The spectre of history is haunting India. Wherever you turn, they seem to be talking of Nehru and Patel and Aryans and Hemu. Those of us who passed our history exams by smuggling in little slips of paper in our undies have a hunted look these days.
Just the other day, the liftman said I bore a marked resemblance to Mir Jafar, after I forgot to give him his Diwali tip. My dhobi said my pyjamas looked a lot like Chandragupta Maurya’s. I hear Bollywood is already planning a movie called ‘Nehru Ke Side Effects’, while a TV wrestling show called ‘Chacha vs Sardar’ is also on the cards. My aunt calls her dog ‘Thomas Babington Macaulay’.
Here are a few basic tips for the historically challenged. Suppose, for instance, the topic at a cocktail party veers around to Patel and Nehru and someone asks which one you prefer. A quick look at Wikipedia will tell you that both Nehru and Patel were Scorpios. You then nonchalantly throw in the line, ‘They’re both all right, I guess, apart from being dead, but what can you expect from over-emotional Scorpios?’ That should floor them. Another scenario could be where they ask you whether you prefer Nehru or Bose. If this happens, ask the chap what the full form of RSS is.
If he says Rashtriyo Shoiongshebok Shongho, you know he’s a Bong and you immediately say Bose was by far the greater man. If he says Rumpelstiltskin, you can safely opt for Nehru. If he says Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, it’s a bit tricky, but you should say you prefer Patel. If the host turns out to be a Congressman, you can always explain you thought he was talking about Ahmed Patel. A variation of this gambit is asking your host, ‘Are snakes being served in the hole?’ If he says yes, go for Patel.
But a smarter option would be to casually say, ‘I would any day choose Madan Mohan Malaviya over the lot. What’s more, he was called Mahamana Madan Mohan Malaviya — who can resist the allure of such an alliterative name?’ And if you really want to be looked upon as a paragon of historical erudition, just drop the name ‘Chhota Bheem’.
Another potentially fraught situation is when they ask your opinion about the Nehruvian rate of growth. Nehru was five feet ten inches tall and he must have grown to that height in about 18 years. Assuming he was 20 inches at birth, that’s a rate of 2.78 inches a year, neither more nor less, because Nehru believed in planned development. Patel was around five feet five inches, so his rate of vertical growth was slower, but he grew more sideways. Add that vitamin supplements could boost growth. And if anybody asks about Hemu, tell them the emu is a flightless bird, probably a patriotic one. The ‘H’ is silent.
But why should we choose one leader over another? Why not honour them impartially? All this running for unity and Children’s Day and other such half-measures won’t do. The only way to truly show our respect is to have national holidays on all their birthdays. According to my calculations, there are exactly 1,643 eminent leaders, who share 365 distinguished birthdays, which should take care of the entire year. We can then sit back comfortably and enjoy our history.
Manas Chakravarty is Consulting Editor, Mint
The views expressed by the author are personal