The old bullock cart of democratic process has changed: it’s now a battered three wheeler which phuts along, breaking down every so often in clouds of black fumes. Sometimes it almost sputters to a halt and lengthy debates erupt about its efficacy. Maybe the older image was better: the cart lumbered on, regardless. It creaked and groaned and went at two miles an hour but it went. I’m not so sure about this newer phut-phut.
After the farcical governance of the Congress and its allies (the UPA) in the last ten years, almost everyone I’ve talked to is ready to welcome as Prime Minister the Chief Minister of Gujarat, Narendra Modi, who is proud of his 54 inch chest. People (aam aadmi) speak of the Gujarat government with admiration: the roads, the infrastructure, the order! Only twelve years back thousands of Muslims were allowed to be massacred in the State while, it’s alleged (and proven by some), Narendra Modi retreated, feebly deploring the tragedy from behind police barriers. But then there’s always been a lobby crying out for Army rule, dictatorship and even the Raj to return!
Since the massacre, Modi has been working out with the chest expanders and has cultivated a strange, demagogic persona (his everyday shirt is cunningly designed to look like a doctor’s short tunic); he’s managed to hypnotize the public in believing that he could govern a nation which is, arguably, ungovernable in its present form. Heir apparent to the present Prime Minister, Rahul Gandhi, would like to make fundamental changes to the structure. In the deeply embarrassing interview on television with Arnab Goswami (our young Jeremy Paxman) the poor lad stumbled, exposing his singular deficiencies to millions. One could only feel sorry that he’d been perambulated to the platform by Tiger Mother, the Italian Sonia. (After watching Sorrentino’s films about Italy and its endemic tanglement with the Mafia it’s so tempting to speculate about the trickle down effect of the country’s civic and moral climate on its progeny. But does Mrs Sonia Gandhi speak a mean and haughty sounding Hindi! And she is so frighteningly cloned to her late mother-in-law who graced Somerville College for a whole term).
Sometimes it seems anarchy must be the prevailing ideology. Everyone seems to do as they like, from chucking litter, defecating in the open air to appalling rudeness. Whimsical adverts put out by the present government appear on television, about the desirability of a loo for every home: Happy, scrubbed children frolicking about, cantankerous grannies waving their fingers- that sort of thing- to the accompaniment of rousing songs about good hygiene. The poor are given handouts (there is a controversy about what exactly is the bottom line- Rupees 17 or 35 to qualify for aid. That’s about 7-14 pence a day).
Then, from time to time, violence erupts and someone is raped or murdered: frenzied soul searching and hunting for appropriate phrases to describe the tragedies. Last week a 19 year old student from one of the Seven Sisters (the North Eastern States- vide my piece on “Manipuris” 2/10/2013 ) was clubbed to death in a locality barely half a mile from where my family lives. He “looked different”. He had dyed his spiky hair and he had Mongoloid features, like all the charming and attractive people do from that area. A few days before, two pretty girls from Manipur were cuffed at the ankles with a dog leash as they strolled through a bazaar. The dog kept snapping at their heels.
“We must put an end to racism!” roared the media. As usual there was a candle light vigil for Nido Tanin, the dead boy. No such ceremony for the Ugandan women who were pulled out of their rented house and insulted. Appearance is important. How often am I told I do not “look Indian.” Then I speak commoner-garden Hindi or Punjabi and everyone relaxes.
But fellow Indians, have you ever looked dispassionately at yourselves? Do you not see your bloated bellies, your discoloured complexions- the result of abominably unhealthy life-styles- your yellow eyes, your propensity to spit where you want, urinate where you like? How are you so superior to the people you single out for your prejudices? And what about your atrocious manners? How you sprawl over a table chewing with your mouths open, belching openly. How you never say ‘excuse me’ as you push past, or start shouting the minute you’ve had a beer too many? Who has given you the right to throw your rubbish about and foul the atmosphere with your cars? Are you so de-humanized that you care only for your little patch, your own skin, your own kin? Why are you so insecure? You aren’t colonized, many of you have fat bank accounts, you eat in expensive restaurants and drive expensive cars. So why is it such an effort to try and respect the world you inhabit as well as your fellow human beings?
Ten days ago I tried hard to ignore the rubbish so profusely scattered along the roads and fields as I drove to my ecologically sound bamboo resort in Mobor Beach, Goa. It had sounded just what I was looking for. But Trip Advisor is a pernicious and unreliable guide as I’ve discovered. The first night my sleep was broken by loud music and voices outside the ecological bamboo hut. A flying frog landed on my pillow, a crab which I mistook for a scorpion scuttled under the bed. But I didn’t have the guts to step outside and tell the young crowd to shut up, because I was still smarting from a put-down on the flight from London.
A young man came and plonked himself into the free seat next to me because he wanted to drink alcohol, away from his parents’ gaze; they were travelling with him. He drank and drank (rum and coke) and chatted away to his mild mannered neighbour. It was midnight, so I asked if I might be allowed to sleep. The drinker retorted, “If you want to sleep then why don’t you buy Business Class?” Much later he apologized. “See, I don’t like being told what to do. I work on computers at London University and one day this woman professor was soooo rude to me, so I walked out. I won’t be told what to do! I said I am not working for such a person.”
By then we were friends. He had shown me a high five. “But Vimal, if you treat clients like that you’ll find it very hard to climb the ladder. Tact is very important.”
“I’ve always been a rebel. I think I got in with the wrong crowd after I left Cardiff University.”
“Perhaps you were trying to prove your individuality?”
He was delighted. “She reads me like a book!” He said to his mild neighbour.
That happened to turn out well, after an unpleasant start. At Bogmolo Beach four young teenage girls pushed past, elbowing me out of the way. “Excuse me,” I remarked.
“You shut up!”
Next day several hefty men on a shopping spree for alcohol harangued the hapless shopkeeper, while I waited and waited to be served. When I asked if I could move forward I was roundly abused.
Last year the Russian phenomenon was a novelty to me. This year I heard many stories about “old women” from Europe (and Russia, or elderly white-skinned ladies) who have been flocking to Goa looking for toyboys to take home. They seem to like Kashmiris and they marry them. Sometimes their new husbands make them sign over their assets before jumping ship. I bumped into one of the bargain hunters, whose husband preferred to stay at home in Vienna while she visited her former hunting grounds in Bogmolo Beach. It is all rather sad.
I think my Goa holidays have come to an end. I won’t be going back. The prices are at least thirty per cent higher than last year, Mum’s Kitchen which I raved about was disappointing and there was commensurately thirty per cent more rubbish to contend with.
No, not a lot has changed.