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Papa comes preaching

Author-motivator Shiv Khera has launched a political party and plunged into India’s ‘stagnant system’ to set it right. How would he go about it? Hear it from the man himself. Nivriti Butalia tells more.

india Updated: Oct 24, 2008 23:32 IST
Nivriti Butalia
Nivriti Butalia
Hindustan Times

Jaljeera with Shiv Khera took two hours to wash down. That’s because, once on, it’s very difficult to cut into this motivational speaker’s well-rehearsed spiel. And then, there’s him all around too. Translated copies of self-help books stacked neatly in cabinets. Bespectacled pictures of him in yellowed news-clippings framed and perched on the walls. Even more cabinets marked ‘You Can Win cap’, ‘T-shirt (White)’ and posters with his face and signature — suited-booted, with his forefinger pointing at the reader, with that bestselling caption: ‘You Can Win.’

There’s no end to the ego and the bumpersticker lines. Sample this: ‘If you want to be a butterfly, stop being a caterpillar.’

There are just a few precious seconds when Khera doesn’t throw his be-a-better-person nuggets at you — the kind that are plastered on those posters and are lapped up by management greenhorns. In those moments, with his steel-rimmed glasses tipped forward headmaster like, he holds forth on caste-based reservation and the agenda of his newly-formed political
outfit, the Bhartiya Rashtravadi Samanata Party. But it still is difficult to counter or to get a word in. No ifs and buts.

Interrupting the drone isn’t an option, not when a bestselling self-helper and speaker by profession is talking the talk.

Of the view that politics is deeply embedded in education, he desperately feels the need for uniformity in our state curriculums, instead of too many “yeh board, falana board” (this board, that board). He’s equally vocal about the judiciary and its 20 years of backlog. “Why can’t the country run three shifts and retired judges be recalled as honorary magistrates?” proposes the maverick.

Rhetoric apart, Khera loves his metaphors. He also takes flak in his stride, and is aware of being perceived as a ‘pompous fraud’. Asked about the harshest criticism he’s faced — apart from a plagiarism buzz around his books, he says insinuations on his credibility hit home the hardest. His line of reasoning: people will say things and malign images either out of ignorance or jealousy. After being in the ring for longer than a decade, he prefers to let barking dogs lie. Or as he puts it, “There’s no point fighting with a pig. You get dirty and the pig likes it.”

All this while, his accent has that familiar quality. Perhaps the years of living in the US have caused him to voice a nasal “Kaanstitution” — think Papajis from Canada, with the ‘r’s rolled hard, “univerrrrrsaly” so. Every other line is a statistic and sentences often begin with “and let me share with you”. He shares with me the number of unemployed graduates in engineering: 75 per cent. He shares with me that, according to the Sengupta report, 77 per cent of India lives under Rs 20 a day. He repeats that and adds “somebody’s got to be stupid...” — and then, on a more carefully-treaded second thought, “or maybe just blind to not recognise the flaws in the system”.

There are also ‘the three Cs’ that are corroding the system: “Confusion (coffee sip), corruption and crime.” His solution on a platter: “Either get involved in the system or shut up.” Probably terrified of being shut up, that’s why he’s getting involved with this try at the hustings.

There’s further disjointed talk on “three crore Bangladeshi immigrants”. Then on to rainwater harvesting and more sharing: “Why can’t we have drip irrigation like in the US?” For those baffled like me, we in India are victims of flood irrigation, though we have tried out a few drabs of drip irrigation.

Every extra minute spent with the man helps you visualise your soaring learning curve.

We touch upon ethics. And veer towards regret. He doesn’t have any, he says. Or rather, he “chooses” not to have any. But mistakes surely have been made, and things could’ve been done differently. As a parting shot, he offers me a coffee mug — one with the pet Khera logo across it: ‘Winners don’t do different things, they do things differently.’