National headline-grabber and notorious cake-slasher Raj Thackeray was forgotten the day he did something really silly. After attacking a bhaiyya-shaped birthday cake he’s the butt of jokes, like the spoof email which urges Mumbaikars to boycott the Hindi movie industry. Also local trains, because the Rail Minister is a Bihari. Meanwhile, with his usual Zen-like calm, the said Bihari has dismissed Raj as “bahar se gentle, andar se mental.”
Nurtured in a surreal political culture, we have always known when to laugh, but maybe we’re getting a bit slow. Raj Thackeray’s puny politics can’t be carried beyond the borders of Maharashtra. At home, he is allowed to run free only because he benefits the ruling alliance by splitting the Shiv Sena vote. We should have laughed him off long ago instead of getting righteously indignant.
We aren’t alone in our failure to laugh. The big international issue in Europe is a plague of ‘racist’ jokes about Barack Obama. Noted loose cannon and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi started it by appreciating Obama’s permanent ‘tan’. The Italian left pompously demanded his head. He dismissed them as humourless imbeciles and it might have ended there. But in faraway France, Carla Bruni publicly gave thanks that she was no longer Italian.
This brought on a fresh paroxysm of the new mental disorder identified by Paris psychiatrist Serge Hefez as Sarkozis — an unhealthy obsession with Nicolas Sarkozy. Sufferers now suspect that the right-wing French president has savagely swung left under the pernicious influence of his wife, with her past-life baggage of guitars, thongs, rockers and designers. Sarkozy, who once wanted zero-tolerance policing, is creating 100,000 state-funded jobs. And now, the Polish foreign minister has jokingly claimed blood ties with Obama, saying Obama’s Kenyan grandfather was a cannibal who once ate a Polish missionary. Turns out he wanted to ridicule racist humour. Is this an issue at all? Europe should lighten up and engage with reality. There’s a recession on, for instance.
Here at home L.K. Advani, who has zero tolerance for breakfast and dunks his teatime biscuit in hot pursuit, wants the Anti-Terrorism Squad out of the Malegaon terror probe on the basis of a sadhvi’s unverified complaint. Hilarious. Market maven P. Chidambaram wants businessmen to slash prices, which the market negotiates. Priceless. Margaret Alva is iced for protesting — though as a mother — the auctioning of election tickets. I’m surprised they aren’t auctioned on eBay.
Now, what I want to know is: did Raj Thackeray eat his bhaiyya cake after slashing it? And does that make him a cannibal? Just joking, okay? In bad times, humour is a great comfort. It hurts only when you laugh.
Pratik Kanjilal is publisher of The Little Magazine.