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Thursday, December 24, 2009

A Modest Proposal - III

The third instalement of the "A Modest Proposal" series, below.
The references to the strife torn locales and the names of the new gods of the globalised order are a little outdated, but it is published as originally written.
I was basking in the morning sun on my lawn when half a dozen sullen looking youngsters stormed in. A tall burly fellow with a week old stubble, grim, sleepless eyes and a distinctly embattled look-threw down a canister, matchbox and other incendiary material at me feet. As if on cue, the others also dropped their pick-axes, crowbars and plain bamboo stick. The man with the sleepless eyes swept ahead and spoke in vengeful tones (a straight take off on Om Puri's encounter with Gandhi in Richard Attenborough's film)
"Here, keep them. You have spoilt the party. All along we thought we were activists for a cause and now you come and knock the bottom out of our belief. From freedom fighters and satyagrahis we are reduced to being mere vandals. Now an eternity of purposelessness, inactivity and sheer boredom lies ahead of us. I have torched no less than twenty public vehicles, bumped off a few cops and decapitated many. But now I will be rendered effete, otiose, unemployed."
Another meek looking fellow screwed up his courage, sidled up to me and said in an accusing tone, “My record has not been as spectacular, a mere .000216 vehicle, but I am also destined to the same fate. A hundred questions were swarming in my mind but the uppermost was the great divergence of their personal tallies of burnt vehicles from the national average of 1.016 vehicles per citizen. I invited them to explain the appalling disparity in their achievements.
The embattled young activist had been in business for quite some time and in fact his youthful looks belied his experience. But still a stroke of sheer luck had helped him improve his tally. A fleet of public transport vehicles was abandoned to be torched - he could not believe his luck - to thwart some proposed inquiry into the purchase of substandard vehicles by the road transport corporation officials. This symbiotic arrangement contributed to the resounding success of the bandh while helping the smooth operators pocket their millions.
The other fellow's measly score in five decimal places still remained unexplained. He was a small towner and his area of operation didn't have a regular public transport system. After all, you can't burn private vehicles for public causes! The last public vehicle that they had burnt was during the 1974-75 agitations. It was still lying near the town hall as a relic of the permanent revolutionary struggle of the town's people. Now they ritually burn it over and over again during every agitation, bandh etc. The townspeople even collect funds and get it painted to look like the real thing. Everyone is allowed to have a crack at it. That is how is average has worked out to .000216 vehicle per person.
There was a rueful look of deprivation in his eyes as only the deprived can have. My heart went out to him and the likes of him. So much crusading zeal, such dedication and not enough buses to burn or public property to destroy! Never had the glaring inequalities of our system or the appalling state of our economy been apparent to me in such concrete terms. But the inequality apart, the immediate problem was that of millions of unemployed and unemployable youth, recently demobbed from the civil disobedience movement. Seething with so much latent energy!
But have no fear! In my scheme of things no problem remains unsolved. Roughly, these youth could be divided into a few broad categories on the basis of their skill and work experience. The likes of my friend - the elite of the corps -were experts at incendiary activities, sabotage and the body contact method of registering their protest. Their commitment to their karmic destiny - vandalism and destruction - was absolutely selfless and purposeless as well. (Nihilism is too philosophical, too abstract a word for such intense activity).
In the present global situation they could be profitably exported to the strife-torn, civil-war ravaged locales of Sarajevo, Serbia, Bosnia, Alma Atta, Tiblis, Kabul, Chad, and Nicaragua. Beirut has traditionally been a good market for some of our boys for making money fighting for this group or that and satisfying their innate destructive impulses. But now the export can be canalized in a planned manner to these new markets. Economic statesmanship demands that we plug in successfully the emergent markets with the abundant supply of the likes of our friends. With such vast reserves we can meet any future demands also. Of course we could charge the consumer countries for the services in hard currency.
I offered this deal to my friend. He was skeptical at first.
"Wouldn't we be overstretching ourselves"
"Far from it. Instead of rickety buses they will have the glass and chromium thing. Instead of crude homemade Molotov cocktails, they could handle sophisticated bombs and pistols, plastic explosives and shoulder launched rockets".
He was already salivating at his mouth. I plied him with the piece-de-resistance. "Since you are committed only to the cause of vandalism, violence and disorder, you can take a perfectly neutral stance striking at both the warring parties courting the minimum danger and maximum surprise."
He was now straining at the leash. Raring to go. I asked him to line up all those ready for export, so that ISO 9000 specification and sundry other papers were got ready. (Economic liberalization makes it easy but still it takes some time!)
But what about the others - the pacifist types - experts at the more sedentary type of struggle - gheraos and dharnas?
"The pity of it is that all these economists are armchair theoreticians. Their sophisticated visual and hearing aids makes them incapable of seeing things right under their noses."
The developed western countries are chockfull of dollars and causes. But while they made their dollars their causes went a-begging. Here we pursued non-existent causes and the deficit in dollars kept mounting. We will make a swap. We are good at pursuing causes. They are good at earning dollars. We will pursue their causes for them they can earn our dollars for us. So we will export all these pacifists to pursue - if need be, revive and reinvent - their causes.
Greenham Commons, Anti-whaling groups, environmental lobbies, anti-nuke demonstrators, feminist leagues, groups supporting children-seeking-divorce-from-their-parents, anti-and-pro-abortion militants, flat-earth society, the association of the admirers of skunk - the list is endless. All these have been active for quite some time without achieving anything very significant, largely because the groups consist of amateur weekend agitators. We could form some kind of an International Brigade, or Resistance from the ranks of these people and send them all over. This way it would work to the advantage of all concerned. The causes will find their activists, and vice versa and the country's forex reserve will soar to greater heights.
The left overs and lay abouts can be crated for export to Japan where the rich and busy Japanese keep hiring strangers to talk sweet nothings to their aged parent in geriatric homes. Good as our boys are at killing time doing nothing, they will mix business with pleasure. The grateful Japanese will compensate us suitably for salving their guilty consciences.
But this still leaves behind the psychophants, the stooges, the bootlickers and PR men. The nation could tighten its belt a little and even they could be dumped at a discount in Washington, Paris, Tokyo in the service of the new Gods: Lewis Preston(the then president of the World Bank), Camadasseus (the then chief of IMF), Calra Hills or Kimamaso Tarumizu( the then chief of the Asian Development Bank) to wash their feet with soda water and unguents in ritual worship and to sing in their praise day and night.
The activists were dazed at this marvellous package. But the meek one still persisted, "Wouldn't this body shopping demean us, in the eyes of the world".
I silenced him with a withering look. "For Camadasseus sake! Dollar is the new god. We must surrender everything in the service of him. That is the only way the poor shall inherit the earth."

