what we are asking for”, we would laugh our guts out, stifling “you uneducated idiot” under our collective breaths. It was only some years later with graduate degrees in our hands – and well versed in William/Bill jokes, which were a notch higher than sardar jokes – that some of us realized that to step into the world of Hotel Management, for instance, we needed to intern for some years – and then some more, and then another or two - as waiters! The trend was clear …in a strange demographic shift the middle class had begun to hug the bottom of society! Not yet scraping the bottom of the barrel, no not yet, but its status frightfully resembling that of the “poor white”, rubbing reluctant shoulders with rapidly emancipating blacks, in another democracy about whom we read little and understood even less.
But our understanding was palled over and our downward tendency disguised from us by the fact that there were other friends of ours, and their friends, too, who were doing law and getting into Parliament and doing anything to get into the Bureaucracy. Now, that was aspirational! “Where there is a will there is a way”, we said to ourselves. Never stopping to think that they were just as beguiled about themselves, as we were about ourselves, laughing their guts out in the same colleges as ourselves, reading stories about Jeeves same as ourselves from yet another democracy and never suspecting themselves as dramatis personae in those reverse-waiter situations! Never dreaming that the waiter may one day laugh at us. A Parliamentarian and a Bureaucrat are a Parliamentarian and a Bureaucrat …they asserted to each other ….and no bottom hugging member of the lowered, lowering or lowing middle classes or even lower lowing low classes could upend them ! And we applauded…We were middle and senior managers by then and with an eye on the Board had created such strong PPP nexus between the three of us, supping so together on slender Dehradooni Lal Quila basmati (no Texmati for us , please!), that it was impossible for anyone to peer into our armored cars of privacy let alone penetrate them. We had the will and we were going to have our way, if not having it already by manufacturing as many Bills as we wanted to smoothen our willful ways!
Then comes along this anchor in TIMES NOW, word playing with our precious sentiment…turning our very own phrases on their heads …something sinisterially or ministerially or yechurially Hegelian here … merrily cracking our very own jokes at us! How dare he! And this other guy in CNN IBN who cheekily makes this one up: Prime Minister to Prime Faster, “Aap kyon Bill maangte hain?…aapko Bill kyon chahiye? …aapne to kuch khaya hi nahin!” Soon someone will crack “ Yeh Bill maaange more !” And that will make such a falooda of our Kargil sentiment, if not fine mince meat of our PPP with a cola brand that’s one of the P’s. What is the matter with these media types? Do they not know their p’s and q’s ? One of them in fact asked the Law Minister to resign on his show, right there and then, on the spot! What devilish talk was that? Particularly when the Hon’ble Minister continued to tell this media satan, nay deigned to painstakingly explain to him - who is nothing more than a waiter, because media should wait on the Minister and not the other way round - that no mistake was made by the Govt. whatsoever, except for an “error” of judgment, which if the media Mephistopheles had been taught English correctly would know is not a “mistake”…it is only an error…which , as explained by the Hon/ble Minister was not, repeat not , a mistake! Really, when will media learn that an error is an error and a mistake is a mistake and never do the twain meet, unless of course, the media makes an error which, of course, is a serious mistake! Such as the one that a certain publication made morning of Independence Day by putting out some 64 year old news and claiming it was worth “2 Annas”. If that wasn’t a call for insurgency, what do you think was? It simply goaded a 74 year old and a billion followers to measure up to that…make history again as “one Anna”!
Now, who knows if media men and women are middle class …..and if middle, middle middle, of torso and cleavage ? Or bottom of the lower expanding midriff that is the lower middle? Or upward distending upper lower class? Or the stretching and struggling pregnant middle lower? Or the pathetically sagging lower of the low? Pardon the linguistic churn, but verbal class distinctions and verbalizing class definitions is a given in the middle of all this manthan that is scaring the daylights of those perched at the top, relatively speaking. So, who are these media types humoring? Themselves or their audiences? Or have they become one with their callers, tweeters, e-mailers, website visitors, mobsters and trp generators? Isn’t this dangerous, their playing to the gallery…nay, becoming the gallery themselves…and so playing to each other ? Unke language hi samajh mein nahin a raha, jabki unka kaam hai ki woh mediate karein between hum and hamare logan ! Instead, they use 9 letter words like euphemism - when we are still upgrading to four from our b.c. vocabulary and can barely make out the difference in pronunciation between “valentine” and “volatile“- well, when we are in this vulnerable state, they look into the eyes of us Parliamentarians and Bureaucrats, pass judgment over our errors, mistakes, blunders, transgressions…. and report to the world who blinked first! Bhagalpur bhool gaye ka? Is this channel not part of some PPP or the other? Well, find out which or who…hound out the baskervillains …yeth, yeth, yeth! And the easiest way to do that is to allow 100% FDI in media. Simply stick out your hand and shake the foreign hand…then with both hands throw one stone to kill two birds…the domestic bird that is flying too high and civil society that is flying on its back!
