Poor Shashi Tharoor has learnt the hard way that cows cannot be spoken of lightly in India. This is the nation that gave the term sacred/holy cow to the world. Here’s what Akbar Illahabadi, the great 20th century Urdu poet and satirist had quipped about the cow:
Hami hua jo gai ka/ ahle yakeen hai
Samjha woh dil mein/gai ke sar par zameen hai
(Supporters of the cow are the true believers
because they know that it is on the horns of a cow
that the world rotates!)
—Akbar Illahabadi, 20th century Urdu poet and satirist
Now out of his five-star hotel, having spoken of cattle derogatorily, many Congress leaders believe Tharoor should soon be out of office. His party is certainly on the horns of a dilemma. Congress leaders say the holy cows he referred to were the Gandhis. At the iftar hosted by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, I spoke to some of the most high powered ministers of the Manmohan cabinet and no one had a nice word to say about Tharoor, although the PM did try to make light of the matter. Not the ministers. One described him as an “outsider who was just para-dropped on us and now he has started this nonsense”. Another minister said Throor’s future “is in grave doubt” though the PM will not sack him immediately. Laloo Yadav, fresh from victory in Bihar, was clear that “twitter is bakwas” and Tharoor has insulted the entire middle class by referring to them as “gai-bhais”.
Some BJP/VHP/RSS leaders, however, apparently believe he has insulted the animal. They refer to Kamdhenu, the eternally bountiful cow of ancient tradition. When I called up a source in the VHP, I was given a sermon on cow protection. He clearly thought the bovine creatures more important than any slight to the Gandhis. The BJP’s Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Chauhan, a fierce advocate of cow protection, for instance demanded that Tharoor be sacked because he has insulted cows besides human beings by referring to them as cattle.
As for me, I must confess that Tharoor has profoundly changed my self-perception. I now declare that I am proud of being cattle! I just left Delhi for a five day break with my daughter and for the first time in my life felt morally superior about travelling economy class. I did not look longingly at the separate counters for business class travellers, those plush wide seats we walked past on our way to the rear of the aircraft, or the huge leg space. Now that all our holy cows have downgraded themselves to economy, it is with my head held high that I shall travel economy (as indeed I have no choice). I shall hold that thought the next time I’m cramped on an excruciatingly long international thought and get a peek of business class…
As a product of St Stephen’s college I also take umbrage at the suggestion that Stephanians such as Tharoor just pick up the habit of clever one-liners from their debating society days that most Indians simply don’t understand. In other words, Tharoor just misfired with his twitter one-liners as “the people” (the other half not educated in Stephen’s) simply do not understand wit and irony. From what I have learnt in life, including the brief spell in college, true elite are not obnoxious and certainly don’t make a virtue of elitism. Good breeding also means not making others feel inferior.
And for all his superior education and impressive bio-data there is something so juvenile about all the twittering that Tharoor has been indulging in. The book my daughter was reading on the flight was The Twits by Roald Dahl about an obnoxious couple, Mr Twit and Mrs Twit, who eventually end up “Turned Upside Down” with their heads glued to the floor by a gang of monkeys known as the muggle-wump. In the last chapter, the Twits meet their comeuppance. They get the “dreaded shrinks” until they finally disappear. The last line of the Dahl classic: “Everyone shouted HOORAY”!