I never thought I would live the day to see Chaddha ji saying anything sensible, ever. But yesterday, he said something that set me thinking. Seeing him in a crisp white kurta pajama, I jokingly asked if he was planning to turn politician, now that election fever is at its peak. “Oh nahi ji. Badi Thankyou less life hai politicians ki,” he said. 98% of my attention immediately and involuntarily turned into this desperate urge to correct ‘Thankyou less’ to ‘thankless’ but then it’s Chaddha ji. Unko kaun aaj tak correct kar saka hai.
He went on. “Everyone is out to criticise politicians. They are all supposed to be of one type. Even in the way they dress up. Now, look at you. Simply a white kurta pajama made you mock politicians.” ‘I didn’t poke fun at politicians. But then, aren’t they all the same type? And don’t they all try and dress pretty much the same?’ I tried to reason. “Hum unhe kisi aur tarah se dekhne ko ready hi nahi hain,” said Chaddha ji. “Not really. Look at Priyanka Gandhi. She turned up in a sleek brown kurta to cast her vote. Her husband was wearing pink pants. Now that’s bold,” I said. “So you noticed the pink pants nah? You discussed it with friends when TV and newspapers splashed the photos, right? Abhi toh he’s not even a politician, still everyone has an opinion on how he should or shouldn’t have dressed. The day someone actually becomes a politician and decides to contest election, imagine the pressure to look a certain way. Poor politicians can’t be seen relaxing in a pair of jeans and a bright t-shirt,” he said.
HT City Editor Sonal Kalra
I didn’t know if I agreed completely with Chaddha ji. I mean, all our top politicians do look and dress different. Whether it’s Modi’s half sleeve kurtas or MMS’s blue turban or Kejriwal’s mufflers. But what’s common is a clear attempt at trying to deflect any undue attention on how they look. Politicians cringe at any compliment on their looks, as if being good-looking and being dedicated to the nation have to be mutually exclusive. “Is it really our fault?” asked a young politician when I mentioned this to him one day. “The day I entered politics, I was advised to dress plain, because that’s the most outward indicator of us leading a simple life. I dress like a person twice my age. All my favourite denims are now for get-togethers where I am sure there won’t be any press photographers,’ he sighed. Well, vanity is a vice if you’re in public life but that conversation made me realise that it’s not just about clothes or looks. How, we as a nation, are so ready to judge and stereotype politicians as a ‘breed’ that we forget to allow them the simple pleasures of life that we all very proudly and openly enjoy. Many years back, I was assigned to do a photo feature on candidates from various political parties, relaxing, at last, a couple of days after the polling got over. Three out of the five wanted to be photographed playing with their pet dogs, one at the dining table with his wife and kids, and one, on the couch, reading a book and listening to Indian classical music. “What is the first thing he does to relax, after a tough day of campaigning?” I asked the PA of one of the politicians while he was getting into a ‘whiter’ kurta for the shoot. “He opens a chilled beer,” the PA replied. I asked the politician if we could photograph him with a mug of his favourite beer in his hand, and he looked at me the way I normally look at Chaddha ji. “Have you lost your mind?” he just said.
I know there’s very little sympathy ever in peoples’ minds for politicians, and maybe for valid reasons, considering the extent of rot in the system. But just look at the stress they, too, are under, because of our over-aggressive tendency these days to have an opinion on everything they do.
Because of certain buffoons in their profession who have a perpetual foot-in-mouth disease, making irresponsible statements every now and then, most politicians live under tremendous stress of analysing and reanalysing their statements before saying anything. “I don’t know when the social media, and all others, would pounce on me for a simple statement or a tweet. It’s a perpetual paranoia,” says a politician.
Politicians, and their families, have to live with hearing the most favourite remark of anyone and everyone in our country — ‘sab ke sab politicians chor hain’. Anywhere, anytime. Now, I know you are itching to lecture me on how this statement has a strong basis, but that’s not the point I’m making here. I’m talking about the stress of having to bear with the torture of generalisation. Trust me, no doctor’s child would be happy, either, to hear his classmates say ‘All doctors in this country are corrupt.’ I’m assuming politicians also get hurt when everyone in their profession is bunched together for the purpose of making loose remarks. One of my friend’s college-going sister fell in love last year with a young man who seemed absolutely perfect in every sense, till he revealed that he wanted to join politics, like his maternal uncle who is an MLA. “Oh God, uncultured, gundey jaisi family hogi uski. Get anyone else as a boyfriend and we are okay, but not a politician,” said my friend’s mom. Just like most of us, she has a Bollywood-created image of netas in her head. It is sad that a lot of them indeed have a criminal background, but then again, what about those who are clean, educated, and genuinely want to take up politics as a perfectly valid profession? We have political science as a much sought-after subject, but most of us would laugh or faint if our child wrote ‘I want to grow up to be a politician’ in a school essay. Sad, isn’t it?
It’s not easy to live a life that’s constantly under public scrutiny. Yes, the politicians have chosen it for themselves, and yes, there is enough wealth and power in this field to make up for all things lost, but next time, think twice before saying something general and vague like, ‘haww, desh mein log mar rahe hain and this politician is busy looking stylish at an awards show.’ Especially when you’re watching FTV on the television, and have a well-earned drink in hand. Sonal Kalra will get gaaliyan, as usual, for writing against popular sentiment, yet again. But she’s becoming thick-skinned. Like politicians, perhaps. Mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org or facebook.com/sonalkalra13. Follow on Twitter @sonalkalra