Civil society, bah! If there is a Will there is a Bill, hah! What a joke, when it is still being debated, actually thrashed out, if this is the civil ‘Way’. What is so civil about starving yourself to death, when there is plenty of food available to you? Now, if you didn’t get civil supplies because of some corruption in the PDS and croaked of inflation, now that would be an indictment of parliament and bureaucracy. But strapping yourself with dynamite and threatening to blow yourself up, along with us, metaphorically speaking, is that civil? (There, you notice, even we can use 14 letter words). But really, why not live and let live? Why do you think the Delhi Police tried to stop you from fasting…because it wanted you to live. Even if it was in Tihar. Then, when you insisted you wanted to fast at Ram Lila Grounds they tried to keep you away from temptation…from all the amazing street food you get there… get the whiff ?…from Paranthe Wale Gali to Mithai Wale in Chandni Chowk to Kebab Wale near Jama Masjid. Who can resist this? If our tough policemen can’t and tuck in there free from time to time, every time, how can a frail man like you? Every Dilli wallah knows the great John F. Kennedy had to have butter chicken from Daryaganj. So what are you ? Just another slender Marathi….not bigger than the President of the most powerful country in the world. Little wonder your team profusely thanked Delhi Police at the end of it all…And the local civic authorities, too, who, to test the resolve of your followers – that noisy mob – actually cut off the water supply to the gathering. Now you know how we build our citizens’ inner strength and keep them “fast-ready-and-capable” at all times to demonstrate to the world our yogic powers…uh huh, your yogic powers! What do you think our 15 million strong bureaucracy gets paid for? Not just salary but also a premium, both paid by none other than the likes of you…first from the taxes we take from you and then as bribe we also take from you…and you pay with a happy face because while this may corrupt us, it keeps you bone dry and honest…
So, what you did was not civil but plain cavil, if you ask us. Because, who ever went on a slow death called a fast to fast track a bill that we would rather see die a slow death? What bird stopped using its functional bill to pick up food to eat with to get an institutional Bill to pass to stop other birds from using their beak, unless it’s a very strange bird? (Ha ha , joke, joke…get it …bird, bill, beak ..hee hee…come on, give us a laugh …a smile…don’t look so serious…stretch your beak, your bill, left to right…hah hah hah , so funny) But, hrrmph, seriously, who can say if the “Bill” is on its way or not ? What if it is waylaid again? What if the standing committee can’t stand your draft or any draft for that matter and sits on it for years? Don’t you remember how we welcomed you guys to the drafting committee, then cold shouldered you, then blocked your version and threw you out and then sullied your names and then slung in our version and then stalled the draft altogether? Masterstrokes! Then, when you refused to heel we started using a new para-military tactic, without using the military, that’s being called “parlia-mentality”…We simply played on the minds of a large number of your supporters to fix the notion in their heads that that you were denigrating Parliament. It was such a simple trick…because nobody knows, nobody understands what is parliamentary and what is not parliamentary in this country anymore. We’ve managed to erode that understanding among generations of Indians…they think hitting each other with mikes in the House is Parliamentary debate and pouring cash in the well of the House is Democracy, in line with buying votes during elections. They think shouting at each other and not letting anyone express an alternative point of view is indeed the sign of victory. So, when we lathi charged your sympathizers at mid-night it was deemed the right thing to do. And, when we tarnished your image, calling you a corrupt, law breaking anti-Parliamentarian, they just lapped it up. Then we made your team run up and down to us and back to you initially saying yes to your demand and then saying no to it, too. In this manner we so exhausted you all that you simply whittled down your demands to three …and that too subject to the constitution. Meantime, we made you fast for 13 days and then made you break the fast ostensibly because you were victorious. Can anyone call this a victory? That, what is your birthright you have to now fight for, unleash national movements and observe fasts to get what you already have in the Constitution! What a Mastermind ! Come on, if we can hold the Bill’s rebellious head down for 42 years what’s a couple more decades in the life of a functional anarchy…its functional, after all , Bill or no Bill. Hai ki na? Or do you want a dysfunctional democracy? Do you realize without that extra bit to grease the system no one will work, nothing will move? As for this media, do you think they really care about the Bill, other than getting to report conflict: if you don’t have the Bill the media will have a laugh around “kill bill”; but should you have the Bill the media will laugh daily and nightly and every moment in between 24x7 over “bill kill democracy”.
