My mother said the most bizarre thing to me this afternoon over a very elaborate Bengali lunch. Claiming she had read it in the papers.
'Is the Cabinet Reshuffle now being postponed?' was the question from my end that precipitated her reply.
'The Shradh is on, so it's not an auspicious time,' she replied sucking on a fish bone. I laughed.
'What Shradh?' I retorted, laughing off her simplistic deductions.
'It's a religious thing, in North India people believe it staunchly, it's not a good time, I mean if one is going by the almanac,' she added, staring diffidently at me.
Is this for real? Or was my mother mouthing a dialogue from one of the many multi-colored serials that she religiously watches. Stuff that I label 'regressive.' How else can she say what she just said? I mean, c'mon get real Ma! Since when did politics and governance get embroiled in planetary conjunctions and religious hoopla?
To prove my point and to do so before the meal culminated, I quickly pointed out to the recent irrigation scam that had rocked the boat in Maharashtra. 'Ajit Pawar just resigned as Maharashtra's Deputy Chief Minister over allegations of corruption, now it looks like the Bharatiya Janata Party may have gained shitloads from that scam. After Coalgate, it's this shit now... the country has gone to the dogs and here you are telling me that an important Cabinet realignment is on hold due to some Shradh. Nonsense,' I scoffed loudly.
My mother looked unfazed. 'What's new in that? Everyday there is some scam or the other. It's the season I guess. Scams are in fashion these days,' she continued, shrugging her shoulders.
This time I was genuinely shocked.
My mother, the original patriot, the Presidency College alma mater who still spewed Naxalite stories at the slightest instance and spoke of her dreams to become a politician, had it not been for the untimely intervention of my Grand-father who had clipped her wings prematurely, was today sounding completely unfazed by the system? Who had changed? Had Ma become a cynic? Or was I now the rebel? Thoughts raced through my head.
Maybe it's what a country like India does to you - after you're done loving it, or at least trying to, in your head. When like my mother, you stayed back in this land, watching your cousins and ex lovers move on to greener pastures, give up their citizenship, adopt Western accents, send Halloween cards and hang up their boxing gloves. Preferring to watch the country they quit, slowly fall apart from a distance. Maybe it's what you feel when everyday becomes a fight - instead of the things worth staking a claim to. When you also know that over the years, you've skipped a red light or two, bribed some Government employee or the other, pushed someone in a long, winding line somewhere, shoved a hundred rupee note into a constable's weathered pocket because you parked your car in the wrong lane... when you too have given in... been a part of all the corrupt practices you sit and now watch on the telly or read in your morningers. I said part remember?
'Do we really care about all these scams or are we gradually becoming complacent because there are one almost everyday?' I asked a hotshot editor friend, who oozes patriotic fervor with as much gusto as he does his tele headlines. He laughed on the phone.
'Yaar, the truth is we need scams, imagine how else our dhanda would run. Crime and corruption are our bread and butter, chalne do na. Good footage for us scribes!' he sighed.
Maybe he had answered my question... or maybe it wasn't an answer at all, more like a new question. No way, I said this time, Ma is not right, she can't be. Not like this.
Were we becoming a scam proof nation? Scam sensitive? Sorry, I'm just not finding the right word at this point. All this social activism that is being talked about, so imminently infectious - was it only about footage at the end of the day? Could it ever be that simple?
'What activism? The Anna brand or the Kejriwal kinds? First let them decide... then you get so involved. Watch the fun till then,' the same friend noted, waxing eloquent about the recent press conference by Arvind Kejriwal attacking Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) President Nitin Gadkari.
'Are you saying Kejriwal also can't be trusted?' I asked, sounding impatient.
My journo friend stayed silent this time. 'No one can be trusted, every one is a chor! It's about whose bluff gets caught first man,' he sniggered. I hung up.
I recalled a conversation I had with a friend who was desperate to send her son overseas to study. 'I don't care if I have to sell my last gold bangle, my son must leave this country. There's nothing here... I was a fool to not marry X (name withheld for obvious reasons), and want to stay back for the sake of my parents, my country, my love for family - settling for this mediocre desh. What will my son get? He's not even bright, at least abroad he can even make money being a car mechanic or an artist - learn dancing if he wishes. There's dignity of labor, things are more fair, more professional - at least he won't have to bribe a cop or not get a job/engineering seat, because someone richer and lesser deserving has more contacts to buy out his destiny... No, he must go, go asap,' she shouted almost.
