I'm a political escapist. A modern day cynic. On most days I'm just like one of you - cursing India. Calling her names. Standing in a haphazard queue at the Passport office or watching a man drop his trousers in Kolkata in front of my ancestral home, pee in full public view. Despite the warning - the repeated reminders. 'Yahan par pishaap karna mana hain.' In Hindi. Our Rashtriya Bhasha.
Every time a rule gets flouted. Every time a cop lowers his face and squints his eyes. More than once hinting surreptitiously at a bribe. Every time a woman is checked out. By a bunch of hairy men. In a discolored bus somewhere. The same bus that overtook a car.
Anywhere. Here. In this damn country, I say. I curse. I raise my middle finger.
And so I don't know why I did the following. Called my mother. She was in the next room.
"Ma... it's time," I said.
My mother was watching 'Uttaran'. I remember well. 'What did he say? Did I miss something?' she asked panting, grabbing her long distance spectacles. Smiling warmly. It was a cold Delhi day. I gestured towards the television.
"Rahul," my mother paused, her eyes filling. I shrugged my shoulders, rising to go.
"No... no don't go... this is important. It can be... I mean," she swallowed hard.
"Please, nothing's going to change... this was all known to us long before, after all what else can you expect in a dynastic party? Besides he never wins... this, this... your, your great Rahul... Rahul Gandhi... the chosen one. The prince incarnate," I walked off. But I didn't leave.
Although I don't know what made me stay. Maybe it was just the memory of another day. Just like this. Back in the early 80's if I am not mistaken, when my mother and maternal grand-father sat just as we were now in our sprawling Kolkata home, facing a rectangular television set.
There was something about the light that day.
Or maybe it's what my adolescent world appeared doused in the colors of our first color television.
"Mum kineche (Mum has bought it)," Bapi as I called my grand-pa reiterated. Time and time again. Bapi died. A long time ago.
But I can still recall the look in his eyes. The lines around my mother's mouth specifically. "Rajiv... o esheche. Oke ashtei hobe (Rajiv has come, he had to)," my mother had whispered then.
My grand-mother had invited a lot of our neighbors. It was like a giant movie screening, replete with singara and jilipi (spelt the way they are pronounced back home) and cups after cups of steaming hot doodh cha (tea with milk).
One of our neighbors, a grouchy old man, I used to call Six Thirty (we all did! Kids of my age I mean to say) had remarked sarcastically, "Etakeo urei debe (they will blow him too)... it's the price you pay for being a Gandhi I guess! Dekhe nao aaj joto parbe (see as much of him today as you can.)"
I remember that sardonic statement. Not because I hated Six Thirty. Neither because he hated us. Back. With equal vengeance. Six Thirty had lost a son. In a horrific car accident. He was always bitter. And broken. Inside. Or at least it's what my mother told me when I asked her, later, why he sulked throughout the televised episode. Watching a dimpled young man called Rajiv Gandhi take political center stage. Why he lacked the emotional connect that everyone else present that day had effused. So easily. So emphatically.
As I watched my mother from a distance, I couldn't but help wander if Six Thirty is me today? Bitter, bruised, battling an Indian-ness that I'd rather shed.
What happened to hope? To the kinds that Bapi described with a glint in his eyes every afternoon we lay on our backs on a mat in our terrace as he narrated tales of his youth spent under the watchful eyes of Mastar Da (Surjo Sen).
Was the country he often referred to as 'Ma' in his reminisces a forgotten Utopia today - a nation corroded by corruption and violence, stained by the blood of innocent men, women and children - victims of bomb blasts, rapes, road rage, internal strife... the fruits of our freedom. The price we pay in the name of development and advancement? The dark spots behind the India Shining campaign?
The India that dies in villages every day, malnourished, the female fetuses we kill every month, the skinny children who beg in front of our plush malls, every weekend staring vacant into our kohl lined eyes. Asking for answers. The hopeless. The helpless. The homeless.
Does it really matter to them if Rahul Gandhi now wears a crown on his head? People like me... or you even who were not invited to his coronation ceremony. Ordinary people. Indians. Everyday citizens. Who want change. Who want better. But can't tell the difference... in some way.
