At long last the race to Rashtrapati Bhawan is over. As anticipated, Pratibha Patil breasted the tape well ahead of Bhairon Singh Shekhawat. The country sighs with relief and says amen! We welcome the first lady President, but we keep our fingers crossed. We hope that she does not shoot her mouth more than its necessary to discharge her duties, and I hope she confirms to the faith that women can match men in ability and wisdom.
While the race was on, I could not resist thinking that with all said and done – except for Abdul Kalam – I could have made as good a President as any we’ve had so far. But perhaps no one would have voted for me and Jayalalithaa would have described my candidature as a big joke. Or she may have voted for me, or voted against me, or abstained from voting.
She would have been right in describing me as a joker. What is wrong in having a Joker-President? I would have brought laughter in the lives of millions of my countrymen. I may succeed in even making the un-laughing types like Jayalalithaa, Mamata Banerjee, Medha Patkar and TN Seshan roar with laughter.
They would have looked forward to hearing my speeches, instead of suffering banal platitudes that Rashtrapatis are prone to deliver periodically. I would have improved the quality of entertainment offered at Rashtrapati Bhawan by introducing Indian wines and champagne on the menus. I would have thrown open the Mughal Gardens to the public all year round. I would have permitted access to the huge, usually empty, front courtyard to everyone and twice a week have my band play for them, twice a week sat in open durbar for two hours for the people to come to tell me of their problems and open their hearts to me. I would have converted Rashtrapati Bhawan into a Janta Bhawan. The one problem will be that no matter who is officially installed in Rashtrapati Bhawan, the Janata will keep looking up to Kalam Sahib for inspiration and guidance.
Does this sound laughable? If so, have a hearty laugh and thank the stars that no one wanted me to become Rashtrapati.
Zafar Gorakhpuri has a telling couplet about a shortcut to notoriety:
Kitnee aasaanee say mashoor kiya hai khud ko/Mainey apney say badey shakhs ko gaalee dee.
(How easy it was for me to attain renown/I bad-mouthed someone bigger than myself.)
Spitting abuse on a celebrity is bad enough; casting aspersions at his or her character is even more effective way belittling them, because even after it has been proven to be false and malicious, some of the mud sticks on the target.
Recently I came across an instance of this form of blackmail. The victim was Kripaluji Maharaj, who was, a few months ago anointed as Jagatguru — a world teacher — at an enclave in Varanasi. I have never met him; only seen and heard him on TV.
He is a saintly, scholarly person with a phenomenal memory and quotes chapter and verse from Hindu sacred scriptures without a scrap of paper in his hand. He has a way with words and holds his audience spellbound. He has a larger following in India and among overseas Hindus. He is 85 and not in very good health.
Last month he was in Tobago and Trinidad. Hindus in that country are politically divided into two: earlier settlers and the Indian-born. Kripaluji was a guest of the latter but just about every Indian came to attend his satsang lecturers on the vedas.
This eroded the following of old settlers, and their leader was not happy to see his following dwindle. He arranged for Guyanese girl to visit Kripaluji after he had delivered a two-hour pravachan on the sacred texts. At no time of the day or night he was left alone; there were always some followers to look after him.
However, this girl lodged a complaint that she had been molested and raped by him. He was arrested at midnight and released on bail the next morning. When the trial came up for hearing, there was no witness to support the girl’s allegation. The prosecuting counsel realised she had been used to malign Kripaluji and withdrew all charges against him. Kripaluji was honourably acquitted. The entire congregation pleaded with him to forgive them for the humiliation he had suffered. He forgave everyone concerned. Far from damaging his reputation of being an upright man, he has come out of the ordeal bigger and more respected than ever before. The dirty trick did not pay off.
The world is an inn
The other day I was turning over the pages of my collection of Urdu poetry when I noticed a Rubaee I had marked for possible translation. It was by Babar Ali Anees (1804-74). It read as follows:
Duniya bhee ajab sarai faanee deykhee/Har cheez yahaan kee aanee jaanee deykhee/Jo aa kay na jaaye voh burhaapa deykha/Jo jaa kay na aaye voh jawaanee deykhee
I translated it as follows:
The world is a strange inn where people come and go – I saw
Nothing here stays but moves to and fro – I saw
But old age never goes till one’s days are done
And youth never returns once it’s gone—I saw.
For Sir Salman
“Hats off to Padma Lakshmi: That’s Lady Salman Rushdie for you mister! And why am I taking my hat off to this sultry siren from the Land of the Sari?
Because she’s given the order of the boot to the boring, beady-eyed, old bookwallah! And about time too: the only mystery is how pouting Padma put up with the literary love-rat as long as she did.”
(Glenda Slagg in Private Eye)