Of course, no one was listening. Besides, her son is not even five years old. I remember that look in her eyes today as I sit writing this blog - an erosion of patriotism... slowly, silently, over the years. Until now, now when she sounds almost desperate. Desperate to get her loved ones out.
A couple of days ago, when our PM Manmohan Singh spoke to the nation, telling us in a very paternal manner that the path to economic regeneration must be hard and arduous, because, c'mon (read friends, Romans, duffers!) 'money doesn't grow on trees,' I also remember feeling this fleeting rage then. And frustration. Was it the continuous scams that had got me so fired up that night as I watched the PM read out, expressionless from a tele-prompter to a nation of millions? Or was it a just all this impotent anger? That I, like so many of them before, stayed on? Forsaking an Inlaks Scholarship at some point.
'Watch Barfi, it's like Ray's Kanchenjunga,' an ex colleague tweeted. I scrolled down. Still restless. And then, just like that, unannounced... came up more posts citing the film's similarity to some Western film. Copycat, screamed the tweet. I laughed.
And to think Barfi was the original... all this while. Cinematic excellence, proof of how well our mainstram actors can act (like they have another job anyway), 100 crores plus revenue and all that. Even as poor Shoojit Sircar, director of another hit film this year, Vicky Donor screamed hoarse. Sounding almost as agitated as my friend with the kid son. The angst of being left out.
If you ask me, both films are not Oscar worthy, but then I should add at this point that my own contention about Barfi being nothing but a Charlie Chaplin rip-off (read bad) was slammed on Facebook a week or so back. Even our movies suck! I said.
It's feel-good cinema, they replied.
But, what's so great about Barfi? Just because it's got the deaf and dumb angle and a Bollywoodish caricature on Autism, I wouldn't stop.
'Barfi is simple and therein lies its success. With our complex lives today, why not celebrate the simplicity of Barfi? I loved it and I'm going back to watch it again,' I quote the last comment on my post.
I get it now. Okay, I have to say it aloud, like really out loud. It's about mediocrity in some way. Making do with the best of what you've got. It's perhaps why we laud a man like Anna Hazare, sorry, I'll rephrase that; it's perhaps why we need a man like Anna Hazare. A sort of hero - albeit fading. It's why we bitch out the Congress and yet sit, without blinking an eyelid (pun intended) to hear the PM try and lift up our flagging spirits, it's why we still tell our children the Naxalite stories, or hark back to the times even before that - of how we fought the British... blah, blah and blah.
It's why we flocked to watch Barfi - thank god he was in mute mode. Barfi gave us some hope, like Anna, like our TV channels and papers unveiling one scam after another in arithmetic progression almost - perhaps to just keep us hooked to staying back. To make us want again - want somehow - to want to be Indian.
Like my mother perhaps did at some point - or my friend with the kid son - or my journalist buddy - all of us who wanted to lead our lives here, to vote, to pay our taxes, to raise our children, to teach them about Gandhiji and saluting the flag, even if it were outside a mall somewhere. To stand up every time the national anthem is being played out - despite the butter soaked popcorn and delectable fries in your lap, despite the meandering evening traffic you braved to make it to your favorite multiplex, despite the months of staring at Kareena Kapoor's 'halkat' pout waiting for her next release - despite the scams.
I'm not like my mother you see. I didn't go to college when there was a bomb blast outside the chemistry lab, I didn't grow up hearing my father go on and on about Netaji and Masterda(Surja Sen, relax, it's not a crime to not know. You watched Barfi? Well done son!) I didn't have a house with a marble portico and walled verandah in North Kolkata that reeked of Bengal's illustrious Babu culture... I didn't have friends who hid pistols in their laboratory exercise books or read the Red book under moonlight - I grew up in this India.
This one - the one in danger of extinction now. Right now. The India of malls, multiplexes, Mamata, Maoists, Modi, Manmohan, riots, refugees, Barfi, bomb blasts,Vicky Donor, Dengue, dams, discos, Facebook, FDI's, farmers, fetus, rapes, Iphones... the works.
The one that I somehow feel connected with - despite all the lochas. Despite all the bad blood.
Maybe this is a new fight - maybe this is a new time. A time to be heard Ma. Your time is over. This is our time. Time for the ones who stayed. Not because we gave up an important choice, but because we made an important one. And you can't recycle time. Ever. Right?
Here's to this new time then, Ma - the season after the Shrad.
And sorry, if I misspelt the word!