‘Can you say something on the new propulsion being given to economic reforms?’
‘I am no economist. Besides, so much has been said on it already.’
‘You can speak as a general observer. And you can put it in your own way’.
‘What is my own way?’
‘Your sentences tend to be long and complicated.’
‘Right, so you want me to comment on the state of the economy in a long and complicated sentence.’
‘Long, but not complicated, please… Why don’t you say what is uppermost in your mind on the subject in one single sentence without pause ? That will make it a tad different… No?’
This was something of a challenge but I told my young interlocutor that I would give it a try.
‘Go on,’ he said ‘…and can I please record it to be able to tell you if you broke the thread…’
So this is how the stumbling sentence came out:
‘…There are, on one side of the fence, where the grass is decidedly green, where geraniums hang and roses climb, where houses have garages with machines that suck the dust off the tops of your books, off your sofa’s deepest crevices and machines that wash your clothes and dry them as well, that wash your dishes and leave them gleaming, that cool your dahi, freeze your ice-cream, and heat what has gone cold, with cars that zoom on roads that fly, those who want economic reforms to be revived with quiet resolution if not a bang, who believe that FDI in retail is good because Walmart as endorsed by Hillary Clinton has to be good and FDI in aviation as well because Air India is, well, unwell, and that though we live in the short term this revival of reforms will be good for the economy in the long term, that it will check inflation in the long term, boost investor sentiment in the long term and that if only we let the market determine the cost of petrol and of diesel, abolish subsidies though bailouts to Air India may stay, privatise the railways and metros, ‘open up’ our health and education sectors, scrap our labour laws, take our trade unions in hand, treat multi-national monoliths as a blessing, and Indian Leftism of the Nehruvian school as a niche of antiquarian values which is now thawing like a wax model in Madame Tussaud’s gallery, regard land as just another form of money and not a place where life is lived, hold solar energy to be good for our souls but nuclear energy the real panacea, nuclear weapons our unfailing sheath, and nuclear medicine our future in health care, the Wall Street Journal to be our most reliable educator, Bill Gates as the most impactful American since Abe Lincoln, Woody Allen, not Noam Chomsky, as the greatest thought-partner of our times, and Oprah Winfrey as the brightest, wisest, and most heart-touching spark on any idiot box anywhere in the world, and everything put together, recognise the United States, to be our best bet for the role of Coke formulator, McDonald originator, GM seed disseminator, terror-eliminator, civilian nuclear deal collaborator, neighbourhood peace-protector and, above all, for the role of our techno-economic-management totalisator, all should be well.’
‘…Ummm,’ said the young man… ‘now for the other side…’
‘The other side of the fence…’
‘Oh…’ I said and inspired by a foreword Mani Shankar Aiyar has written to a recently published collection of essays by Badri Raina, The Underside of Things, attempted this:
‘…Our GDP’s growth rate slowing down from 8% to somewhere between 6% and 7% gives cause for worry but our poverty alleviation rate hovering at an abysmally lower point should also give cause for worry for, as Raina has said, of all the children who die before the age of five in the world, 2 million die in India, 42% of the world’s under-nourished children and 31% of the ‘stunted’ ones are Indian and nowhere, not even in sub-Saharan African Africa, are pregnant and lactating mothers anaemic and as prone to die as in India, which only goes to show that if one belongs to what Aiyar has called “the hovel at the foot of the flyover” or to a village without protected drinking water, without a school with a teacher, without a primary health centre or sub-centre nearby with doctor and midwife or nurse and medicines and electricity present and working, with one’s traditional means of livelihood overtaken by the wheels of urban-driven commerce, or by a giant mining operation, legal or illegal or part-legal and part-illegal, or a mega industrial project which snaps up one’s land and offers in return a job requiring skills one is too old to learn, with a macabre militant outfit threatening dire consequences if one does not collaborate with it, and the police doing the same if one is forced so to collaborate, with a caste adversary, a religious fundamentalist, an obscurantist khap sarpanch, a street bully, a political extortionist, a counter-extortionist or a moneylender at one’s throat, then one’s perception of the nation, particularly where that deadly insecticide terminates the agony of indebtedness, would be different from that of the man whose garden is green and where geraniums hang and roses climb…’
‘So?’ he asked.
‘In another unbroken sentence?’
And this is how the ‘conclusion’ came in one sentence:
‘…Think of a sharp practice in human affairs and you will find its very master in India, or of a genre of human roguery, of political skullduggery, of financial chicanery, of professional trickery and India will show you its finest guru in a virtuoso performance as well as forms of selfishness so saw-toothed as could make dust-plumes of your own brother’s bones, and yet that very India can show you simple human beings taking Fate’s whiplash on their own chests in order to protect another, that India, democratic India, the Republic of India, where dissent has space, expression is free, initiative is free, the vote is free, the India of the young, of achievers, of sports-stars and scientists, crafts-persons and artists, that India makes us proud, immensely proud of India. Today’s India is a divided truth.’
‘You lost, sir.’
‘Your last sentence, sir… It is not acceptable. It has broken the thread.’
Gopalkrishna Gandhi is a former administrator, diplomat and governor
The views expressed by the author are personal