Arundhati Roy’s book, Power Politics, uses the delectable imagery of how it increasingly appears that Indians are being rounded up and loaded into two convoys of trucks — the tiny one moving towards a glittering destination and the large one, comprising the unsung, hurtling towards darkness and then disappearing.
Award ceremonies are criticised for egging on only the mini-convoy. For celebrating those who glitter and are considered glamorous. For feting fluff and frivolity. So when you have an awards night where the underdog, the unsung is celebrated and put under arc-lights, you would expect a certain solemnity in the air. You would expect the invitees to feel privileged to be a part of a celebration where status and power — the two heaviest loads being carried by the mini-convoy — have been offloaded.
But Delhi is different. It’s a city whose air contains highly noxious and intoxicating fumes of power whose constant inhalation cripples egalitarian thinking. Those afflicted by it even fail to recognise the enormity of simple human achievements. Little wonder that many among the audience at the CNN-IBN Indian of the Year awards night, organised in association with HT, perhaps failed to notice the occasion was celebrating simplicity. It was honouring those who helped us smile and be comfortable. Who gave us hope, a sense that by their work those travelling on board the larger convoy are at least being noticed and acknowledged.
They did not notice, for instance, that the awardees were those who were successful not because of the system, but in spite of it. So if an RK Laxman was honoured for making us smile everyday for 60 years, a Sreedharan was put on a pedestal for showing how integrity and discipline can move mountains. But then we are talking about certain countrymen who judge and confirm their participation in such a celebration by the table number they have been allotted. Some, who unfortunately have inhaled more noxious power fumes than others, consider a double digit allocation as a mark of shrinking stature, not a good enough place to applaud selfless service from. They need a pedestal, a prominent place, even to applaud selfless and faceless work.
It didn’t matter to the table-number-conscious lot that one of the ‘important tables’ was occupied by five Indians who have rendered faceless public service without expecting anything in return. From a Kousalya, a truck driver’s HIV-positive wife who fought the affliction, society and her fate, to work for betterment of others like her, to Oscar Rebello, who is trying to ensure Goa stays what it’s called — a paradise. From Anand Kumar and Abhayanand, who are helping the under-privileged to actualise their dreams of becoming top-notch technocrats, to Dr Sharan Patil who provided the medical miracle of the year, they were all there, unseen.
Maybe next time CNN-IBN will have an even better award ceremony. Maybe next time we can all come together and take them on a ride on-board the larger convoy of trucks that Arundhati wrote about. Without worrying about the table we are seated on.
(Vinay Tewari is Executive Editor, CNN-IBN)