"His mother cried," my mother repeats, turning back. "You're just getting carried away by all this tamasha... he's hit the right senti chord," I laugh.
She laughs with me this time. "But what is politics sans emotion... I mean aren't you so detached because you don't have an emotional leaning or attachment with any of the leaders at present? Think about it, do you feel the same way about SRK? What if his son," she stops. Perhaps to gauge my immediate reaction. The silence that pervades between us. Distancing us in a way. Perhaps by a generation.
"It's not the same Ma, politicians are not film stars you see," I touch her back gently.
"It is the same. It has to be. You relate to a film star the same way you connect with a neta... everyone's looking for a hero. Somewhere. Always. It is always the same, in every age. Someone to look up to. Someone you can see yourself in..." she reasons.
"So what's common between me and, and this guy?" I point to the screen.
"Everything... here is a boy... a boy now a man. A boy with a lot of baggage - trying to make something of his own life... of his family perhaps. Of all the losses they have suffered. A boy with big dreams... and some courage," she adds vehemently. I press Mute.
"Ma, what's courageous about an inheritance? A legacy?" I raise my voice. The left over anger brimming. Once again. The apathy. The agony. The aloneness. Of fighting one's battles in a country like ours. All by yourself.
"Inheritance is a double-edged sword. But no one can escape it. Rahul's time has come. It is now. And time will be the only judge of time," she purses her lips.
"And, and what if...what if he fails? I mean c'mon he screwed up big time in the UP elections, how can you compare the situation Rahul Gandhi faces today to the canvas when his father was sworn in... I mean do you on Facebook everyone's talking about Narendra Modi as the next PM candidate, am sure Rahul Gandhi will have to put up a colossal fight... I mean look what the dude did to Gujarat," I point out.
"I like Narendra Modi..." Ma states, searching for the remote.
"Now... now make up your mind," I scoff. Meeting her eyes.
"That's for you to do," she interrupts with an air of non-chalance.
Maybe it's time then. To take a call. To decide what is the India we want. Which version? What model?
Maybe then... days like this won't mean so much. Or mean anything at all. When a speech will be a speech and not fodder for social media debates. When we stand in another kind of line. Maybe a longer one, this time. To cast a vote. Instead of taking the easier route and being armchair critics of democracy and the Indian voting system. When we stop comparing. Like I was doing at first. Like Ma is. Somewhere...
Rahul Gandhi or no, the Congress Party needs self reflection like every ruling party needs to do. Periodic self checks within a system that has place for criticism and course correction. And if the need arises, also be willing to script a face-lift perhaps - one that includes the old, the experienced, the veterans with as much respect and admiration as the new, the able-bodied - men like Rahul.
The Gen Next of our political class.
Sons of great fathers. Grand sons of martyrs. Daughters of destiny so it were. Comparisons as have erupted since Rahul Gandhi's anointment are only natural. But to me they are not negative or necessarily vices, rather they are a reflection of the pride we, this nation, us, our families invest in. Every day. Faces of a future we all see.
Standing united. As members of a proud and patriotic nation. That we must have been, someday. When like Bapi, little boys learnt how to make bombs sitting on open terraces and women like my grand-mother spun khadi in an ashram overlooking the serene Ganges.
"You know something... Rahul in Arabic means..." my mother popped in her head as I sit to pen this column.
"Oh please Ma," I was about to say.
Except I didn't. Maybe I remembered too much. Maybe Ma was right. In some way. For once. Maybe watching Rahul Gandhi had made me emotional. For everything I had lost. All the stories of bravery that my grand-parents raised me up with. And the lack of a connect. The corrosion of basic human faith in a country that you are born in and will die in perhaps. The growing up with heroes.
Until you realize they exist only in the sepia infested pages of your history books. Stepping out into a world that almost doesn't believe in them. Anymore.
"Rahul... means traveller," she says, closing the door behind her gently.
"Wasn't he also Gautam Buddha's son, Ma? The son he once abandoned... left to fate," I shout.
Ma was gone. By then.