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Wednesday, June 21, 2023

The book has had a chequered history. Finding a publisher subdued my desire for a while and stifled my authorial ambition somewhat. Then a publisher materialised out of the blue – I later realised he was a small time con man , possibly a plagiariser or quite simply a prestidigitator. He praised the manuscript to the skies, offered to publish the book pronto and then promptly disappeared- back into the blue. The collection of stories written over so many years remained in a state of suspended animation. In my own estimation the worth of the unpublished text waxed and waned . When I looked up to the models that I have admired, the great story tellers, peering down on me from the shelves in my library, I had an impulse to consign the fruits of my protracted labour to the trash bin.
My close family pooled whatever talent they had , from proof reading , editing, laying the book cover . I explained the situations to the renowned cartoonist Pawan jee of Pawan toon fame, and gave him the quips in the bubble and he cobbled some illustrations . The book was ready . But that was not the end of the journey .
I have been eager to get to this stage where I could talk about my book. But now that it is here before me, in fact it has been with me for quite some time now , I am overwhelmed by a growing sense of terror. In my own eyes it looks like an act of “incredible effrontery”, in Saul Bellow’s word. Offering one’s book to the reading public, submitting the fruits of one’s labour to the scrutiny of an audience, one can never be sure of what the reader wants, one can never be sure whether all readers want the same thing. Jean Paul Sartre devoted one whole book to the question : For whom do we write? And yet the question is still as open, as it ever was , for everyone who dares write. For whom do I write ? I write for people like myself , for kindred citizens, befuddled by the system, lost in this maze that is both maddening and easily lends itself to mockery .
Power is portable magic. It almost certainly transforms the holder of power but the exercise of power is a comic spectacle to behold. Achieved either by force or held through delegation, or deceitful manipulation, power manifests itself in much the same fashion but leads to hilarity in different ways . To see how easily the elite can be made to deny their ideals, to bend themselves to the purposes of power , to watch the coy and cautious moves of the civil society toward accommodation makes you laugh till you begin to cry .
Intellectuals , generally speaking , to whom the task to speak truth to power has been traditionally assigned , have become complicit with the violent realities of the situation, have crept into bed with power. Truth deflates the bloated ego of power like nothing else but telling the truth has never carried more risk.
“We only joke (about things) to avoid an issue with someone,” said Robert Frost. ‘Humour is the most engaging cowardice’. So it has fallen to the jesters of the world to take down the Humpty Dumpties’, toppling them to earth, belly down; to bring the high flyers crashing on terra firma , belly up.
Where is Banana Republic ?Nowhere and everywhere. Banana Republic has lost its historical context which referred to a specific economic and political trope created by and in service of US interests. Kleptocracy, legislators for sale, the phony majesty of the sovereign citizen, intolerance to the stories contrary to officially ordained truth are now the givens in democracies. Even Donald Trump apprehended that we may “become a corrupt banana republic controlled by large donors and foreign governments,”. To lend some comic relief Imran Khan recently bemoaned that his country was turning into a Banana Republic ! The meaning of Banana Republic has been enlarged to include a diminished democracy, a dysfunctional system, a deranged society .
Anchuria , the original banana republic was a fictional country created by O’ Henry , where , “Outside in the shade of the lime-trees the crew chewed sugar cane or slumbered, well content to serve a country that was contented with so little service.” We find a little bit of Anchuria everywhere, every day; in government offices , in banks , in customer care centres , even in the emergency wards of hospitals. When life begins to imitate art, artifice becomes redundant. To joke is to tell the truth and vice versa.
Ten stories linked by the common theme of fatuity - and corruption -of Power, Tales From Banana Republic casts an amused look at those who wield power and the ecosystem that flourishes around them, from the point of view of an observer who is not only outside the system but, in a manner of speaking, suspended somewhere in mid-air. The stories do not lampoon any particular person, certainly not any particular public figure , civil servant or police officer , though they frequently make their appearances in the stories . Dwelling on character traits that are shared by those in power, the Tales From Banana Republic attempts to capture the essence of the grotesque , the quirkiness, even the absurdity, in the contradictory and duplicitous exercise of power. It is some sort of Everyman of power .

