“Well, it’s a homage to Charles Dickens…”
“Our readers don’t care for the theory of evolution. And it’s too confusing anyway. How can this year have been both the best of times and the worst of times?”
At that juncture, I didn’t even bother to tell him that not only was the beginning of my piece a homage to Dickens, whose 200th birth anniversary was celebrated through the year. but it was also a Fareed Zakaria-esque filching from an old New Yorker cartoon depicting an exasperated Charles Dickens facing an editor who also thought that it could scarcely have been both the best of times and the worst of times.
“Why don’t you try something less convoluted?” the editor told me a.k.a. Bejan Bhagat. “Why don’t you showcase the best of 2012 but in a.. in a… Gangnam style?” He was so pleased with his own idea that he pushed his chair back and after pressing a button on his desk that filled the room with a frenetic, thumping music that seemed to be the soundtrack to an attack of flatulence, he started to dance a strange dance that involved mimicking him on a horse with his hands on imaginary reins while keeping a completely straight, bored look on his face.
This happened earlier last week. And after this experience, I swore never to approach this rival newspaper again. But the one lesson I did learn from my meeting with the dancing editor was that I was not going to start my new piece for this paper that you hold now in your hand with the Dickens line. Instead, the article that follows is a rough’n’ready rundown of ten moments in the last 12 months that made the year what it was. Other publications tend to publish a ‘Persons of the Year’ list. But why go for such tired gimmicks when you can have an expertly selected roster of the ten best of 2012 who stood out for the worst reasons. And by stood out, I mean worth remembering before the year ends… op op op op oppan Gangnam-style.
Nobody has been able to fathom who exactly promised those chaps at the Darul Uloom Deoband an all-expenses holiday to Disneyland and Las Vegas, but folks from India’s leading Islamic seminary did make a Bismihelluva ruckus about Salman Rushdie’s scheduled visit to the Jaipur Literature Festival in January.
They demanded that the Indian government block Rushdie from stepping on Indian soil as the writer of The Satanic Verses “had annoyed the religious sentiments of Muslims in the past”. The government didn’t insist that Rushdie drop by. Rushdie complied and the Darul dudes didn’t think it worth their while to train their placards on others who had “annoyed the religious sentiments of Muslims in the past” – like, say, Narendra Modi. In the meantime, the Jaipur Literature Festival survived the wrath of the Shariah, while Rushdie quietly attended the annual India Today conclave two months later. The jury at the Deoband is still out as to whether descriptions of Rushdie’s ex-wives in his memoir, Joseph Anton, that was published in September amount to issuing a spanking new fatwa against him or not.
It’s unlikely that you’ll remember either of these gentlemen. But Suresh Kalmadi was once upon a time the chief of the 2010 Delhi Commonwealth Games Organising Committee and A Raja (pic) was Union telecommunications minister in the UPA government a long, long time ago. Kalmadi got bail in January after spending nine months behind bars on corruption charges; Raja got bail after 15 months in prison in May for being the prime accused in the 2G spectrum allocation scam. Considering that the corruption charges against both men were bailable offences, one would have thought concerned citizens would flock to hold candle light vigils against the incarceration of the two under-trials. But what’s it about men with facial hair – Kalmadi has a moustache and beard; Raja has a moustache – that makes people kind towards them? While the Delhi High Court did not allow Kalmadi to participate in the opening ceremony of the London Olympic Games, it did allow him to travel to London to watch the Games. No, watching it on telly wouldn’t do. As for Raja, the Supreme Court has forbidden him from visiting the Department of Telecommunications office and his home state Tamil Nadu. He can live with that.
Tryst with miss destiny
In February, Laxman Savadi, CC Patil and Krishna Palemar, three BJP ministers from the Karnataka government were found watching a porn clip on Palemar’s mobile phone in the state assembly. While they should have been paying more attention in class, the fact that there isn’t any law against watching a porn clip anywhere – no, not even in Rashtrapati Bhavan – should have made them come up with a better excuse than the one provided by Savadi: “[The clip] was of four people molesting a foreigner…I am not a criminal.” The fact that horrified the nation wasn’t so much that the three idiots who quit the BJP later were watching porn in the assembly as much it was about them watching foreign porn. Whatever will happen to our mom’n’pop porno if our leaders start watching FDI-ed smut?
