‘We must,’ said the Big Boss, calling the meeting to order, ‘select a couple of names for the Bharat Ratna’. ‘Vajpayeeji, of course, is the first one,’ he said and everyone erupted in shouts of ‘Long live Atalji’. ‘The problem,’ added the boss, ‘is who will be the second guy?’
‘How about giving it to Bhagat Singh,’ proposed a junior minister. ‘Yes, he gave his life for our freedom,’ said an emotional chap. A senior minister intervened. ‘Bhagat Singh was an atheist and said the government was a weapon in the hands of the ruling class,’ he said. ‘Oh my God,’ cried an impressionable minister, ‘he was a commie’. A lady thanked the senior minister for saving them from the horror of honouring a socialist.
They furrowed their brows again. ‘What about Netaji Subhas Bose?’ queried a hothead. ‘Well, we just refused to declassify the documents related to his death,’ pointed out a logical chap. At that point, a young minister burst out, ‘How come Mahatma Gandhi hasn’t got the Bharat Ratna yet?’ A big shot smiled indulgently. ‘He is the Father of the Nation. Bharat Ratna means Gem of India,’ he explained. ‘Couldn’t he be A Gem of a Father?’ asked the youngster.
The silence was broken by a tactful chap who recommended the award be given to Rabindranath Tagore, a suggestion rejected because he was too hairy. A guy proposed they should award a scientist. The big shot asked whether Werner Heisenberg was a good idea, since he got his Uncertainty Principle from the Vedas. The boss said he didn’t like uncertainty. ‘How about Satyendra Nath Bose?’ asked someone. Amidst a chorus of ‘Who’s he?’ he said this was the Bose of the Higgs Boson, the God particle. The silence was deafening, before the big shot said, ‘Ah, but which God?’ and everybody laughed.
‘Look,’ said the boss, ‘a chap called Bhagwan Das, whom none of us has ever heard of, has got the Bharat Ratna. So it’s clear this is not meant for the really big guys, chaps like Vivekananda or Tilak or Gokhale or Sri Aurobindo. We need a different type.’ ‘How about someone who helped Sanskrit?’ asked a lady who had recently done much to promote the language. ‘Let’s give it to Panini,’ said a chap who knew his Sanskrit. To the uninitiated he explained Panini was a Sanskrit grammarian of the fourth century BC. ‘Kinda old,’ dismissed the boss.
That was when a chap suggested Madan Mohan’s name. An ignoramus wanted to know why they should honour a Bollywood music director. ‘No no, I mean Malaviyaji, who established Banaras Hindu University, the Hindu Mahasabha, loved Sanskrit and was all for cow protection.’ ‘Good, good,’ said the Boss, ‘Madan Mohan Malaviya, 3M.’ ‘What about buffalo protection, lots of buffalo meat is exported,’ complained a lady who was pointedly ignored. ‘Actually, he’s called Mahamana Madan Mohan Malaviya,’ said the chap. ‘Superb alliteration, 4M, awesome, that settles it. Let’s go with this guy,’ they agreed unanimously.
Manas Chakravarty is Consulting Editor, Mint
The views expressed by the author are personal