Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Makin' Ajay and Manning Shankar

I was reversing my car up the slope in the  parking lot at South Campus when a friend who graduated with top honours from an elite women's college called on my cell phone and asked me to  explain the meaning of the word "dichotomous." Conditioned by years of  explicatory teaching and numbed by being the at-home- thesaurus, I stepped on the reverse gear and proceeded to explain wondering why she didn't consult the dictionary, because people asked on the off-chance tend to be woolly? Her chuckle made me realize that this was a trick question and  with a little prodding, the paisa eventually dropped.
In karmic evolution the  anxieties  one is visited by remain the sum total of one's misdeeds, both in this life and in previous ones. Of course, we also need to  propitiate our blood ancestors, but in secular life, we are called to account for each and every gaffe and social misdemeanor that our seniors in  academic institutions  effortlessly  execute.I shifted to first gear and drove the car back into the trough that I had been struggling to lift  myself out of. We had a long exchange, this friend and I, over Mani Shankar's repartee that was not merely out of place, but also completely off the point.
The truth be told, Mani Shankar has always been articulate enough, in all manner of forums, that India could not  afford the extravagance of the commonwealth games and  he was absolutely correct on that point, never mind the fact that nobody in his party cared very much about his views on the subject.Yet what is intriguing about this whole exchange  is  that the entire debate has hinged around whether Mani Shankar Aiyar's elite arrogance is misplaced and out of date. In fact Swapan Dasgupta continues the debate in this vein in his 30 September article where he launches forth on wit and understatement as the privileged space occupied by the inheritors of the Nehruvian tradition, wherein  he places both Mani Shankar Iyer and himself, a bit too quickly, methinks.
 Swapan Dasgupta,  authoritatively pokes fun at  "puerile"  undergraduate Stephanian clubs such as the  no longer extant Wodehouse Society. Maybe they should hand wrestle over the fine points of Narendra Modi's   hostility to the upper cadres of the Gujarat RSS under Dasgupta's  super-'vision'? This would go well with the cultural pundit  aura  Dasgupta has appropriated ever since his strident  declaration a few years ago (in the wake of the controversy over the film Fire,) that lesbianism  was a foreign import, brought to India's  hallowed shores by a whole lot of disreputable people, presumably elite anglicized women?
 Rather than reiterate that Mani Shankar  is maliciously witty and  speaks better English than most people, it is time to ask why Mani Shankar  never considered stepping down or resigning from official positions and continued to be "obstructionist." The schism between  his words and  subsequent action  could definitely be termed "dichotomous" in this instance. Could we communicate to  him  that there is a consensus on Maken's appropriate and advised use of  both words  and he should now labour to provide a detailed explanation?

I recall Mani Shankar's effusive oratory in Parliament, asking for Connaught Place and Connaught Circle to be renamed as Indira Chowk and Rajiv Chowk, immortalizing through architectural symbol  the cradling of the son in the arms of his mother. That chowk indicates a square shape while  the circle represents a different geometrical figure altogether, was merely inconsequential detail. His suggestion was implemented by those who should have known better  in order to ensure that everyone who knows their Hindi could cringe  whenever they saw these signboards in time and times to come.
Language effectively records the gulf between speech and action and  thrusts the underlying thought into our faces. It did so powerfully in Narendra Modi's recent fast purportedly for communal harmony. Yet this man, the proverbial cat at Haj,  refused to  wear a cap proffered by a visiting maulvi. That one gesture effectively dismantled the horrendous charade of  fellow feeling he tried to construct and left him completely exposed. Thankfully language retains the power to do that most  of the time, be it the case of superannuated Stephanians or regional satraps running amok.