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Posted at: Mar 11, 2018, 1:18 AM; last updated: Mar 11, 2018, 1:18 AM (IST)
Harish Khare
Harish Khare

And, now, a million murtis…

Harish Khare

Harish Khare

As a nation, we are blessed with the managers of a New India who are persistently innovative in keeping us, the citizens, at each other’s throats. The new rulers of our New India are gifted disruptors; they can come up with easy, simple formulations and symbols which divide and generate passions and animosities — and, keep attention away from the rulers’ failures and flaws. 

They cleverly, first, picked the National Flag, the ultimate symbol of national unity, and made it into a standard-bearer of divisiveness. Then, the cow was brought into play. Suddenly, there was a licence to kill, in the name of cow protection. And, now, they have come up with a simple but exquisitely explosive trick — the statues. Tear down a statue and set the social relations afire. 

First, Lenin statues were brought down in Tripura; that was a signal for the new disruptive managers of the New India to give vent to their dormant prejudices. And, while the demolition mobs were at work in Tripura, a statue of the Dravidian icon, EV Ramaswamy ‘Periyar’, was vandalised at Vellore in Tamil Nadu. Statues of Ambedkar, Gandhi, etc were also vandalised. 

A poisonous mindset is at work, and it got unwittingly revealed when the Governor of Tripura took to Twitter to condone the vandalism: “What a democratically elected government can do, another democratically elected government can undo. And vice versa.”

Here is a constitutional functionary, a man sworn to uphold law and order, and, that very man is rationalising the mob and its handiwork. Another time and another day, the President of India would have withdrawn his pleasure and recalled the Governor. But now, we live in a different India.

The managers of New Delhi must be having their own calculations in this organised disruptive strategy, unsettling settled social relations. Politics was never as poisonous as now. 

Almost 30 years ago, we all got very angry when VS Naipul suspected that “a million mutinies” were lurking round the corner, with “lesser loyalties” awaiting to make India into an ungovernable place. Almost 30 years later, the champions of New India seem hell bent upon proving Naipaul right.

* * * * * *

WHENEVER I had occasion to meet the then Chief Minister, Parkash Singh Badal, he would urge me to find time to visit Anandpur Sahib. A visit to the nearby Virasat-e-Khalsa museum was also recommended. Each time I would make a promise to Mr Badal to visit the sacred shrine; only this week was I able to redeem that promise. A couple of old friends from my Yale days were in town and it seemed like a good idea to tag along with them on a visit to Anandpur Sahib.

And, what a wonderfully rewarding experience! The shrine sparkles in the sun, radiating a blissful purity. Without the throng that congregates at the Harmandar Sahib, the unhurried ambience at Anandpur Sahib invites you to linger on, soak in the mellifluous Gurbani. The karha parsad, the langar, the siropa, all made the visit a fulfilling experience. The view from atop the gurdwara suddenly forces the visitor to mentally revisit the historic struggles the Gurus and the Panth had had to wage to save the Khalsa. 

No less satisfying was the visit to Virasat-e-Khalsa. The story of the early Gurus is very vividly, very movingly told. The aesthetics is simply overwhelming. Guru Nanak’s message of the oneness of God is told so tellingly and so clearly that one wonders how the present overseers of the Sikh Panth have managed to move so far away from that saint’s wise advice. I am inclined to believe that Guru Nanak’s egalitarian teachings are at the core of our constitutional undertakings. 

In terms of architectural richness, the Heritage Complex is an imaginative essay in stainless steel. That the architect was allowed to depart from the traditional Sikh shrine designs is a very sobering thought. Innovation is possible.

* * * * * *

COPY editors love to prefix the adjective “controversial” before Dr Subramanian Swamy. And, undoubtedly, he is always assiduously seeking to manufacture a controversy. But it is also a fact that he is one of the most intelligent men in public life in India today; plus, it is a matter of shame that except during Chandra Shekhar’s brief prime-ministerial innings, he has not been inducted in any Central Cabinet. And, that has to be a matter of national loss because Dr Swamy does have the guts to say what everyone else feels ought to be said but is too afraid or too circumspect to say.

Take, for example, his social media comment on the Gautam Adani group, in the context of the unending bank frauds scam. While politicians are busy blaming each other, it is the taxpayers’ money that is going down the drain with high-profile “entrepreneurs” running up huge debts. The Adani group has built for itself a reputation of being close to Prime Minister Narendra Modi. 

Dr Swamy openly suggested that “the biggest NPA trapeze artiste in PSUs in Gautam Adani.” Of course, the Adani group had its own views and justifications for its dependence upon the public sector banks. So powerful is the Adani group that most newspapers chose not to take note of Swamy’s concern.

The Nirav Modi bank fraud has to be seen as part of a continuing phenomenon called crony capitalism. The politician-fraudulent businessman nexus thrives and thrives gloriously, irrespective of who does the chowkidari in New Delhi. It requires the intelligence and the clarity of a Subramanian Swamy to call a spade a spade. The only regret is that he does not speak up enough. 

* * * * * *

THE week began on a very happy note when on Monday morning we learnt that one of our oldest family friends, James Ivory, had won an Oscar for the best adapted screenplay for Call Me by Your Name, a gay coming-of-age romance, based on a novel by the same name by Andre Aciman. Jim would be 90 this coming June (and I hope to join him for the celebrations in upstate New York). It was mentioned that Jim is probably the oldest Oscar recipient in history. In any case, it was a wonderful crowning of a gloriously creative career in Hollywood. An honour thoroughly deserved.

James Ivory and Ismail Merchant have been household names for me because together with my mother-in-law, Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, they constituted, perhaps, the most enduring film-making team in Hollywood. It was so thoughtful of Jim to remember both of them in his Oscar acceptance speech. 

Before he scripted Call Me by Your Name, Jim had directed and screen-adapted EM Forster’s Maurice, a novel about a man falling in love with another man. Forster had written the novel in 1913-14, but it was published only after his death in 1970 because the great writer thought that the English society was still in thrall of a kind of Victorian morality and would not approve of the idea of a man finding happiness with another man.

Being gay was not all that easy in the West till very recently, and it was very, very brave of James Ivory, in 1987, to direct Maurice. Writing the screenplay for Call Me by Your Name was a natural evolution for Jim, but it was still a bold step for the Academy to honour him for a screenplay for a gay film. Alas, we may never be able to watch the film in India. 

So, do join me as I raise my cup of coffee in salute to James Ivory.


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