All three go hand in hand. Flattery is, as what we in Hindustani call makkhan lagaana — buttering up. Equally important is sycophancy — chaaploosee — show exaggerated concern for the favour-bestower’s health and problems, roar with laughter at his flat jokes — money is honey, boss’s jokes are always funny; break down in tears if he has pain in his little toe. Bribery has to be subtler. Begin with taking bouquets of roses when you call: on their birthdays, make them larger every year, attach gaudy birthday greeting cards and a small gift which, if accepted, could be made bigger on subsequent birthdays.
Add one bottle of Scotch to the basket — one is not considered a bribe; make it two or three and then a crate of twelve. If the chap does not mind accepting a crateful, you can be sure he is bribable. Thereafter don’t bother with flowers or gifts — a blank envelope full of currency of high denomination notes will be more convenient for both. And what you want to get out of him will be yours without the asking. Diwali is a good time to try out such tactics of bribery.
It is known as ghoose (bandicoot — a mole rat that crawls on its belly) or rishvat. It is a haraam khori — money got by illegal means. When it comes to rishvat, let me tell my readers that it played a vital role in the building of New Delhi. With rare exceptions almost every Indian engineer in the PWD expected and accepted it while giving contracts to builders and passing their bills. By contrast hardly any English architect or engineer ever accepted a bribe.
Khushamad, chamchagiri, rishvat are a part of our oriental inheritance from our monarchic, princely and feudal past. The west has succeeded in diluting it to a great extent. We have not; only it has undergone changes in form. They are no longer badshah salamat, maharaj or maalik, but prime ministers, chief ministers and leaders of powerful political parties. We defy them and give them illusions of infallibility of gods and goddesses. They begin to accept our homage as expressions of loyalty and distrust those who do not worship them. They begin to suffer from hubris.
Little do they realise that it is the deifiers who never tell them the truth about the real state of affairs and are their worst enemies; it is they who bring about their downfall. It is reassuring to see that at least two of our netas of today have been able to preserve their sanity against the onslaught of sycophancy — Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh. As long as they are at the helm of affairs, we have little to fear.
One evening while driving out of the Hindustan Times building I noticed a vaguely familiar face in the crowd waiting at the bus stand on Kasturba Gandhi Marg.
I pulled up and asked the man if I could give him a lift. He readily accepted and took his seat beside me. I asked him “Weren’t you chief minister of Punjab?”
“Yes,” he replied.
“What were you doing at the bus stand? Don’t you have a car? Or take a taxi?”
“I was waiting for a bus, what else? I don’t have a car. I don’t have money for taxis.”
Here was a character the like of which I had not met before. Anyone who had been a minister or a chief minister for even a few months would be a millionaire. Not this man. He was Congress Party Chief Minister of Punjab, Ram Kishen, popularly known as Comrade Ram Kishen. No security personnel, no car with red or blue light on it. No attempt to look at somebody who mattered. He went up in my estimation.
I have known George Fernandes as a Trade Union leader in Bombay. He had no pretensions of being anything else. He was a daredevil sort of man, always in short-sleeves and uncreased pants. You could see him in cocktail parties of the rich. You could see him addressing workers meeting in the middle of the road at Kala Ghoda Chowk. I met him many times.
Though I did not share his political views, I liked and trusted him. He became Defence Minister of India. More than once he walked into my flat to say “hello”. He never had an escort or bodyguards, no red or blue lights on his car, no sentries to guard the house he lived in. No airs whatsoever. He went up in my estimation as well.
Years later I asked Manmohan Singh to inaugurate a block my father’s charitable trust had built in Bhagat Puran Singh’s Pingalwara complex in Amritsar. He was then Finance Minister. He agreed to do so. Amritsar was his home town. He arrived at the Pingalwara almost unnoticed. No police cars blowing sirens, no stoppage of traffic, no fuss, no inconvenience to anyone. I was impressed by his concern for the public.
When he ceased to be Finance Minister and the country was ruled by Vajpayee-Advani of the BJP government, I often saw him walking alone on a deserted road in the early hours of the morning. When I was on my way to the Gymkhana club for a game of tennis. No personal body guard accompanied him. At the time I recalled deputy ministers who made it a point to travel with police cars clearing their way ahead.
One fellow who amounted to very little even provided police escort for his daughter while she played golf. And now, another deputy minister who also counts for very little makes a hullabaloo having to go through routine check up at airports.
Public reaction is justified. Manmohan Singh is respected because he is self-effacing. So are members of his family who take good care never to attract attention. Others are looked down upon as upstarts to deserve to be spat on.
USA & India indifferences
In USA you can kiss in public but cannot defecate; in India you can defecate in public but cannot kiss.
(Contributed by Vipin Buckey, New Delhi)