Now , let me give you a bit of history, Mr. Crusader...for your enlightenment…Dilli history...you may not know…knowing you are not from hereabouts…That place you are camping in is a place of horrible betrayal…of exceptional raising of hope and equally exceptional abandonment of hope ..and utter despondency. A place and a Palace cursed for miles around it fated to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory…That Red Fort is no bastion of success …just an ornamental piece that has never seen any war nor bravery. Marking the end of the Mughals in India it is better known for its intrigues and jealousies, court politics, debauchery and internecine factional fights. Of religious oppression and bitterness. Marauders have walked in and out of that area killing people till blood flowed on the streets while they looted them of their riches. So, what are you, a saint like person doing in that spot? What are the chances you were allowed there for a reason, instead of the two hallowed places you had chosen earlier …Jantar Mantar and Jayaprakash Park ?
The last time that place, the Red Fort, was given a chance to redeem itself was when the entire country had pushed the English into a corner. It was 1857. The country had risen against oppression – of the kind you are fighting against. They had come all the way to Dilli and handed over leadership to Bahadur Shah Zafar (BSZ)…heard of him? …they had proclaimed him emperor of India …similar to what they are calling you by another name! Now, BSZ had to raise money to pay the troops to wage war against the English who were trussed up in what is now the Delhi University area. Their mansions had been ransacked and burnt in Daryaganj, their families slaughtered and raped. BSZ’s troops – that is, a motley gathering of troops from different parts of the country belonging to various Rajas and Maharajas and Sultans – were lined up near Kashmiri Gate to make the final assault.
BSZ was old, over 80 years of age, so he trusted his sons to find the money to pay the troops to mount the attack. They turned to the traders of Chandni Chowk, the more affluent ones. But the traders would have none of it…would not pay a pie. So, BSZ’s son spoke to the two richest traders who were Hindus. They simply said they had no money and cussedly maintained that lie! They were Hindus and they had no enthusiasm for a Mughal Emperor slated to come back to power. Things got really nasty. BSZ’s son arrested the two, brought them to the palace, threatened them with dire consequences, but the traders would not relent. The war effort was going nowhere. The troops got restless. The English in the meantime remained on the hill top waiting for the Indian attack to come, reconciled to their fate, expecting a rout and an end to their Indian sojourn!
Eventually, a fragment of the Indian troops – one king or other’s army rode off to attack the English. They were roundly beaten back. The English wondered why the initial foray was made with such a small contingent. So, they continued to wait for the big comprehensive attack of the full united single minded force. Strangely, another small contingent came through, was soundly beaten by the English and sent back. The Indian troops just failed to get their act together. They simply did not make the big charge. The English were emboldened by the feeble attacks the India fragments made. After two or three of the sorry skirmishes, the English rode into Kashmiri Gate and massacred the Indian troops who lacking in unity just could not put up a fight together. The English captured BSZ, his sons and grandson. They beheaded the sons and exiled BSZ to what is today Myanmar where he died a half decade later. Now, with this kind of history behind you do you think you will win this war leading the charge from in front of the unholy Lal Quila?
Okay. So, let’s settle this once for all. How much do I pay you to call off this fast, real fast ? You can have as much as you like . and we won’t even call it a bribe. Let’s call it a “salary”, instead , for your “troops” – your peaceful civilian “warriors” - to abandon this your Lokpal thing ….
p.s. All names have been changed to protect the true identity of the persons. Should there still be resemblance to anyone living or dead, it is purely coincidental.
Nataranjan Bohidar is a Sr. Management professional with 35 years of positioning experience. He held key integrated marketing and communications positions with reputed companies like NESTLE India, Bennett, Coleman & Company and leading American collaborations in the automotive industry.
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