It’s settled then. For all those whose conspiracy theories had fuelled the conspicuous theory (nowadays known as ‘fact’) that a sadhu, Gumnami Baba — The Babaji With No Name, if you’re into Spaghetti Easterns — last spotted in the Ayodhya-Faizabad area in the 1980s, was actually Subhas Chandra Bose living in post-Netaji anonymity, I bear bad news.
I, not Bose, must be Gumnami Baba, happily impervious that I seem to have been to what has been happening in the country for decades. Because going by last week’s happenings, India must have solved all its problems, faced all its challenges, removed all its obstacles and become a First World country with First World problems with Indian characteristics.
Why? Well, there was a time when we would moan and groan about streetlights that didn’t glow at night, traffic snarls, potted roads, coverless manholes, manless kiosks, petty corruption involving file-pushing, interminable delays and bufferings, healthcare headaches, school and college admissions, crime against women as well as against others, communal flare-ups, jobless youth sowing but not reaping ‘demographic dividend’… All that seems to have been taken care of. We now have the luxury to worry about new serious things worthy of Kardashian krises.
Take the big shindig that accompanied the official celebrations of Subhas Chandra Bose’s 125th birth anniversary. Even as there were some truly stirring moments from the steps of the Victoria Memorial in Kolkata — a monument fit for the occasion akin to celebrating Queen Victoria’s 202nd birth anniversary this May at Jhansi Fort — the big headline generated that day was about some ‘Jai Sri Rams’ going off in the audience and Didi taking offence and not delivering her speech in the presence of the Dada from Delhi.
But that was hardly the biggest ‘issue’. Away from poll-bound, election-ungagged Bengal, at Rashtrapati Bhavan in Delhi, a bigger controversy-to-be was to-being. President Ram Nath Kovind’s unveiling of a portrait of Bose became fodder for the ‘anti-fascist’ lot — the enemy’s (British empire) enemy’s (Nazi Germany) friend’s (Netaji) enemy (communal politicians) being their enemy. The latter insisted — which means, retweeted/reposted these days — that such was the intelligence level of this (non-Bengali) establishment in Delhi, that the head of state had unveiled not a portrait of Subhas Bose, but of Prasenjit Chatterjee, the actor who had portrayed Netaji in Srijit Mukherji’s 2019 film, Gumnaami. Even as much tee-hee ensued, the fact was that the painting was indeed of Bose from a photograph from the early 1940s.
But between Maity, and a Bose-Chatterjee-Mukherjee production, what chance did a non-Bengali with RSS roots have? Fake news, like an exposed ankle, is everyone’s baby.
The fact that Netaji was ‘predicted’ to be a ‘hot topic’ this election year in Bengal by some BJP ideologues didn’t seem to have any bearing on those who wanted to avoid such honeytraps. Frankly, if Mickey Mouse is trotted out for governmental applause tomorrow, many anti-BJPwalas will fight the cartoon for its rodent rightwing views.
But it was a few days later on Republic Day, while I was engaged in ganatantrik sadhana on a well-earned holiday, that I was utterly convinced that India had truly run out of problems and obstacles. With the national TV feed beaming both from Rajpath and sites of protesting farmers in Delhi, everyone in their heart of hearts wanted some kind of climax to the Tableaux vs Tractors on the menu.
Whether it was an intrepid TV producer (‘Dude, I want you to get Capitol Hill-type footage, ok?!’), or a rank of Sikh protesters, or yet another Gumnami Baba, who egged on these protesters, we may never know. But the non-tricolour flag-hoisting at Red Fort — and the supplementary images of tractors breaking police barricades, and protestors beating up policemen — certainly supplanted any representative images of peaceful farmer protests across the city.
Semantic experts made hay as they sought to find out whether the ‘Other Flag’ (OF) had replaced the tricolour; whether OF was posted higher than the Indian flag, and if lower by how many feet so as not to challenge the Indian State. Was Red Fort ‘raided’? Or ‘breached’? Should Shah Alam II declare national emergency and…the last bit being quickly found to be unhelpfully unnecessary, this being 238 years after 1783. So, in January 2021, with the Union Budget to announce an economic recovery plan of a country still under the shadow of Covid, national concerns that tilt the nation are windmills like ‘Who’s Flag-Daddy Strongest?’ and ‘Netaji ka pichhe kaun hain?’ One must come to the happy conclusion that India is bereft of real problems, and has finally found its own First World ones.
Views expressed above are the author’s own.
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