This is the 150th year of the publication of Alice in Wonderland. What if Alice came to India?
The first thing Alice noticed was an ancient godman sitting on top of a magic mushroom smoking ganja from a chillum, with a placard on which ‘Smoking is injurious to health’ was displayed prominently. ‘I wonder what latitude or longitude I’ve got to,’ she said, proud of the big words. ‘This is India, my dear,’ said the sage, ‘where we give everybody lots of latitude.’ ‘Who are you?’ asked Alice. ‘Ah, that’s the great puzzle,’ said the godman before dematerialising, ‘never imagine yourself not to be otherwise than what it might appear to others that what you were or might have been was not otherwise than what you had been would have appeared to them to be otherwise.’
‘Isn’t India a land of snake charmers,’ Alice wondered, when she was startled by a cat in a nearby tree. ‘That’s old hat,’ purred the cat, ‘we’re now a land of mouse charmers. That’s where I come in.’ As he spoke he slowly disappeared to the US, leaving behind the ghost of a smile.
Next, Alice arrived at a gated community. There was a table spread out on the lawn and an economist and a statistician were having tea, with a mango man asleep between them. ‘Do you know,’ said the statistician to Alice, ‘that our GDP grew at 7.5% in the January to March quarter?’ ‘What’s GDP?’ asked Alice. The economist broke into a song, ‘GDP is of many things/Of shoes and ships and sealing wax/Of cabbages and kings/And why the sea is boiling hot/And whether pigs have wings.’ Before Alice could clap, the mango man whispered, ‘Over 2,500 people died happy in the recent heat wave, knowing our GDP beat China’s.’ ‘That’s because,’ explained the economist, ‘there’s jam yesterday and jam tomorrow, but never jam today’. ‘Have some beef,’ the statistician told Alice. ‘Where’s the beef?’ she asked. ‘There isn’t any,’ said the statistics guy. As Alice left in a huff over this piece of rudeness, she saw them busily counting the cups and saucers, dividing them by the spoons and arriving at GDP.
Further down the road, she came across a young rat near a school. ‘What do they teach here?’ she asked. ‘Lots of things,’ said the rat, ‘apart from no examinations, they teach prevarication, procrastination and corruption. And besides learning how to eat mid-day meals we learn hypocrisy, wheeling-dealing, flattery and howling in mobs.’ ‘For games, of course, we have the rat race,’ it boasted. Alice reflected that had the rat grown up to be human, it would have been a dreadfully ugly one, but as a rodent it was rather cute.
That was when a rioting mob rushed past, screaming about some imagined insult to their religion. ‘Off with their heads,’ they chanted. ‘Who are they?’ asked Alice. ‘Oh, we’re all mad here,’ said the rat. ‘They’re mad. You’re mad’. ‘How do you know I ’m mad?’ asked Alice. ‘You must be,’ said the rat, ‘or you wouldn’t have come here’.
Manas Chakravarty is Consulting Editor, Mint
The views expressed are personal