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Uncle Tomsk’s cabin

Shri Krishna did well to defend the Gita against Russian philistines. But should we have a national book?

india Updated: Dec 21, 2011 22:04 IST

What is trivial engages the Indian political mind as no other. Not surprising, since apart from helping to deflect attention from what is pressing but prosaic, it allows political representatives to hone skills that are appealing but not aplenty. The opportunity presented itself when a petition was lodged at a court in Tomsk (a 400-year-old Siberian town), asking for a ban on the Bhagwad Gita on the grounds that it was an “extremist” text. The occasion for hyperbolic outrage could not have come better packaged this holiday season, never mind the attempts by external affairs minister SM Krishna to spring to the Gita’s defence (the irony there is not lost even on dyed-in-the-wool sinners like us) by describing the complaint as “patently absurd”.

So even as parliamentarians like Tarun Vijay thundered that asking for a ban on the Gita was akin to “the sun being stop-ped” or “the Himalayas being banned”, RJD leader Lalu Prasad got unhinged from his political moorings for a while, chanting ‘Jai Shri Krishna’ to champion the deity whose omnipotence was in serious danger of being curtailed in those frozen climes. And in case you were pleased that a nation known more for its alacrity in banning the written word was now defending it, BJP leader Sushma Swaraj actually got a word in, requesting that the Gita be declared a national book for future safekeeping. Secularists of different shades may see saffron at such a suggestion, but we are told it is Chetan Bhagat, the National Book Writer for past, present and all of posterity, who was seeing red.

Ironically, it’s the residents of Tomsk who can offer the perfect lesson in comeuppance for those who disparage what one holds dear. Anton Chekhov, the Russian littérateur, was traveling through the town in 1890, and remarked in a letter to his sister that “Tomsk is a very dull town…the inhabitants are very dull too”. The residents responded by erecting a statue of Chekhov ridiculing him. Maybe an essay in stone that exposes the dimwits of Tomsk for what they are is in order. Is Mayawati listening?