Talking Shop: Bonhomie blinkered
I saw something very disturbing at a club in Delhi last week. I saw the so-called educated getting factionalized, minds literally writhed dry
"I am sickened by religion, for
it divides. There's no difference
between the Pope wearing a
hat or an African painting his
face white and praying to a rock"
— Howard Stern
I disagree with Howard Stern. In our part of the world, religion matters a great deal still and is an intrinsic part of our lives. Handled right, it gives us strength, purpose and courage in times of need. Handled mischievously, though, religion and division on other such deified grounds can be deadly and devastating. That is what Shri Stern is referring to in his rather sanctimonious quote that the world is now fast turning into a different place, as history and posterity have shown us by biting us in the nuts when mankind and its leaders cross a line. A crass reminder of this change, one gathering momentum today, is what happened just last week at a club in New Delhi's Lutyens Zone, an incident that yanked me to sobriety.
A cherubic white-shirted and suited-booted guy named Venu stomped into the room and was greeted with effusive handshakes, fist-thumps and hugs (what Coronavirus?!). The affection though was limited, and not meant for everyone in the room. Venu ji selected his huggers and fellow kissers with great care and objectively, true only to clan, creed and state. When he was through with his three chosen ones, I heard someone whisper to him: "That's Rajeev, he is a Tamilian. You want to meet (him)?"
Tamilian, Venu ji grunted acidically; and like the true simian he clearly is, he walked off to a distant corner in the room, as far away from me as he could. This foursome proceeded to dive into all that our mothers warned us about while we were still impressionable—liquor, tobacco, kebabs, guffaws and things that lead to Dravidian celebration. The spectacle left me sad and a mite dumbfounded. If Venu ji won't accept a fellow-Madraasi like me, what chance do our 30-odd other states stand? And herein lies a quandary of gargantuan proportions, one that has been carefully crafted and meticulously implemented in our country now.
This sounds familiar?
As Roger Moore said in his classic Bond flick 'Live and Let Die': "We have reached a point today of being uncaring beyond comprehension." Well said, Mr Bond... The underpinnings running through the very core of our social and cultural fabric are being ripped apart, and what I witnessed at the club was just a tiny shrapnel of a reminder. A larger hammer-blow was dealt when similar fracturing tools were brought to bear in Maharashtra last week, forcing now-former Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray to move back to his family residence Matoshree, while Shiv Sena dissident leader Eknath Shinde assumed power and moved into the CM's official residence.
Of course, all this happened just days after 40-odd Sena MLAs were first smuggled away to Surat and then airlifted to Guwahati, where they stayed under heavy security bandobast at a 5-star hotel. A particularly elfin statement came from the tallest leader in Assam. Asked if he had any message for Uddhav Thackeray, this stalwart commented that Thackeray was most welcome in Assam for a vacation. Mind you, this statement was passed at a time when 55 lakh residents of Assam are facing the onslaught of massive flooding, with over 80 per cent of the state's cities all but underwater.
Earlier, other states such as Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Rajasthan, Punjab, Puducherry and even West Bengal have been targeted with similar takeover attempts; some succeeded, others failed. The common thread running through them is a carefully-thought-out attempt to depose duly-elected state governments, seeing opposition parties tumbling like a feeble deck of stacked cards as divisive forces call the shots.
These upheavals have all come at times when the COVID-19 pandemic was peaking. Showing absolute disregard for safety norms and social distancing, our country's leaders continued with their politicking, pulling out innate and sensitive matters from their bag of tricks and unleashing them on a hapless people, most of them were anyway scurrying around to save their lives and livelihoods.
That brings me to a short history lesson—the myth of the Seven Cities of Gold—where similar such endeavours and attempts were made centuries ago to cull unwanted sections of society while the chosen sects and castes lived like Gods. Also known as the Seven Cities of Cibola (/'siːbələ/), this was a popular legend in the 16th century, later featured in several works of popular culture. According to legend, the Seven Cities referred to Aztec mythology revolving around the Pueblos of the Spanish Nuevo México, today's New Mexico and South-western United States.
Besides Cibola, names associated with similar lost cities include El Dorado, Paititi, City of the Caesars, Lake Parime at Manoa, Antilia and Quivira. Unless someone knows any better, this is a myth, as is our very blatant attempt to create an Indian Cibola. But it cannot happen. For the attempt is doomed; despite the cultural and social mayhem we are already witnessing in our country.
What is the solution, at a time when many feel that the driving forces of our economic growth and corporate success are gone? Well, the first is to understand that the basic ingredients of our growth story that began in the 1990s remain intact. Most importantly, human resources—our people—are all there, though the avoidable and needless suffering they have faced for the last few years is hard to fathom, let alone condone. Next, our natural resources and a staunch Indian resolve to prevail and remain intact, temporarily truncated though their life may be.
What is needed is for our collective chefs to get together in a cohesive manner, fish out the recipes that still exist in their repertoire and stir the pot together (for once), conjuring up gastronomic and economic delicacies that rekindle the fire in what was our burgeoning nation. Yes, some indelicate and indelible elements shall have to be thrown out of the kitchen, as was done by the Supreme Court (last week), when a now-expelled ruling party leader was asked whether she gave the country a warning on security threats or whether she was a security threat herself? After all, her inflammatory, in-camera statements have already led to one person being killed (a tailor in Udaipur) in the name of instant karma and justice by vitiated elements.
Nonetheless, from somewhere, we have to find heart, some basic sensibility and a hell of a lot of gumption. If we pull that off, the Phoenix shall rise again. By the way, we need to do this desperately and quickly, for the sake of our nearly 135 crore souls. Else, we run the risk of turning into another Cibola, a historical dream again going badly awry in modern times. Let me end by quoting EF Schumacher, who said once: "Economic development is wider and deeper than economics and econometrics. Its roots lie outside the economic sphere; it stems from education, organisation, discipline and political independence, a national consciousness of self-reliance." Well said. One can but hope that the words seep through. Amen.
The writer is a veteran journalist and communications specialist. He can be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org. Views expressed are personal
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