This appeared in Asian Age...
The Big ‘O’….
Okay, here’s a chhotasa clarification for the innocents and prudes out there who are reading this: Bluntly put, the Big ‘O’ stands for ‘Orgasm’. And unlike Diego Maradona who gushed, “ To beat Brazil in the final, in their own country, would be an orgasm’, this column is not about football. And the Big ‘O’ here stands for Optimism. Desi optimism.There’s just no getting away from that blessed word these days. India is on a high. And every uncle one meets socially is busy dancing a jig and talking in rapturous terms about this khaas optimism.Of course, the new, elevated mood has to do with the new government. Narendra Modi is here! And he will be leading the country out of a decade of darkness. Ironically, of course, soon after the Modi sarkar said, ‘Let there be light’, the power failed in Delhi! Never mind the depressing start to a century of dazzle, poor Piyush Goyal was forced to go into instant damage control mode and resort to the oldest trick in the book – a trick that had been mastered by the Congresswallas – passing the buck. While Delhi cursed and sweltered in temperatures that would have been murderous even without the power cut, BJP Netas assured agitators they would fix the problem in two weeks, after pointing out it was all the fault of that wretched storm which brought down a couple of towers. But mainly it was the fault of the wretched UPA government. Granted, Piyush was not too far off the mark there, but one hopes buck passing is not going to become a regular feature of the new government. For, don’t forget, the key word to keep throwing around these days is ‘OPTIMISM’. And optimistic people don’t blame others. They tackle problems head on themselves.
At one of those dreary diplomatic functions ( warm wine, smelly suits, lousy food and fake conversations), three fellows walked up to ask whether I was also feeling – you’ve guessed it – optimistic.Never mind my answer! Later, at an informal dinner, close friends kept knocking back Camparis and saying how ‘optimistic’ they were feeling. At my favourite Bhaji (vegetable) gulley in Colaba, the mood was equally optimistic. The vendor selling lichees ( not the tainted ones from Kolkata, he kept assuring me), also told me about his optimism. My regular silversmith ( Gujarati) offered me a plate of dhokla with oversweet tea saying he was optimistic business would look up soon. A fancy educationist who runs a successful commerce college, squeezed my hand warmly and cooed, “ I am so optimistic… my students are so optimistic… the young in India are so optimistic.” Great! Happy for you, honey! But why does nobody want to specify what he/she is so optimistic about!
With so much optimism going around, is there any space left for a teensy-weensy reality check? Is that even allowed? These days, it’s better to ask in advance what’s allowed and what isn’t . I mentioned this to one of India’s most successful industrialists, and he looked miffed. “ This is the time reserved for optimism. Only optimism. We have to remain optimistic and focus on development. Look at the Sensex. Look at what’s happening across the board.” At another gathering of ‘those who matter’, a few business people shuffled off when they sensed a slight dip in the optimism levels of our small group. Someone said, “No cynicism,please. India is rising….” Mild applause greeted this remark. “ Overall development is the need of the hour. We must remain optimistic,” an earnest aunty commented. Suddenly, I felt like we were all a part of Salvador Dali’s world. Or participating in the 21st century adaptation of Alice in Wonderland. To me, this kind of optimism is scary. I mention this as a response to a long letter I received from a gentleman who wanted me to take back my words ‘for the sake of optimism… the young in India need optimism.” His unsolicited advice was polite but somewhat menacing.
It’s come to a point I gag each time I hear the word ‘optimism’. I want to shout, Hello! I AM an optimist, okay? Have always been one. If I choose to articulate what I am observing / feeling / thinking / living… does that make me less optimistic? Or more?? I would say more. For, I am optimistic enough to believe we still live in a vibrant, free environment that respects all kinds of divergent viewpoints and opinions. Am I wrong in thinking that? Am I the only one living under the false illusion that free speech is still a deeply cherished attribute? Or that democracy will protect individuals who don’t always conform to the diktats of the majority in power? The simple answer is ‘Yes’. I do believe India values my freedoms as it does the freedoms of all its citizens. I would say, this non-negotiable position makes me the ultimate optimist. Perhaps, it’s time to redefine the true meaning of optimism. As of now, there is just one interpretation, one version. I wouldn’t call that optimism at all. A better description for this all-pervasive emotion which is dominating our lives right now is wish fulfillment. A billion plus wishes are posted on a long, long list. Even if a fraction of those wishes are granted, then perhaps we can truly go from being a not-so-Incredible India to a euphoric Optimistic India!