Modi-Thurber connection

  • Vikramdeep Johal, Hindustan Times, Chandigarh
  • Updated: Sep 21, 2014 09:26 IST

During his upcoming visa-free visit to the US of A, Narendra Damodardas Modi is not scheduled to meet James Grover Thurber, the great humorist. Alas, the latter died way back in 1961, when Modi was a mischievous boy who used to staple together people’s clothes at weddings and dangle the mouth-watering imli before shehnai players to distract them.

For the record, Thurber’s 120th birth anniversary falls this year, while Modi’s 100+20th will be celebrated with gaiety and fervour, pomp and show on September 17, 2070 — provided the BJP is in power that day. Flight of fancy? Blame Thurber, not me.

The American legend’s most enduring creation is Walter Mitty, an ordinary man living an ‘extra-ordinary’ life, bullied by his wife and frustrated by his own mediocrity. Known as Mungerilal in his Indian avatar, this fellow uses his hyperactive imagination to daydream of performing heroic feats at the drop of a hat. Much like a tea seller aspiring to do something BIG in life.

Modi’s greatest creation, of course, is himself. He’s the larger-than-life PM, poles apart from his puny predecessor, who wants the whole of saffron-painted India to dream along with him. And what better way to make all the Mungerilals overlook their pitiable existence than to dangle promises of bullet trains, smart cities, toilets-in-every-home and digital empowerment before them? No wonder the aam aadmi (not the AAPian one), as gullible as ever, is beginning to feel that there’s a bit of NaMo, a mini superhero, hidden somewhere inside him or her.

For obvious reasons, it’s the chaiwalla who are bubbling over with optimism. They know that the terribly overrated Slumdog Millionaire, in which one of their own hits the jackpot on a TV quiz show, was just a comic-book fantasy. For them, what’s happening off-screen now is reality, Modi-fied reality.

The other day, I heard a tea seller singing praises of the Pradhan Mantriji. Stationed under a tree near a government school, he did brisk business on Teachers’ Day as parents and teachers flocked to his stall for much-needed refreshment during the PM’s address to the nation’s children. He’s expecting a similar rush on Children’s Day, when he hopes Modiji will address the nation’s teachers. After all, the man who ‘stole’ Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan’s birthday can easily do the same to Jawaharlal Nehru. Who can stop His Highness from rubbing Tata salt into the Congress’ wounds, asks the chaiwallah with a chuckle.

My gut feeling: this guy will go far, as far as the assembly, if not Parliament. That would be a huge loss for people like me, who love his laung-elaichitea, but no sacrifice is big enough for the greater good of Indian politics. He’ll surely fly high, a la Jack Smurch, another classic Thurber creation. A garage mechanic’s helper, Smurch manages to fly a battered second-hand plane around the world, nonstop. He’s quickly hailed as ‘The Greatest Man in the World’, but his foot-in-mouth habit spells his doom and he ends up being thrown off a high-rise building. And therein lies a lesson: the bigger they are, the higher they fly, the harder they fall. Thurber himself realised this rather painfully, as a childhood accident left him totally blind in his later years. Hope the Modi Sarkar won’t be so blinded by power that it loses sight of its grand goals.

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