So that the jokes won’t fall flat

HE is not clubbable, not by Delhi standards it seems. Also, his critics make fun of his messianic delusions. The vision as he calls it thrives on a steady supply of spilled blood. Gory indeed, but it is now only a handy archival file, dusted before the occasional poll.

Public memory is not short; attention span is. Few can forget Delhi (1984) or Ayodhya (1992) or Gujarat (2002) to name the big carnages. Teesta Setalvad and Rana Ayub won’t let you forget the horrors even if you were an ostrich. It is the attention span that trips up with the overload of life’s ceaseless demands.

The leader is fortunate there are no fussy dress codes for Delhi’s elite clubs, but the reminders keep coming: let’s not ignore his sense of what he wears, which of course is gross.

Remember the day when he flaunted that funny jacket during a high-profile international moment? Facebook and Twitter went berserk over the apparent lack of class. It was so uncultured, the leader’s name threaded in garish gold along the entire length of the cloth. Some said that’s why he lost Delhi. They didn’t see the corollary to their logic — he won with every massacre but lost because of a badly designed jacket. If the reasoning has substance, we are in greater trouble than we imagined.

And look. How dare he call himself a fakir after rubbing shoulders with the jet set? That’s another remark that comes up from the liberal critics, never mind their short attention span with his other greater horrors. The visiting Americans found the jacket first. Their sharp cameras zoomed in on the fine print. Then the rest sat up and rejoiced at the foibles of the parvenu leader.

His boorishness remained the subject of mirthful chatter. They then picked on his language skills, concluding sagely it was the pits. His diction is rotten like something the cat brings home. There were other blemishes, the grating nasal intonations, enough for the intelligentsia to flail their arms, a few whipping up a muddy froth at the corners of their mouth.

Teesta Setalvad and Rana Ayub won’t let you forget the horrors even if you were an ostrich.

The opposition seldom wakes up when a slaughter is under way. But the dormouse party just about perked up to register a personal affront. How dare the grosser leader poke fun at its more cultured leader? The protests came in a blinkered bandwidth, directed specifically against a parliamentary slight — the leader had remarked, astutely perhaps, that his predecessor wore a raincoat in the bathroom, reference to raining corruption. On the other hand, what do butchers wear when they work the cleaver?

Suppose the lampooning becomes the counterpoint, say, to the opposition’s helplessness when mass rape and bloodbath raged near Gandhi’s birthplace? Mayhem cut loose in the wee hours of a February morning that year, lasting for many bloody days, in slow motion.

The opposition satraps whispered to their inviolable leader she should not visit the grief-stricken women amid the manmade ruins. So she took her time to condole with the widow of a former MP, her own party’s MP. The man was slaughtered before the eyes of the brave wife, brave because she is among the clutch of women who are leading the charge against religious fascism today. Give or take some minutes, the horrors peaked around the time the finance minister was beginning his budget speech to an unusually attentive parliament.

Peeping Tom, he peeps into people’s bathrooms was how the offending leader with inferior language skills came to be denounced, including by cartoonists and editorial writers.

Coming to think of it Adolf Hitler had shocking table manners. Cartoonists had a field day with him. He grew a round waist, we are told, by hogging on cake in his bunker while his men murdered millions of helpless Jews.

The revelations came in 2009 in a hitherto unnoticed diary of a Nazi officer. He boasted of dining with the Fuehrer 30 plus times. Is this what was wrong with Hitler, his flatulence? The man was gross. That’s a given. Mussolini was grosser still.

Worryingly, their laudatory biographies or autobiographies have been doing brisk business for decades at India’s every train station. “Democracy is beautiful in theory; in practice it is a fallacy. You in America will see that some day.” So railed the Duce. “The truth is that men are tired of liberty.” Both sides of India’s ideological street can see the import, the right as an endorsement of its thuggery, the left as a wake-up call on an alarm clock with drained batteries.

Poking fun is good, more so if the target is a right-wing adversary. Charlie Chaplin excelled in portraying Hitler as a buffoon. In a movie there’s a scene in which Chaplin takes the pants off of both Hitler and Mussolini. The humour could have easily miscued. The fact that the laughter endures is of course much thanks to Chaplin’s genius. Had he not had the ancillary support of two ideologically committed militaries that came together to breach the Nazi fortress the joke would be on Chaplin, and on his fans if there were to be any.

The victory was heady and also sobering as Chaplin argued in The Great Dictator. “I don’t want to rule or conquer anyone. I should like to help everyone — if possible — Jew, Gentile — black man — white.” The magical speech can still give goose bumps to anyone with a grain of humanism. Chaplin’s sagacious words both inspired and imbibed from the rout of the Nazis in their lair.

Women like Teesta Setalvad are a great source of inspiration to fight the fight in India, and, in fact, everywhere. Foot soldier of the Constitution is the title of her new memoirs. Yet how far can a foot soldier fight on without a motivated army in combat mode to ensure the promised victory?

The Article First Appeared In DAWN

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