A month after Sachin Tendulkar scored his 100th international century, he was nominated to the Rajya Sabha. This was, obviously, the ‘patli gali’ the wise men of the nation had provided the former greatest batsman in the world after he scored that century against Bangladesh repeat Bangladesh. Sachin had gone without a century for 369 days prior to that. The man should have got the hint if he had looked at the two others nominated to the Raja Sabha the same day: Anu Agha, 70, retired chairperson of energy and environment management giant Thermax; and Rekha, 58, semi-retired actress.
The way he’s been playing outside Parliament, Sachin’s certainly started to look Rekha’s age.
Who’s that gal?
Before July 27, Madhura Nagendra was just another postgraduate from Bangalore who spoke in an under-developed sing-song way. After July 27, Madhura Nagendra was that girl in a red shirt and blue trousers who did diddly-squat and yet wheedled her way on to national TV (international TV wouldn’t have known anyone anyway) to be in front of the Indian contingent at the London Olympics opening ceremony. “I’d like to tell my people that I did not do a security breach. I was a part of the OCC [Olympic closing ceremony] cast… I did not gatecrash… as an error of judgment I ended up walking with the athletes and in the eventuality, I think I’ve hurt the sentiments of my people, my brothers and sisters and I apologise for the same. I will make India proud in the future,” she later said on NDTV. I don’t think her people believed a word she said.
Knock, knock. Who’s there? Mamata Banerjee. Mamata Banerjee who? Mamata Banerjee who in April didn’t like a cartoon on the internet depicting her as a dictatorial sort. She so didn’t like it that she had the university professor who forwarded the image to his neighbour as well as the neighbour arrested. While the rest of India scratched their heads wondering what was so funny or damning about the cartoon – it referenced Satyajit Ray’s film Sonar Kella (The Golden Fortress) but never mind all that – Banerjee fumed in full Red Queen ‘Off with his head!’ regalia. A month later, still with no psychiatrist in sight, Didi branded members of the audience at a CNN-IBN interactive session as ‘Maoist’. Not because the audience included Buddhadev Bhattacharjee or Ho Chi Minh but because the people had been asking her questions other than ‘Why are you so lovely?’ and ‘Will you be our chief minister forever?’
We understood General VK Singh’s pain. Well, sort of. In January, the Indian army chief took the Government of India to court for forgetting his birthday. But considering that when he had enrolled with the National Defence Academy decades ago, it was Singh who had stated that he was a year older than he was, was the government really being churlish? Which led to the real question: was the army chief lying about his age now so that he could serve another year before retiring, or was the sapper who would go on to become army chief lying in 1965 when he enrolled so that he could get in a year earlier? After a month, even Singh himself was so thoroughly confused about his real age that he withdrew the case in February -- after the Supreme Court had refused to intervene in the matter. Which leads us to the most important question about Gen Singh: Is he briefs man as he had stated long ago? Or is he a boxers man?
Bose is boss
Indians suddenly discovered in July that everyone in the world had not discovered the genius of Satyendra Nath Bose, who had died in 1974, but not before leaving his mark on fundamental physics. When two experimental teams at the Large Hadron Collider near Geneva announced that they had confirmed the existence of a sub-atomic particle that in the trade went by the name of Higgs boson, Indians went mad. Mad-angry that the international media was paying attention only to British physicist Peter Higgs after whom the particle is named, without mentioning anything about Bose after whom ‘boson’ is named. Mad-happy that an Indian surname was being pronounced by firings each time someone was talking about the discovery.
Let’s just say that Vijay Mallya won’t be instructing any cabin crew to “treat you as a guest in my own house”. On the verge of bankruptcy and with debts as high as former brand ambassador Yana Gupta’s heels, Kingfisher Airlines is already being remembered for the trademark red headphones it would gift its passengers. Since the airlines’ licence was suspended in October, Mallya has been spotted trying to gather money by selling bits and bobs of his very liquid assets. But whether that money’s for resurrecting a dead bird, or to fund Mini-Me’s, sorry, son Siddarth’s nose-powdering habits, it’s anybody’s beer burp.
Andy Murray showed his sensitive side after he lost to Roger Federer in this year’s Wimbledon final. So what did you expect fellow Scot and Brit icon James Bond to be: Captain Caveman or some preening chokra-stud? Many Bond-wallas may not have cared for the latest installment of 007 in Skyfall. But this MI6 eye-candy is actually equipped with a brain and a fully developed set of adult emotions – not to mention acting skills. But the real surprise in the latest avatar of the movie franchise is that it doesn’t force itself to deliver semi-automatic one-liners. Hell, this Daniel Craig James Bond is actually good at keeping silent. A James Smiley, you would reckon. Not good old Double-O.