Living in a Dhokla Democracy


Living in a Dhokla Democracy

Illustration: Namaah/Arré

Some say it’s a veritable beauty, an architectural marvel – it looks structurally stable but is soft and gives from the core. It makes the eye of the average Gujarati twinkle with delight. But to me it’s just full of holes and air. A block of make-believe; a bite of hokey. A glob of solidified yellow pixie dust smothered in a mother load of emotional, tear-jerking chutney.

It has been two years since the Modi government has been in power and things are very, very good for all of us here in Bharat. No cows to eat in one state, no booze to drink in another, no water to drink that booze with either. And saffron is the new black in many cases. With the dos and don’ts and taxing and waxing, not to mention the television adverts and outdoor hoardings with their special messages of manicured hope, I think we are doing fine. Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi appears on television to endorse cleanliness more than Katrina Kaif who endorses naughty, dirty ways to eat mango pulp, and Ayurveda is the solution to everything – from broken marriages to broken hipbones.

The bazaar of democracy in the world’s largest and most populous one is thrumming and the people are either very happy and very hopeful, or very angry and very confused. Either way the fence on which the collective asses of the electorate normally sit has been uprooted and replaced by a choice – the choice to be hopeful or the choice to get the fuck out.

But let me wind the clock back a bit to when the war for the nation was in full swing – the rhetoric and the brimstone, the fury and the fandango, the adrenaline-pumping election campaign and the media blitzkrieg. Let me go there for a bit because it is between the past and the present that the shadow of the future lies, and it is the future that we all die dreaming of.

If a bottle of adrenaline needed a face to market it, this was the man.

In the run-up to the general election of 2014, I suddenly found myself exposed to a continuous, uninterrupted, and consistently cacophonous televised broadcast of rabble-rousing babble in some remote, vote-bank rich, poor village. I usually avoid skits of this sort, having had my fill of impromptu entertainment in communist Calcutta, where I spent a part of my radioactive life. But no exposure is wasted and one’s half-life can be considered “full and enriching”, if one is able to emit wisdom and crackling perspectives as a result of the said exposure.

I was mesmerised by the party leader – a white-haired and white-bearded gentleman with a chest the size of Atlantis, and a roar that came from boiling a thousand African lions alive. Said gentleman was thumping, harrumphing, and gesticulating wildly at the assembled goats while making his many points. Those many points, covering wind, water, corruption, food, money, black-money, energy, poverty, and a zillion and twenty-five others were swinging madly between extremes, sometimes diabetic and sometimes bilious. He seemed like a clock hand gone cuckoo, a street lamp on a yo-yo, an earthquake that can’t make up its mind. Mr Gentleman swung out of the ballpark, referred emotionally to his brothers and sisters, brought up history, geography, science, fiction, science-fiction, friction, and the future. He took digs, took turns, sipped water, and kept the goat-pack thoroughly engaged, entertained and pumped up.

If a bottle of adrenaline needed a face to market it, this was the man.

As I was sitting enraptured, I realised there are various versions of politics being unfurled in Mother India. There’s the Politics of Slander, the muck manifesto peddling art of lifting the other party’s kimono first; the Politics of Pander, which swears by the three magic words – roti, kapada, makaan; and finally, there’s the Politics of Anger that makes rage the rhetoric and involves turning purpler than Prince.

And I got wondering – if such are the colours of a democracy where the lies are white, the ideology is saffron and the rhetoric vibgyor, then what is the point of the black-and-white objectivity of a college education.

And I got wondering – if such are the characters in the drama of a democracy where we have totalitarian, the superstar, the entitled, the joker, and the saviour then what is the point in the stoic approach that comes with a solid, unflinching middle-class upbringing?

And I got wondering – between the Cheap Minister and the Dung Parliament, the Joke Sabha and the Deflection Campaign, the Demoncracy and the Conmanstitution, what is a bit of chutney?

So now, I am having dhoklas instead.