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The essential India

This year gave us many joys and disappointments. But as long as there are schoolchildren like the ones I met recently, the country has hope. Gopalkrishna Gandhi writes.

columns Updated: Dec 28, 2012 23:40 IST

The year putters in its last stand.

It could have gone better for me and for you, the reader of these pages. But it could have been much worse for us as well.

We were spared war.

We did not have the kind of drought or paralysing flood that immiserates people in the thousands.

We did not have a tsunami-like natural disaster that kills hundreds and uproots many more. We did not get thrown by a pandemic leading to countless deaths.

We did not suffer air accidents of the type that scarred 1966 when Air India flight 101 named 'Kanchenjunga' crashed into Mont Blanc, killing Homi Bhabha among 106 others and 11 crew.

Or like the one that disfigured 1985 with Air India flight 182 'Kanishka' getting blown up mid-air, killing 329 persons aboard, including the distinguished chemical engineer Y Nayudamma.

We did not have, in 2012, the kind of bizarre rail accidents like the one over the Bagmati in Bihar (1981), at Gaisal (1991) and Firozabad (1995) that killed hundreds of simple folk travelling on work or looking for work, on pilgrimages, or to meet relatives.

We did not have fires of the Kumbakonam (2004)-type in which 91 schoolchildren perished or like the one in the AMRI hospital, Kolkata, in 2011 in which 73 patients and their minders died. We did not have political assassinations, 26/11 type traumas. And, praise God, despite communal tensions simmering in various parts of the country, riots of the 2002 kind were nowhere around in 2012.

We can give thanks for all this.

Negative relief is relief.

But does the absence of pain spell happiness?

Alas, no.

Politics gave little joy. Can politics ever give joy?

Unbelievable though that may sound, the answer is yes, politics can.

Had political parties agreed on a Lokpal Bill, that would have given India joy. Had they said fighting corruption is as much priority with them as fighting adversaries is and had they acted visibly and strongly against corrupt men and women within their own ranks, that would have given India joy. Had political parties said they will strictly, transparently and accountably observe the Election Commission's norms on election expenditure, that would have fended off peddlers of black money and would have given India joy.

Had Parliament brought in a deck of measures to curb the three 'illegals' - illegal money, illegal mining and illegal arms, that would have given India joy. Had MPs put hard questions to the treasury benches rather than obstructed, stalled and stymied Parliament's work, that would have given India joy.

Had Parliament functioned as Parliaments should, meeting regularly, conducting debates gracefully, legislating sensitively, that would have given India joy.

Had a new generation of politicians opened a new era of loyalty rather than sycophancy, of frankness rather than cronyism, of service rather than opportunism that would have given India joy. Had political leaders looked for calibre rather than servility, trustworthiness rather than abjectness, ideas rather than yesman-ship that would have given India joy.

None of these happened and politics delivered, instead, the Aam Aadmi Party no one expected rather than the simple joys everyone deserved.

But we cannot talk of the 'political class' as if it is separate from 'us'. And just as we cannot generalise about 'us', we cannot paint politicians with one broad brush. We are letting each other down.

Where politics disappointed India in 2012, another world of competition - sport - served India well. Retaining the world chess championship, Vishwanathan Anand was balm to our souls, as were Mary Kom competing in the flyweight category in the 2012 Olympics to win the bronze medal and Saina Nehwal also winning Olympic bronze in badminton. Sushil Kumar winning silver in the men's 66 kg freestyle wrestling event there brought a much-needed shine into our lives.

The huge and essentially healthy impact of sports on us is underestimated. I was visiting a beautiful school called Vidya Vanam beside the foothills of the Nilgiris and Silent Valley earlier this month. Sixty per cent of its enrolled students are from the Irula tribe. Their learning is in a mix of Tamil and English and they know a fair amount of Hindi. For want of imagination, I asked a classical APJ Abdul Kalam-type question: "What do you want to be?" A grove of hands went up. For want of optimism, I expected the kind of answers that came to our former president - doctor, engineer, IT expert, scientist, sometimes, even politician.

But no. In perfect English, the boys said:

"Sir, I want to be a footballer".

"Oh, wow… Who is your favourite football player?"


Another came up with.

"I want to be a volleyball player".

A third took my breath away.

"I want to be a bird-watcher… I want to be like Salim Ali…"

'Salim…?' I was incredulous.

The proximity of the Salim Ali Centre for Ornithology had obviously impacted on the young boy.

A girl answered, "I want to be a dancer". That young girl had a Balasarasvati within her, a Rukmini Devi. Going further, perhaps, there was a future choreographer in her, or a world-renowned theoretician of music.

The school had an exhibition on with a Hindi stall as well. I asked a girl who was standing beside a Hindi poster that most predictable of questions, "What is your name?". She looked steadily at me and without faltering said, "Meraa naam Divya hai…" That beautifully enunciated reply in Khariboli, coming from a Tamil-speaking girl in the elephant belt of Anakkatti did more to make India cohere for me than anything I had experienced in a long time.

I stepped out of those rooms with a lighter step than the one I entered them with.

These children, I said to myself, are the essential India. Today's and tomorrow's.

No despairing is allowed for India.

Gopalkrishna Gandhi is a former administrator, diplomat and governor

The views expressed by the author are personal