‘….full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.’ William Shakespeare, Macbeth.
Are you the squeamish type? Then you should read no further. People close to me are beginning to click their tongues admonishingly over elements of smut creeping into some of my blogs. The fault, dear reader, does not lie with me. Not guilty. Ergo, I would not have, in a million years, contemplated the idea of doing a piece on the subject of breaking wind. Clearly, my reticence was misplaced. I needed to change my tack and get rid of my inhibitions. Let us not get all coy about it. Let us call a spade a shovel. I am talking about farting. And why pray, am I talking about farting? Simply because India’s largest circulated daily newspaper, The Times of India (TOI), the Old Lady of Bori Bunder chose in its infinite, if misplaced wisdom, to report in excruciating detail the goings on at a ‘farting contest’ that was held recently in Surat. I kid you not, cross my heart and hope to die. The competition was branded ‘What The Fart (WTF)’. Not an awfully inspiring title for this awfully conceived contest, but there you go. It takes all sorts. The TOI report is silent, unlike the farting, on whether this extraordinary event was live telecast. Given man’s unspeakable taste for prurience, the programme could have grabbed millions of eyeballs, and there would have been no dearth of sponsors from the pharma and Ayurveda industries.
While the world was spinning round and round with tales of Trumponomics, Modinomics, BoJonomics, Brexit, Kashmir, Hong Kong, Greta Thunberg, bank frauds and potential global Armageddon, here was our No.1 daily, leading off with three columns devoted to an admittedly curious contest in the Prime Minister’s home state of Gujarat. Was this some sort of sly, underhand, opposition inspired message directed at the PM? I wouldn’t have thought a handful of people getting together to determine which breaker of wind achieved maximum decibel rating, thus walking away with the dubiously coveted First Prize, rated top billing. A piffling Rs.2500/- was what the winner took away. Not worth farting over, I should have thought. They even had a machine (pic) in front of which the stupefied contestant had to stand and ‘let fly.’ Obviously, some form of meter gizmo was programmed to measure wind velocity, sound barrier and, I can’t be sure of this, olfactory issues as well. The report was strangely shy on this cardinal aspect of the competition. I smell a rat.
I shan’t go into all the gory details of this unusual contest – about how the contestants prepared for the event, the actual response (which was unsurprisingly poor), and the overall performance levels one expects at a match- up of this magnitude, which was underwhelming. The competition was open to men and women. Evidently the women chickened out, and who can blame them? Actual number of performers compared to the number of entries received was unflattering. Last minute butterflies in the stomach, one surmises. Though a family of lepidoptera fluttering around in your belly should have aided churn and flatulence in the equatorial belt, but I am no expert. The details are available to any interested reader at TOI’s website. Just key in ‘Farting Contest, Surat.’
Nevertheless, I would like to quote Dr. Rajesh Chandnani, a surgeon who was invited to the event ‘in case of an emergency.’ Meaning what, exactly? Muscle tear? Exploding rectal fissures? Loss of consciousness due to noxious gases reeking to high heaven? We are but mere mortals and can only guess. Here’s what the estimable Dr. Chandnani had to say, speaking with his nostrils smothered with a scented handkerchief to keep the all-pervading pong at bay. ‘People think it’s bad to fart. It is socially unacceptable, but it is not good to hold a fart long-term. It can lead to dementia and early forgetfulness.’ He went on to helpfully add, ‘Women don’t fart less. They just speak about it less.’ Thank heavens! We can only applaud the good doctor for his invaluable insights into this little-known and little-discussed subject. I do have a query though. What does the doctor mean precisely when he says it’s not good to hold a fart long-term? What are we talking about here in terms of timelines? An hour, three hours, 24 hours, a few days? Come on Doc, out with it. The suspense is not just killing me, but causing all kinds of unrest in my intestinal regions.
While we await clarity on many of these quasi-medical issues, I blanch at the thought of what would happen if other states in the country decide to follow the Gujarat Model. The States and Union Territories of the country all holding a farting contest simultaneously could not merely raise an almighty stink, but the resultant gas emissions could imperil the ozone layer and cause an environmental disaster of unimaginable proportions. The United Nations, which holds a pathetic record in intervening on any substantive issue anywhere in the world, can at least find it within its limited capacity, to try and talk some sense into those responsible for this contest, which can only be of interest to the Guinness Book of World Records. Congress MP, that loquacious windbag Shashi Tharoor who is a champion gasser himself, by virtue of having served at the UN in the past, could be persuaded to do all the coordinating. It will be a bi-partisan portfolio and should be perfectly acceptable to all political parties. A job that will suit the suave debater down to the ground. One can even now visualise Tharoor clearing his throat to address Parliament on the subject. ‘Mr. Speaker and Members of the House, with regard to the subject of tackling a matter of great delicacy, to say nothing of pith and moment, namely, the human proclivity to multivibrate the molecules of the air, consequent upon gastric upheavals, and its possible concomitant worldwide environmental consequences, I deem it a great honour…’ I think you get the picture. We will never hear the end of it.
All this leaves me wondering. How low will our brethren sink, in order to adorn the sacred pages of TOI? After all, the publication seems only too eager to cover such inane stories of ‘human interest.’ The Kashmir issue appears moribund, our Defence Minister auspiciously broke a coconut on the Rafale jet (which may need a small paint job costing upwards of Rs.50 lakhs), South Africa is being slaughtered by India on the cricket fields, watched by about 100 people, the PMC scandal will soon cease to be newsworthy….. So what else is new? Or rather, news? Enter stage left, WTF, to fill the void.
What can we expect next? A burping contest? That will definitely draw a great many more contestants than WTF, because in India, the sign of a satisfied trencherman is to let out an almighty belch. The louder, the more grateful and happy the hostess will be at the satisfaction gastronomically derived and expressed by the guests. There’s also a free meal involved to aid the process, so everyone is happy.
In conclusion, I will be the first to acknowledge that, while nature has endowed us with great natural beauty is so many different ways for us to feast on, the reality is that there is a not so endearing but necessary side, involving our personal habits and ablutions that we would like to keep to ourselves and our toilets. We used to hold the same view on sex, but that went out of the window eons ago. Watching a movie with the family is no longer an idle pastime. The family head has to be alert and ready with his finger on the remote, in case the screen suddenly and without warning, turns from Mary Poppins to Emmaneuelle, or its equally pornographic sequel, Emmanuelle 2. Or even 50 Shades of Gray. There is a fun side to this. Just when a censorable, steamy bedroom sequence is about to commence, the television screen suddenly becomes an ear-splitting Tower of Babel led by Arnab Goswami. ‘Daddy, I want to watch Emmanuelle,’ wails your 8 year old son. ‘Chup, go and do your homework and straight to bed.’ That’s telling the little tyke!
Point to ponder. Do we really need a farting contest? And does our leading newspaper really need to give the subject prime space? Which old fart’s brainwave was this? A discreet footnote, or fartnote, would have sufficed – if that. Begs the question –‘Did I have to write this piece?’ Well, what can I say? At the end of the day, we are all gas pots.