As every Bengali household has a Collected Works of William Shakespeare — next to its copy of Geetobitan, the collection of Tagore songs — it must not have been difficult for Pranab Mukherjee to choose the sinuous line from Hamlet for his Union Budget speech.
The finance minister had his Lawrence Olivier moment when he launched forth while reading Part B of the Budget dealing with tax proposals. A less astute person may have quoted the Prince of Denmark from Act 1 Scene 4 of Hamlet: “This heavy-headed revel east and west/ Makes us traduced and tax’d of other nations.” But Mr Mukherjee didn’t want his listeners to be wary of the impact of the global economic downturn in India.
Instead, he issued the firm but loving lines that Hamlet delivers to his mother Queen Gertrude in Act 3, Scene 4: “I must be cruel, only to be kind.” Essentially, Pranab-babu reiterated what he had stated a line earlier about economic policy often requiring finance ministers “to do something, which, in the short run, may be painful, but is good for us in the long run.” Wisely, he didn’t quote the run-on line from Hamlet “Thus bad begins and worse remains behind.”
But for those less brave — and certainly less hopeful of be-ing able to sell an economic recovery plan to a crowd that lives beyond its means — even inflicting short-term pain to bring abo-ut a long-term remedy is a fantasy.
We prefer to quote the Bard of Santa Barbara, Katy Perry, from her fine aural composition Hot N Cold to describe how governments end up dealing with economic reforms: “You’re hot then you’re cold/ You’re yes then you’re no/ You’re in then you’re out/ You’re up then you’re down”.
We are sure, though, that Pranab-babu will find the tune fetching.