It was a dark age. Men and women, chiefly vegetarian men on a high-sugar diet who had bet heavily on shares, were distraught because the returns were abysmal. A restaurant in Nariman Point, in South Mumbai, where the decibel level is calibrated to the gradient of the Sensex, was subdued most days.
Across the metros the real estate boom, too, was retreating. Businessmen who had made no investments in the society in the happy years that had preceded the gloom wondered why business was not growing. They gave bad raises, mostly none at all. Worse, the West was in recession. The young had cleared some objective-type exams, but they were afraid. When the young are afraid, they start reading newspapers. Watching news channels. They saw a series of scams break. They discovered that there was corruption in India.
An old celibate in deep Maharashtra, whose solution to some social problems was to whip men, wrote a letter to Sonia Gandhi, stating that the government she had installed should pass an anti-corruption Bill. She did not respond, which was a big mistake as any politician or political reporter in Maharashtra would have told her.
He wrote again, and again, but she did not respond. He waited for the cricket World Cup to end, went to Delhi and sat on a sidewalk near a public urinal, and said he won’t eat until the government yielded.
On the first day his audience was almost entirely the poor, who sang songs that lamented the wealth of Sec A1; how they drove around in cars and flew in planes. But soon, as television news saw a great story, the nature of the crowds changed fast, crowds that had to find parking. ‘Involved’ fathers carried their children on their shoulders so that the kids could see the great old bachelor. When an A1 male carries his child, usually his daughter, on his shoulder it means several things. Among them — a) remember this moment when I carried you on my shoulder, b) something great is unfolding around us.
Through this all a significant but underrated phenomenon occurred on the thin white mattress on which the old bachelor sat — several of his lieutenants, who were all equal then, crawled on it to whisper things into his ears, matters that could not wait. This has happened throughout modern India’s history — lieutenants whispering things in public into the ears of the chief. If all those whispers are known they would tell a parallel history of the republic. Why do they do that, why do they go meekly, cover their mouths and whisper? Because that is how they are seen by the public, and remembered, that is how some of the lieutenants become chiefs one day. Among the whisperers was Proto-Mufflerman, Arvind Kejriwal. In the days that followed he rose. He fed a fact to reporters — that he was the mind behind the old bachelor’s revolution.
A1 became emotional because they thought they were changing politics. Public opinion was in a festive delirium those days. Any writer who laughed at the revolution was abused. The objective of a writer is not to be likable, nor to be complicit in the transient moral outrages of society.
But public opinion is severe these days due to the new tools that are available, so the uncompromising writer today needs to possess the gift of shamelessness, or at least the delusion of martyrdom. Maybe even courage.
After the bachelor’s revolution ended and rose again and eventually collapsed, Kejriwal made the significant decision of entering electoral politics. He turned out to be a genius. He ended up as Delhi’s chief minister and finally, in the winter, the Muffler.
But every superhero has a weakness. It appeared that when Kejriwal saw the tarmac, he wanted to sit on it, holding a message. He had done so many things right by then that he did not know when he was going astray. Eventually, he did go astray when he quit his job, making a virtue out of his inability to do anything meaningful as Delhi chief minister. He would have still survived the mistake if it were not for the Alpha Male, for long the first love of A1, but now aglow in radiance.
It is a way of the world that in the luminescence of new love people tend to defame the old love. That was what happened to Mufflerman. In another time, a chief minister who quit his job to protest against feeling like a lame duck would have been hailed a saint. Instead Mufflerman was ridiculed and his image destroyed. Because loyalty to Alpha Male demanded that people consign all his competitors to the margins.
But now Mufflerman hopes to rise again. Unlike other good men of the republic, he has the gift of cunning. He cannot be underestimated, not in Delhi. Also, there is the fact that a political consensus between the poor and A1 is rare, and whenever it has occurred it has been short-lived. And, except for the rise of Narendra Modi, it is hard to tell the difference between the previous government and the present. Mufflerman may not return to his old glory soon, he may not fly anymore, but he surely can run.
(Manu Joseph is a journalist and the author of the novel The Illicit Happiness of Other People. The views expressed by the author are personal.)