Sunday, December 20, 2009

A Modest Proposal - II

Follow up to "A Modest Proposal", below.
Again, this piece is a little dated, especially in its reference to the TATA Safari advertisement in which Roshan Seth figured as a chauffeur. But I have published it without any changes.

Ever since the publication of my Modest Proposal, my telephone hasn't stopped ringing. The calls - generally between 1 a.m. and 3 a.m. - have come from places as far removed and distant as Ranchi, Agra and Bareilly. (I have learnt since that they have one thing in common - each of these places has a mental asylum.)

One of my correspondents wanted to know if the hedge separating his lawn from that of his neighbouring country should be considered as no-man's-land, or was he entitled to use half the width of the hedge for drying his linen. I wasn't prepared for such a query and mumbled some apology about "details being worked out".

I was racking my brains to get an idea to beat the sun to it because I was sure the blighter would call again. It seemed his linen couldn't wait! But misery, as they say, never comes alone. This other nation state dropped in to seek my considered opinion on maritime practices and international law in regard to the high seas. His problem was that he had accidentally dropped his slippers in a small ditch that flowed into another drain passing through his neighbour's compound. It had drifted away some distance and, according to his interpretation of things, it was beyond his maritime zone. Could he use a fishing tackle to retrieve it without violating the air space of the neighbouring country or should the area be considered high seas? Frankly speaking, I was bowled lock stock and barrel. The status of resident consultant on international law had been thrust upon me quite gratuitously. I told him that my proposal was still a proposal and he should deal with the problem under the existing laws and practices until such time both he and his neighbour were accorded full sovereign nation status. He looked doubtful, but left all the same.

But, there were some more visitors. Droves of politicians of various hues dropped in to plead with me to suggest something less drastic and revolutionary. The proposal had no doubt an element of visionary overdrive about it, but alas! The nation was not quite prepared for it. They had carefully calculated that for the present the people would be satisfied if the country were to be divided into, say, two hundred and fifty seven parts. All the ethnic, linguistic, religious minorities would be taken care of. But they assured me that, given some more time, they would certainly bring the nation to such a state of readiness as to be ripe for the arrangement set out in my proposal. I should intervene to stall agitations for further fragmentation. Therefore, until such time the nation is prepared, an interim proposal is being put forward to restore complete peace to our polity so that when D-Day comes we can split peacefully.

