I love Paris in the springtime. I love Paris in the fall. Hell, I love Paris even in the 31k jpg pictures that Google images provide when I’m getting nostalgic about my favourite city in the world.
In sooth, Paris is the city I want to live in. The problem, as always, is of economics. I may be able to afford an annual trip to the City of Lights, even if that means spending my own money. But I can’t afford to stay away from my job here in Mera Bharat Is Well-Paying for too long.
As for being branded as an anti-national for not saying that my ideal place of residency is Bhimtal — or some such place facing a lake or a dak bungalow — I can always come out of the closet about my dodgy patriotic credentials. (Although, to my credit, I mysteriously turn into a rabid, air-punching nation-lover during sporting spectacles like cricket.) I may be the first to mumble, ‘So why doesn’t he get out of the country?’, each time a soft-voiced, language-gifted person enraged at India — and it’s always the government and politicians to blame, never the people — castigates the goings-on in the country in some world forum. But the mumblings aren’t sarcastic; they’re incredulous reactions to the fact that he’s willing to stay on like some boy on the burning deck.
I, on the other hand, am no deck-boy. While I won’t go to the extent of stating that I’m an ‘independent mobile republic’ (that sounds like a cheesy Airtel or Nokia ad), I do smell an opportunity of being thrown out of this country — and landing myself permanently in Paris.
Here’s the plan. I write a book in which I make some scandalous — but true! — remarks about something that will offend a handful of people. So I will write a page or two, perhaps against India — not so much against the government or politicians but against its people.
But then, some of my best friends are Indians. So I don’t want dirty stares during dinners. And being an Indian myself and a Hindu to boot, there is a possibility that no one will bother to react if I write against something as diffused as ‘India’. Which means it has to be something more specific.Like India’s freedom fighters?
No one I know has ever written a word against them. And more importantly, none of my best friends or their progenitors have been freedom fighters. And best of all, I genuinely do believe that a few of our good old shahids, wildly throwing their home-made bombs about getting the wrong targets, made much sound and fury, signifying little else than some youthful steam-letting that would have been channelised today in some goonda-gardi. A cryptic connection between their ‘terroristic’ activities and pent-up psycho-eroticism will not only get me a posh publisher, but it should also get those sensitive gents who forever look out for something objectionable to come out of their woodworks and burn my effigies. (Digressionary query: why do all effigies look the same, whether they be of George Bush, Taslima Nasreen, Pervez Musharraf or Shilpa Shetty?) Just to ensure that all doesn’t go to waste, I could get some academic to write about the ‘illuminating’/‘offending’ bits in some low-circulation journal or newspaper. Hopefully, with luck, the TV guys will pick up things from there.
The tricky bit will be, of course, to not end up being pushed into a plane bound for Pakistan or Sudan or Rajasthan. Hopefully, after fellow members of the super-intelligent intelligentsia defend me on the grounds of freedom of expression, the French (their government or my publishers, you think I care?) will provide me sanctuary from the philistines. My only worry then will be to forever be on my guard during my by-then legendary Beaujolais-drinking sprees at some Left Bank café, lest I start talking about my fondness for the hijab (like beer it makes ugly people seem pretty). After all, one of the tricks of living in ‘artistic’ exile is not to make life too difficult for the hosts.
But if some loony fringe in Paris — Praise Be Upon The Loony Fringe — does take offence at the anti-freedom fighter references in my book, and want me booted out of the city, I will not bat an eyelid or quiver a lower lip before junking the ‘contentious’ one or two pages. Because more than any tosh about artistic freedom — or freedom fighters — [Frank Sinatra voice] I love Paris in the springtime...