By Badri Raina
This is no country for old men, Yeats once wrote of Ireland. He might well have said the same of contemporary India.
Nothing humane seems about. A new successful class of people have acquired heaps of clout, and with it vengeful minds and predatory hearts.
Words that are spoken spit blood and fire. Enemies are seen everywhere. Great shouts go up seeking death not just for the rapist and the murderer but pretty much for whoever seems in the way.
Democracy is an obscenity, and reasoned discourse an utter farce. Bring forth the great dictator, let him show no mercy to those who disagree. Fall in line, the cry goes up, breathe in the foul vapour, wear the same, look the same, think the same, worship the same, or be externed or exterminated. Let only the prickly inhabit the garden, the meadow, the heath, the desert, wherever pricklies may grow, sharp in intention, unsparing in execution.
Lovely and loving flowers that yet strive to sweeten the infected air project their scent how far they may, but are overwhelmed by stench, like all reasoned argument by money, muscle, and murderous intent. A fierce ceremony of non-negotiable vigour dances in the posh quarters of every uppity town, and on television channels the renown of two-bit performers eclipses lifetimes of musical immersion.
Only tinsel legs gyrate, heads no longer sway. Brazen eyes bore into the doubting, like booted sartraps that seek allegiance from the suspiciously thoughtful.
Then the gods—how they multiply and flourish while the hungry, the sick, the aged, the humane, the questioning, the resisting fall like insects to the aggressive rebuke of the devout nationalist. Aggression remains paramount even when the hills come down.
Only opposition parties are to blame, and the governments run by them. All parvenu Indians always know everything about everything, and only the other is always at fault. Step on a pebble through length and breadth and you will find a godman underneath, ready to spring to life with a trick and an admonition guaranteed to reinforce the need for the singleminded dictator who alone can put the dithering in their place and elevate the race to warlike supremacy.
Highly educated professionals, most from Harvard and such-like, ride their anchored pulpits and teach us how governments must cater to the haves and consign the have-nots to the ordained black holes of history; with fact and figure, their coteries of experts make it plain how spending any portion of the people’s money on people themselves is most jejune and fraught with ultimate debility to the glory of India. India which resides in corporate television channels alone.
And the noise, ah the noise, oh the noise—more violent in tie and suit than anything on an Indian street. All in a hurry to drown out the offending point of view, and bring the polity on to the assembly line. Those that whine, whine alone to the subdued microphone.
In the infinite backdrop where the country struggles to survive, the corporate miner comes alive, ready to denude ground or forest, hutment or hillside with noble intent to feather his nest so that the high street may have the best.
What if the urchins who infest the land thereabouts are left without water, tree, or wherewithal; the best demands that their day be done if the battle for supremacy is to be won. Prajapati may have created the universe, but Darwin runs the show. Thus, go India, go!
In the universities, curriculii and timetables are so readjusted as to leave little scope for that abomination called thinking-without-fear-or-favour. Where is the need for thinking when the corporates, the godmen, the time-honored village elders of steadfast cussedness, the musclemen, the stock brokers, are all doing all the necessary thinking for the nation?
Should there be a function for a university other than to supply to this devoted congeries of thinkers the human fodder they need in order that the thinking they do is carried fast forward? Obedient vice-chancellors with a healthy regard for their number one are now, thankfully, weeding out blasphemies from universities, blasphemies that undertook to claim that with their degrees and researches, university alumni may also be granted the prerogative to think thoughts, even if inimical to the scheme of things. At long last, Indian universities will begin to spew an intelligentsia that is always of one mind, lending great strength to national unity and dictatorial glory.
Looking at all this, and much more, I look for the hollow of a sequestered tree that may quarantine my last days and melt my flesh into the bark.
India of 2013—as that character in Dickens whose name escapes me now would say, ‘what a lark!’