The country has been described as a functioning anarchy and it is often said that the nation has been on some sort of a permanent general strike. Not that one notices the strikes very much these days. The day things are open attracts our attention more pointedly. Professional sociologists, economists, intellectuals and all those whose job it is to issue bulletins on the state of the national health have attributed this to various causes – Unemployment, lack of a sense of discipline in the workers and the students, absence of commitment to socially acceptable values, so on and so forth. But I am afraid, even though the symptom has been correctly identified, the diagnosis of the malaise is wide off the mark.

My perception of the situation is that it is not an absence of discipline in our workers and youth that compels them to destructive activity. If anything, it is an excess of it. As for commitment to a cause, we have taken it to absurd limits. My survey reveals that the nation which was galvanized into decisive activity after the magic call given by Gandhi on the 8th August 1942 has continued on the path of civil disobedience ever since. They are doing their utmost of overthrowing the government of the day and driving away the alien power. (The way some governments behave, they could not be blamed too much for mistaking them for alien governments!) They rarely manage to overthrow a government but they certainly manage to obstruct the governance of the country. Students boycott their classes, if their teachers are not on strike already. If the teachers are persuaded to go to the college the lock out by the non-teaching staff thwarts their rare impulse. In fact, with so many groups committed to the task of destruction and vandalism of public property, many have to await their chance to have a crack at them.

Gandhi, poor soul, didn’t live long enough after independence and somehow it slipped his mind to call off the movement. So the nation, which was exhorted by its great leader on that fateful day of August '42, is still committed in a somber way, perhaps in a spirit of tragic self- sacrifice, to the civil disobedience movement. It is only natural that, after a long time, it has, at some places, evolved into an armed disobedience movement. We are not only breaking salt laws - we break all others as they come. Since the British have departed, the unstated part of the call "Quit India" has acquired a new and unforeseen meaning. In the current reading, Quit India has come to mean secede, quit the Indian Union. The zeal of the participant may have flagged on some occasions or the intensity of the agitation may have varied from place to place but, as a nation, we are still strongly committed to the idea of civil disobedience, of doing and dying. Soldiers, all of the Quit India movement! Like soldiers, we are obeying orders. Ours is not to question why? The reason for the national distemper was so simple that it nearly took my breath away. The opinion poll commissioned by me confirmed my suspicion. The nation hardly knew that there was no cause for civil disobedience or quit India movement.

As if the situation was not bad enough, the leaders appear to have made another faux pas. The policy of "divide and rule" may have been good for the British as a colonial and imperial power, but it wasn't good for us. So that part of the note to successor on good governance should have been deleted by the British. But they not only didn't delete it, they seem to have underlined it heavily, wicked as they were. Our gullible ruling elite walked into the trap with both feet. Ever since they have been dividing and ruling.

The first thing that our people should have done, after the British departed, was that they should have formally called off the movement. I don't know if they did. I wasn't around anyway, and old timers say that if they did, it was heard only at hailing distance. So, as a first step, we must rectify this mistake. We must get hold of as many transponders on as many satellites, as possible. The facilities of the S.I.T.E. should be utilized to the full. All the other media of dissemination of information should be harnessed to the cause of national enlightenment to beam the message across not only here in this country but to all the NRIs. After all, the only good Indian today is the Non-Resident Indian, scattered across the face of the earth.

There would be that small bit of a problem of credibility, because most of the original casts have departed. But don't lose heart, yet. The problem is not altogether insuperable. Well, if Gandhi is not around, Ben Kingsley will do nicely, thank you! Roshan Seth could be persuaded to shed his current chauffeur's livery and his TATA Estate to don The Gandhi cap and the rose in the buttonhole. In fact, the whole cast can be managed with suitable doubles. I don't know if the Aga Khan Palace is up for hire but these minor problems can be taken care of. With the able assistance of vision mixers and choreographers, the message that civil disobedience movement has been called off can be beamed across to every home. The British have quit-and quit India for good, so Quit India movement stands suspended for good measure. They may also add that the policy of divide and rule is being jettisoned and till something new is formulated by the think tank. That would be the signal for this bus-burning, train-looting nation of ours to cease fire, to desist, to cry a halt.

This simple solution should have occurred to the shamans of the nation-building industry but perhaps they are always looking for complicated models of problem with multiple variables. No wonder the solution eludes them.