This appeared today, and has generated quite a buzz. I received a really flattering text message on the column from someone in Bhubaneshwar and I can tell you, it felt good. As I told those eager beavers at the IIM-A last afternoon, for a writer there is no greater reward than a reader appreciating something. Oh, I bet you want to know whether or not my chaas and dhokla date with Modi happened. It didn't. Worse, no chhas, no dhokla. The dinner I was invited to was hostd by a couple keen on breaking the traditional rules of Gujju cuisine ( which I so love - the cuisine, not the rules). Instead of dhokla, guests were treated to cheese toasts and pizzas. But mercifully, only as starters. The rest of the banquet was delicious but a little too spicey for me. The sharpness of the meal was somewhat sweetened by Ustad Amjad Ali Khan's refined conversation and impeccable manners. There was a particularly boorish bureaucrat at our table whose every second sentence began, " When I was at Shah Rukh Khan's house in Mumbai..." Khansaab looked at me and sighed deeply. That was the extent of his demonstrating his disinterest. I was ruder and blunter.
Yes, I met Mallika. We bonded big time as we drove back to Ahemedabad together after visiting two villages in the Kalol district, more than 40kms from the city. I'll be writing a full account in my next column. Let me just say Mallika did not disappoint. And I am proud of her... regardless of the outcome. She was upbeat and full of beans as she went from jhopdi to jhopdi making her pitch to those simple folk who have been taken for a ride for 62 years by various political parties. Please be patient.... I shall tell all. But break ke baad.
A foolish confession: I missed my flight. Yes. Again. I had given myself a clear one-and-a-half hours to get to the airport. Guess what?? It's no longer enough. By the time i got on to the next much later flight, I was half asleep on arrival at A'Bad. But my local minders were merciless! They gave me all of 10 minutes to change and jump into a waiting car.... and on to the cheese toast dinner.At 40 degrees centigrade and still climbing, i though I'd faint. But tra la la, mine hosts had arranged a 'Mist Fan' (end of my hair, but at least i wasn't dying of dehydration). A 'mist fan' is a fantastic contraption which sprays a fine mist that keeps drenching those at close range but otherwise cools down the space most effectively. I was tempted to borrow Khansaab's dupatta (it was NOT a shawl), but by then my hair was stringy and hanging in wet rat tails anyway.
I met my Gujarati translator, Sonalben at the talk, and was delighted to hear my books will soon be published in Modi's state. On the way back to Mumbai, I wasn't taking any chances. My flight was still three hours away. Sonal suggested a quick trip to 'Bandhej' - surely one of the chicest stores in India?? How could I resist? After gasping at the sight of those exquisite bandhnis and leheriyas, I reluctantly dragged myself out of the store and just about made the flight. Hurrah!
“ No Englis, pliz…. we are mulayam.”
Wah, Mulayam, wah! No English. No computers - no problem.Just goondagiri, illiteracy,ignorance and netagiri. A winning formula indeed for India in the 21st century.Sometimes, one feels enough jootas haven’t been hurled yet.Jayalalithaa said, “ A good politician rules out nothing.” What about a bad politician? The world’s eyes are on us right now. These elections are likely to be the most closely watched ones in the country’s history. So far, the scenario looks pretty depressing and grim - national leaders busy taking cheap pot shots at one another ( like school-going brats fighting over the Headboy position ). Narendra Modi’s sexist and inane ‘Budhiya\Gudiya’ comments. Political murders, naxal attacks and shameful alignments. There’s a bloody maha yudh going on. But hey… this is democracy at its vibrant best. That’s the upside. Anybody and everybody is welcome to take a crack at winning a seat – from hard- core gangsters to whiz- kid bankers. It sounds incredible, but at the end of the bhaagam bhaag, the Indian voter invariably manages to assert himself\herself and get the fundas right. That in itself is nothing short of a miracle.
Manmohan Singh has referred to Independent candidates as ‘Spoilers’, much to the horror of the chi chi crowd. The fact that he thought it important to raise the issue at all, says something. And that something has to do with a ‘C-word’ called ‘Class’. This election was supposed to be about Caste and little else. It suddenly looks like Class has become the new Caste! Everybody is having a go at anybody who is educated, speaks English and lives the good life– a city slicker, in other words. I don’t get it. We are more comfortable with smugglers, robbers, murderers and assorted charge sheeters. We can deal with goons, gamblers, drunkards and other equally charming individuals. But the minute someone armed with a degree walks into the picture, we treat that person as a pariah, an outcaste. If that person happens to be a woman, God help her – she is dubbed a ‘memsaab’, and her privileged background is the first strike against her.Professional qualifications become disqualifications – an Ophthalmic doctor from Mumbai has been rubbished as a ‘socialite’ since she lives in a posh locality. Ditto for the banker who wears pearls. There is a clumsy attempt to equate middle class affluence to self-indulgence and frivolity. Why pigeon hole politicians by providing ‘uniforms’ based on traditional clichés – khadi kurtas for men, handloom sarees for women?Why damn people who don’t conform to this pre-determined ‘mould’ and defy those dated dress codes ?Why accuse them of being disconnected from the masses. “ Elitist’ is the new gaali, the most convenient putdown. In order to be taken seriously, one only has to look and play the part - forget objectives or issues.It’s the same as getting Sanjay Dutt to parrot ‘Gandhigiri’ dialogues from his hit film and pass them off as his personal ideology. It is all about acting-shackting and manipulative projection.Or so the self-styled experts think.
But the Indian voter (whether from Banjara Hills or Malabar Hill or from the back of the beyond in Chhattisgarh) is much smarter than that, as has been proved in our fourteen previous general elections. Underestimating the intelligence of the common man has been many a neta’s undoing. Mulayam Singh had to beat a hasty retreat from his ‘ No Englis, pliz’ position.And nobody even in his own state was buying his ‘back to roots’ retrogressive suggestions. Keeping the rural poor without electricity is a trick that no longer works. Bijlee is their birthright and they shall have it. Computers have transformed their lives with instant money transfers and other electronic banking facilities. Try telling them to go back to living in the trees and scrounging for berries.Mass media, Bollywood in particular , has had such a permanent and powerful influence on voters across the board that today, everyone wants to live the gaudy, technicolour dream. There are countless, restless hopefuls out there who continue to believe in the upbeat India story and are prepared to fight for it aggressively. They came down from the caves years ago. Nobody can push them back in there again. Not even Mayawati. Singh may well become King again ( a ‘weak’ one, Mr. Advani?), which is exactly what corporate India wants. But if that happens, our man will have to deal with the ‘spoilers’ in our midst - those rare islands of decency, integrity,sanity, honesty – and yes – naivite. This motley crowd of individuals has given us hope that in an ocean of corruption ( the real and only curse in India), they chose to fight on, knowing the odds are stacked against them. Let a thousand ‘spoilers’ bloom!