TALES FROM BANANA REPUBLIC
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 In my own estimation the worth of the unpublished text waxed and waned .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 .