06 Nov

Long Road to Fiefdom

I grew up in difficult times, the seventies. My grandmother had coined the famous slogan – Garib Hatao. It pained me as a kid to have to watch garibs being hataoed from our zones, LBZ in particular.

Recently I read a scholarly article in my favourite newspaper Hindustan Times. http://www.hindustantimes.com/news-feed/columnists/with-them-or-against-… It fell just short of anointing me as the new Nelson Mandela. I am at a loss to understand how the author, whose name I cannot remember, arrived at this conclusion independently of what Mani Shankar Aiyar had told me secretly. Rahul, he had whispered in my ear, You are the new Mandela. Please, Mani,  I had replied embarrassed.

Madiba is dead; long live Madiba! Really? Have I ever lied to you? I remember the days when people would call Mandela the new Rajiv and Winnie the new Sonia. Now you are the new Mandela. The circle of Statesmanship completes itself! How?  I asked. Luke 12:27. Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they toil not, they spin not; and yet I say unto you, that Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Where?

Matthew 6:28. And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin. Who are Luke and Mathew? I know only Antony. Lilies of the Field, Rahul.

Sidney Poitier. Mandela was the new Sidney Poitier? Could be both are black, I said.

Yes. And you are the new Mandela. You have taken all the poison thrown at you and sprinkled it in the fields of this great nation. Then, through MGNREGA, you have sent millions to farm that terre sainte – holy land. And look how the lilies of the field sway to the winds of freedom! But mummy said someone else did zeher ki kheti? Anyway, you sound convinced. I gladly accept your argument.

Excellent! Now listen to drive home the point, you need to write a short autobiography soon. My autobiography? Well, yes. How can I write my own autobiography? Who else will write your autobiography? Maybe JR? Much as he’d like to, he can’t write your autobiography. Only you can do that. Ok. I’ll try. Don’t worry Ashwani can proof-read the manuscript. It will be fool proof.

Thank you. And now I must think. Think I did. And Mani was spot-on. The time is now right for me to put paper to pen. I’m going to heart my pour out and you may not see what you like but this is the honest truth so god me help. For 27 years I was imprisoned on this island called Lutyens’ Delhi. It has been a long road to fiefdom. This is my story. I grew up in difficult times, the seventies.

My grandmother had coined the famous slogan Garib Hatao. It pained me as a kid to have to watch garibs being hataoed from our zones, LBZ in particular. That was the thing with granny – she never promised anything until she was sure it could be delivered in time for the next election. She was very result-oriented. She actually coined the term return-on-investment (ROI), light years ahead of the power-point revolution.Things got a little tricky when she declared the Emergency. Many papers remained on promises but her lieutenants ensured there were no garibs to be found anywhere in central Delhi.

Food was scarce but we coped. I remember chacha flying us down to Palam every fortnight to take delivery of canned asparagus and morilles. Sometimes we even got chewing-gum. Dog biscuits were rare, but the dogs seldom complained. We never lost sight of our goal,  fiefdom. No matter how long the road, no matter how painful the journey, we soldiered on. Growing up on this island brought its share of difficulties. I was lonely. It seems like yesterday, badgering Dhawan uncle constantly for a quick ride to the outskirts of LBZ just to experience the simple pleasures of life: kebabs at Karim’s or a chuski opposite the Red Fort. He was scared granny would find out. She had a nose for these things. Then, one day, overjoyed at dadi becoming the Prime Minister yet again, I stole chacha’s Hercules bicycle and set off towards Hauz Khas. Oh, the sensation of freedom! It is impossible to subscribe in words – it has to be felt in your hair, in your fluttering kurta, in your ballooning pyjama. But what surprised me most as I left the Lutyens’ buffer zone was the condition of my countrymen and women. They were walking like zombies, begging for a few coins or a banana, their mangled and wasted bodies hurtful to the eyes. They looked un-empowered. Were they not getting their daily quota of asparagus and other greens? Must report this to dadi soon, I thought. When I told her she was very kind. She said one day when the head will be placed on my crown I would usher in what she called the Food Security Bill. “But it wouldn’t be necessary then, dadi,  I told her, There’d be no garibs! She ruffled my hair and ordered me to drink my cream of broccoli soup. There were no bread crumbs. Life continued to be a struggle as I left school. Kapil suggested I join St. Stephen’s College. He said it would require zero attendance. Mummy agreed.It was a mistake. I was a discrimination of victim. There were special classes for me, there was special food, special friends, special everything. People think discrimination is bad only when it is against. Little do they know that positive discrimination is a higher form of apartheid. But like Mandela, I suffered it all in quiet determination. Early nineties was a time of great upheaval in our country. I decided to leave India. When I returned after a decade, things had calmed down but there was struggle ahead. Mummy was shouldering India on her lean frame, no matter how disciplined she was at the dining table. Mother India was in peril. That’s when Manmohan uncle stepped in. And the rest will be history.

Now I am a big boy. Manmohan uncle tells me time has come to place my head on the crown. He wants to free me of my current responsibilities. Should I listen to Manmohan uncle or ignore him as mummy does? Should I be set free or not? We debated this topic endlessly. My brother-in-law’s recent problems were unhelpful. There were ardent calls from some quarters for a truth and reconciliation commission to deal with his business matters. Didi had told me everything. She is so brave. She even holds her own umbrella in the rains. She said great clouds hang over our nation. Apartheid, she said, could return if I didn’t listen to Rahul Gandhi’s inner voice. Rahul Gandhi relented. There was great joy in didi’s eyes as she darted to Rob, mummy and Ahmed uncle. The day has finally dawned. I have been set free from my Lutyens’ prison. I have been asked to walk the length and breadth and height of India, meet her people, make new promises and shake many hands. Rahul Gandhi is ready. Rahul Gandhi has a mandate to restore fiefdom to its earlier glory, to see the tricolor flutter proudly from its mast atop Red Fort. Same colours in mummy’s country, only upside down. That is destiny. That is karma. Same content, sub-continent. My fellow countrymen, mine has been a journey every bit as gruelling as that of Mandela. I have also crocodiles with swum. Now I understand why that Hindustan Times columnist made the connection. He deserves Bharat Ratna, his newspaper Bharat Nirman ads.And I deserve to be the Prime Minister of India.

This article first appeared in Newsminute on June 05, 2014.

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