अगर आप जीवन में सफल होना चाहते हैं तो लज्जा का परित्याग कीजिये, ग़ैरत को तिलांजलि दीजिये , शर्म हया को ताख पर रखिये और बिलकुल बेशर्म बनिये।सरे बाजार निर्वस्त्र हो जाइये। आप की निर्लज्जता आपका अभेद्य कवच है. सोचिये अगर दुर्योधन लंगोट उतारकर गांधारी के समक्ष प्रस्तुत हो गया होता तो आज भी उसके वंशज राज कर रहे होते। मन्नू भंडारी ने तो बहुत पहले ही सब कुछ भांप लिया था। “धोती के नीचे सभी नंगे और ससुरी इस राजनीति में तो धोती के बाहर भी नंगे. पर डा साहब एकदम अपवाद?धोती के नीचे भी धोती ही निकलेगी इस गीता बाँचनेवाले की, खाल खींचने पर ही आ सकता है इनका नंगापन.” ( महाभोज।) अतः अब सिर्फ नैतिक नंगापन से काम नहीं चलेगा , शारीरिक रूप से नंगा होना अनिवार्य है नहीं तो यह नेक काम जनता को ही करना पड़ेगा .
बेशर्मी मेरा बल है, निर्लज्जता मेरा सम्बल (या सिम्बल), छल ही मेरा कवच है, कपट मेरा कुण्डल. बांधे हुए यह जिरह बख्तर निकल पड़ा हूँ मैं कमान संभालने। देश हो ,प्रदेश हो , जिला हो , प्रखंड हो , स्वायत्त निकाय हो, न सही पांच ग्राम एक ही पंचायत हो, पर जन सेवा से मुझे अब कोई रोक नहीं सकता.
यह विनम्र निवेदन सिर्फ मेरे बेशर्म बंधुओं से है। जिन्हें थोड़ी बहुत भी ग़ैरत बची है उनके लिए मैं ईश्वर, अल्ला , ईसा , पवित्र गुरुओं से दुआ मांगूंगा कि उन्हें नए वर्ष में झोली भर कर बेशर्मी दे ताकि वे सफल हो सकें, समृद्ध बन सकें जीवन की हर जंग जीत सकें .
मेरे प्यारे बेशर्म बंधुओं ,
थोड़ी बेशर्मी दोगे मुझे उधार ?
मेरा वादा है पाई पाई चुका दूंगा
सूद सहित सा भा र ।
मैं जात नहीं पूछूँगा
मैं जमात नहीं पूछूँगा
मैं घर, बार ,आँगन द्वार नहीं पूछूँगा
न हि पूछूंगा कहाँ से कमाई बेशर्मी अपार
यह भी नहीं पूछूंगा
कि आप राजनेता हो ,
अभिनेता हो, अफसर हो किसी
नयी राजनैतिक पहल के प्रणेता हो
शिक्षक हो, शिक्षार्थी हो
शरणागत हो, या बस शरणार्थी हो
दे दो मेरे भाई, बस थोड़ी सी बेशर्मी.
बस थोड़ी और कृपा करो सरकार
मेरे आका ,मेरे परवर दिगार।
एक गोली भी दे दो मुझे, हकीमी हो
यूनानी हो अंग्रेजी हो ,आयुर्वेदिक हो, होमियोपैथी
झोला छाप नेचुरोपैथी कुछ भी चलेगा
बस हो कारगर
मेरा हाजमा दुरुस्त कर दे , पत्थर सी मज़बूती दे दे
जो सब कुछ , मतलब सचमुच सब कुछ पचा ले ,
अजीर्ण न हो , खट्टी डकार न हो , गंदी उबास न हो
बच्चों के मुख का निवाला हो ,बड़े से बड़े बड़ा घोटाला हो
हुंडी हो ,हवाला हो कोई भी गड़बड़ झाला हो
मेरी ईमानदारी पर दाग न आये।
बहुत बहुत आभार , मेरी नैय्या हो जाएगी पार
पर इस अंतरात्मा का क्या करूँ ?
कभी कभी यूँ ही, बस यूँ ही
कुनमुनाने लगती है ,
हंसुआ के ब्याह में
खुरपी के गीत गाने लगती है.
एक सुट्टा हो, थोड़ी सी मदिरा हो,
भांग हो, अफीम हो , गांजा हो , कोकेन हो
ताकि मुझे पूरा पूरा यकीन हो
I am the best , I am the best.
