Last time I checked my calculator-cum-clock, there was a biggish difference between ‘five minutes early’ and ‘90 minutes late’. I also know by instinct and experience that five minutes early gets me a different kind of look from my boss than the one in which I arrive 90 minutes late. It now seems that my being able to tell the difference between the two time durations is a gift. Last week I realised that there are some unfortunate people out there suffering from the debilitating side-effects of Ministerialitis — the crippling ailment that makes Ministers and other VIPs believe that the world revolves around them. It is with this knowledge that I feel humbled by the fact that when I’m late, I know I’m late. Especially, when I’m late by a bloody hour and a half.
So my heart goes out to Women and Child Development Minister Renuka Chowdhury. Being a Minister makes most mortals — especially those whose Ministerial functions involve social development and much radiant smiling — extra-susceptible to believing that they are popular enough to be forgiven for any sort of transgression. I won’t be too surprised if someone as decorous as one of our many Ministers pickaxes his driver by mistake and finds it odd that no one remembered to notice how he thoughtfully went straight for the head, instead of opting for a messier option. I’ve personally witnessed a worthy breaking wind in a public gathering as if ministerial methane is something that the world can do with more of. Not to mention witnessing another gent who ordered around his Gunga Din in front of us puny journos as if a spandex-for-khadi S&M relationship is nothing to be ashamed of.
Thus, Ms Chowdhury’s inability to fathom why she was not garlanded when she stepped into a plane 90 minutes late — and thereby delaying it — is completely understandable. Such is the Minister’s woeful condition that her version of how a Goa-bound JetLite flight was delayed on Friday doesn’t even match that of the other passengers. Chowdhury insisted later in this paper that she was “five minutes early”, considering that she was told that the flight had been delayed from 12.15 pm to 1.50 pm. So her thoughtful scamper into the plane at 1.45 pm should have, at the very least, been a lesson for those UP-Bihar type of MPs on how to behave like any other ticket-paying passenger. It’s another matter that the delay from 12.15 to 1.50 may just have been ‘arranged’ by the airline to make her life in a traffic jam less difficult. In any case, the airline people confirmed each and every word that the Minister said in her own defence subsequently. Why oh why, would they want to protect her, hmm?
Now frankly, it’s Chowdhury’s words against mine — well, not actually mine, but at least four other passengers on the JetLite flight. Kishore and Nayanjot Lahiri, with no generational family feuds simmering with the Chowdhury clan, told me that they had been waiting inside the plane for “quite a while” before Citizen Renuka popped in. They were “disgusted” later by how the Minister’s PSO was “acting like her valet and serving food and drinks to her and her family”. The Lahiris get disgusted far too easily. I mean, isn’t a PSO a chaprasi in a safari suit or what?
Chowdhury told this paper (our reporter doesn’t say whether she was in tears or not) that she was “bombarded with a verbal volley” from passengers. How, oh how could they have bombarded her with a verbal volley? She was five minutes early — at least in her head. It’s another matter that a couple, Sanjay and Sheena Sharma, travelling with their one-month-old baby, were actually harangued by the Minister of Child Development for airing their displeasure towards her.
In such a situation, whom do you believe? People who don’t know an understanding Minister with her pallu tucked inside her waist when they see one? Or an understanding Minister giving her version to the national media with her pallu tucked inside her waist? Answer: the national media, of course, that treats Ministerialitis with the sensitivity that chokes me up with raw undelayed emotion.