Sanity vs Senas
As an ex-Punjabi manoos from Napean Sea Road with a 20-year-old standing in the City of Gold, I view the melodrama starring the Thackeray son/nephew, Shahrukh Khan, Sharad Pawar, Ashok Chavan with growing exasperation. My blood pressure rises further when bad-tempered TV debates endlessly discuss the apparently life-or-death question: Who does Mumbai belong to? This possession of turf evokes responses ranging from the sublime to the ridiculous, mostly the latter. That we should be squabbling over such a preposterous proposition reflects the hopeless condition of our republic. It is like asking: Is a citizen of India free to travel from one state to another? Is a resident of Gujarat entitled to a gas cylinder if he moves to Tamil Nadu? Does the RSS chief have to be a Hindu?
Since the original question invites contempt, let me offer some topics worthy of our attention. The first is the role of the media. It has been suggested that Outlook and our noisy TV channels should studiously ignore the extended Thackeray clan, since any spotlight on them and their shenanigans plays right into their hands, that is, gives them a vastly exaggerated persona. I disagree. The Shiv Sena and MNS have been successfully spreading terror and criminality in India’s commercial capital not because they are politically or numerically significant, but because they can do their diabolical deeds with just a handful of goons. For the city’s taxi drivers to panic and run for their dhotis, you don’t need a 100 Sainiks, one (with a brick in his hand) will do. Consequently, the media must relentlessly expose the true face of Sena fascism. We need more of the Thackerays on our screens, not less.
Two. Whether it is Jaya Bachchan or Karan Johar or Sharad Pawar (I found the sight of Pawar pleading with Bal Thackeray to allow Australian cricketers to play in Mumbai shameful; Mr Pawar must be overjoyed that the ageing Tiger has agreed to “consider” the request) prostrating before Matoshree, the homage should be roundly condemned. At some point, the state and its institutions will have to take on this extra-constitutional authority. The time to strike is now. Both the Senas are presently enfeebled, demoralised, divided—close to extinction.
Davos Man has become a figure of fun. Having brought the capitalist system to its knees by fraud and mendacity, this species has lost much of its sheen. Hugo Rifkind in The Times, London, writes: “The whole notion of the World Economic Forum enrages me. It’s not so much the concept of economic leadership. It’s more the people themselves. All together. Laughing. Enjoying themselves in their expensive fur-trimmed overcoats. Consider, for example, the following sentence about one leading banker, and mastermind of the international bailout, which appeared in this newspaper: ‘By Friday night he was dressed in a Nehru-style suit, leaning over the bespoke ice bar at Standard Chartered’s cocktail party. It was as if he didn’t have a care in the world.’ Are you all right with that? Because I’m not. Doubtless it is just my own inferiority complex speaking, because I’ve never masterminded any sort of bailout, and frankly I wouldn’t know where to start. But even so, just reading about him and his suit made one wish I’d been standing next to him at the bar, so that when he looked away, I could have taken my own cocktail, or better still, a glass of red wine, and poured it over one of his very expensive suits.”
Before you call Rifkind a Commie, remember he wrote this in The Times—Rupert Murdoch’s daily.
The launch of M.J. Akbar’s The Sunday Guardian is a welcome addition. In 1981, I launched the country’s first Sunday paper, The Sunday Observer. Since its closure in the early ’90s, no one’s thought, until now, of plugging the gap between the conventional daily and the conventional newsmagazine. It was a gap crying out to be filled. I know many editors and publishers have toyed with the idea, but for some reason did not pursue it. In Britain, there are two standalone Sunday papers. One of them, Murdoch’s Sunday Times, is making money hand over fist. The other, The Sunday Observer, for which our very own, the late Abu Abraham, drew cartoons, is still going strong.
As I have had occasion to note earlier, The Sunday Observer was where I learnt the nuts and bolts of journalism. It is also where I had the most fun. M.J. Akbar’s new paper deserves all support. I’m buying two copies!
I yield to no one in my admiration for Shahrukh Khan. Without doubt, he is a national treasure. He has one small failing, though. He talks in torrents. There are no full stops when he opens his mouth. All of which conveys the impression of glibness, of insincerity, of someone in love with his own voice. Actors are narcissists. That’s a given. My useless advice to Shahrukh Khan would be: Talk less, act more.