अंधे ,बहरे, गूंगे , नंगे ,बंठे बौने
खरीद रखा है मैंने लाखो में , औने पौने ,
मीडिया गोद में अखबार नवीस कांख तले
ठीकेदार ,खिदमतगार , पलकों की छाँव तले।
बस थोड़ी सी बेशर्मी कम पड़ रही थी.
आप का नया नेता आपके सामने है
चेहरा पर पूरी सफेदी है
लेकिन अंदर बिलकुल काला है
काले के बीच का उजाला ,
उजाले के पीछे का काला
ब्लैक एंड वाइट का खेल है सारा
अपने इस नेता को पहचाने ,
इसी का कहना माने
आइये अब हम सब साथ मिलकर उच्चारें
मेरी जय हो, मेरी जय हो, मेरी जय हो .

Wednesday, May 10, 2023

The well laid plans of men and mice can go awry but when it comes to me ,I get the share of the mice also as far as my plans going awry are concerned . I sought some desperately needed support from my friends in a Facebook post, “Women Don’t Understand Manpower. Here is the link to an edited version of the post.
My friends, all keen book lovers, were however indifferent or too timid to stand up for me but in our WhatsApp group our women friends sprang up spiritedly in the defence of my wife. Now my wife feels entitled to restore order to my hallmark chaos created by books and papers with consequences which are fraught, to say the least. Things came to a head after my missing book , Wittgenstein’s Poker, a riveting account of confrontation between Karl Popper and Wittgenstein in Cambridge, was discovered in
the refrigerator and my wife refused to accept responsibility for its unusual storage.
“Yes, it is I who go looking for cheese and chips, in the middle of night, a book in hand.”
Offence is the best form of defence, so I unashamedly peddled my lebensraum theory in respect of books . That is when she launched one of the most brutal attacks on me in recent
history. With an exaggerated courtesy she said, “So Herr Hitler, would you like your Wittgenstein served for breakfast with white sauce or black pepper? Would you have Lakatos for lunch and Dawkins for dinner or in the reverse order? The eggs,
poultry, milk, vegetable etc would be nicely sitting in your many book shelves. “ My wife is a minimalist and her easy shorthand, encodes all manner of attitudes and assumptions.
It was time to be tactful, some emotional blackmail could perhaps retrieve the situation.
“My memory was becoming that bit less reliable, I was going to be seventy one ,” I told her." My days, and even some nights, are spent chasing elusive memories, a forgotten name, a scrap of a poem, a dialogue from a play speaking to me in jumbled tones."
She immediately brought the issue of books strewn all over, anything that could support a book was supporting it, some were dangerously levitating , that I seemed to have
forgotten about.I must admit if the pages of partially read books, say two or three pages per book , were added, it would certainly make a decent two hundred page tome. Not a very impressive figure but it does make a pile. But I assured her that I was going to get back to them in good time, they were on my to-do-list.
That is when I was overtaken by my foot-in-the mouth syndrome. I adduced wisdom gleaned from Facebook .
“ You collect books to be read at the right time, the right place, and the right mood. Think not of the book you’ve bought as yet ‘to be read pile’. Instead, think of your book case as wine cellar.”
“That is one booze of an idea,” said my wife .
“ It is decided, your books go to the wine cellar. Since we don’t have a wine cellar the garage will do fine. No booze and so no books too”.
Oh, I forgot to tell you. My state introduced complete prohibition in 2016. Bihari civil servants, as a former civil servant I have voluntarily joined my unfortunate serving brothers, cannot drink anywhere on the planet.
I am a law abiding citizen and a meat eater too but if prohibited I will make do with vegetables. I love my occasional single malt but restrained by prohibition I seek solace in the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, reading them aloud to myself to recreate the pleasures of the fabled elixir. Books (of verse) are a necessary accompaniment to the fabled elixir but the elixir has already
fallen to reformist zeal so it is only proper that books got stocked in the empty cellar. No booze and no books to go with it is like the elusive unified theory. Every issue is settled. My wife’s concerns are addressed, my anxieties on score of unread books are stilled.
And “thou” beside me watching your videos on I Pad and I making do with scrutinising property statements of civil servants and affidavits of politicians