From 1996-2010, just over 250,000 farmers committed suicide in India, caught in a vicious cycle of mounting debt and usurious interest. Meanwhile, Delhi kept its date with the Formula One car rally, even though a stray dog had crashed a practice session the day before, running around the driving circuit like an escaped artist.
Then there was Lady Gaga; her blonde hairdo in the colours of the Indian flag, saying “Namaste India”, and Delhi’s yuppie crowd falling all over her and themselves and finally feeling like they had arrived and joined the real world.
Now, these arrivistes may say: that’s all very well to scoff at, especially since I wasn’t invited to the Gaga event and never once even to a fashion show in my life — pity, because I could write a treatise on the politics of the hemline, both rising and falling.
There are many who would say, ‘oh you jholawallah Indians’ — a reference to the khadi shoulder bag that several used to carry, especially in the pre-reform era, when it was still okay to be leftist, as well as publicly identify with the poor — all you can do is criticise your country in front of foreigners, although your urban sensibility has little connection with the muck and grime that rural India is made up of.
They may well be right. In any case, this reminds me of Amitabh Bachchan’s famous line in the mid-80s when he was newly-elected from Allahabad, one of Rajiv Gandhi’s new boys determined to save the country. “Politics”, said Mr Bacchan, “is like a cesspool”. Soon after, in the uproar that followed, he quit his seat as well as the Congress Party.
So what does one make of India these days, if one looks at it with a clear and unjaundiced eye? That old man Shakespeare comes to mind. “When things fall apart”, he said, “the centre doesn’t hold”.
Interestingly, in India these days, the reverse seems to be true. The centre seems to be struggling to get its act together, even as key provinces are run relatively efficiently by Jayalalithaa in Tamil Nadu, Mayawati in Uttar Pradesh (UP) and Mamata Bannerjee in West Bengal.
Even Omar Abdullah in Jammu and Kashmir finally amended the draconian Public Safety Act on Friday October 21 — which reduces minimum imprisonment from two years to three months, without trial or bail — which has been in place in the state for 22 years.
Remember that the Formula One rally is being held in a district just outside Delhi, in the state of Uttar Pradesh ruled by Mayawati. Now Uttar Pradesh may be one of the poorest provinces in the country, but it doesn’t figure in the list of the five worst-affected states in which farmers have killed themselves. That dishonour must belong to Maharashtra, easily India’s richest state, with Mumbai its financial capital.
Although Mayawati’s doing relatively well on the farm front, nearly 500 children have died of Japanese encephalitis in eastern UP in the last six months, as they do every year. Fact remains that the lady and her party are still going to sweep UP, when elections are held in India’s most populous state over the next few months.
The only way to make sense of all the above is that, as we take a respite in the Diwali-Eid season, India remains a bewildering and contradictory amalgam. Some things never change.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 30th, 2011.
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