I have written at length in the past on the vexed subject of having to deal with the well-known affliction bloggers like me periodically confront, viz., Writer’s Block. I marvel at many professional columnists who, at the drop of a Homberg, can reel off three 2000-word columns a week without batting an eyelid. The operative word here is ‘professional.’ If some publication is paying you good money to churn out a certain number of columns a week, and you are paid by the word, then you jolly well hitch up your trousers and get down to it. I am, happily, under no such compulsion. Au contraire, I pay this blogsite a pretty penny every year to allow me to use their space in order to spread the good word to my faithful, if limited, reading public. The commitment to write one blog a week is entirely of my own making. For the most part, I keep reading my own blogs times without number (having already proof-read them several times) and marvel at my own brilliance, saying to myself in the manner popularised by Little Jack Horner, ‘What a good boy am I.’ I have been advised to get urgent psychiatric help.
Once in a rare while, I do dash off a piece or two to some friendly newspaper which will carry the piece, if the editor is in a good mood. In the fullness of time, they may (or may not) pay me. A pittance, I’ll trouble you. I suppose the honour of being published ought to be payment enough. I take the moral high ground and exclaim, ‘I do it for the sheer pleasure of it, and not for cheap dross.’ However, I do not cavil, even if some junior sub mangles my prose beyond recognition. ‘The apostrophe was meant to be after the ‘s’ and not before, you cretin.’ And that is the least of it.
Just when all seems lost, someone of substance somewhere, says something stupid and the creative juice, for what it is worth, starts flowing. A couple of days ago, the President of the redoubtable Congress Party of India, Mr. Mallikarjun Kharge, likened the Prime Minister of India to a poisonous snake. I wish to make no comment on the appropriateness or otherwise of this hare-brained remark. To quote the Congress President, if the English translation from Kannada in leading newspapers is accurate, he said, ‘Modi is like a poisonous snake. Don’t try to lick this snake to check whether it is venomous or not. If you taste it, you are dead.’ I am not sure of Kharge’s familiarity with the works of Shakespeare. Had his school syllabus contained the play Julius Caesar, he would have quoted Brutus word for word, ‘It is the bright day that brings forth the adder and that craves wary walking.’ In Kharge speak, that translates roughly into, ‘tread warily before you get within licking distance of the Prime Minister.’ Not much chance of that Sir, what with all the hawk-eyed security detail in place.
There is no lyrical beauty here, and I refer to Kharge’s quote, not the Bard’s. That could be just the translator’s fault. Perhaps in Kannada, the dormant poet in Kharge came to the fore. We can but surmise. Nevertheless, the good Mr. Kharge evidently had a rethink on his unthinking faux pas, issued a hurried apology and ‘clarified’ that it was not a personal remark targeting the Prime Minister but at his party and their ideology. Nice try, Sir. Had Mr. Modi been aware of the phrase, he might have riposted with a ‘you can tell that to the marines, Kharge Saheb.’ Or in schoolboy banter, ‘put it in the Ripley’s Believe It or Not!’ This will be scrumptious cannon fodder for all our television channels for a few days, before someone from the ruling party returns the compliment in kind, and we will be off again.
Almost on cue, as I keyed in those words. an over-zealous BJP MLA in Karnataka unwisely decided to get his own back, presumably on behalf of his party, by reportedly calling former Congress President and MP, Sonia Gandhi a vishakanya, meaning a venomous woman. The snake poison motif has clearly caught the imagination of some of our politicians. With the number of loose cannons that abound in our political circles, there is never a dull moment. Battle is now truly joined. Seconds out of the ring, first round, fight. I could have added, and no hitting below the belt, but I would have been laughed out of court.
One can only hope someone does not go to the courts with a defamation suit against Kharge, whereby the latter finds himself holding hands with his young leader, Rahul Gandhi who is already facing the prospect of a sentence for defamation against the Modi collective, both wondering what the harvest will be. With elections looming, the last thing anyone would want is for these two worthies playing patience on the wrong side of the iron bars. And who knows, they may even have for dubious company, the errant BJP MLA who shot his mouth off indiscreetly against Madam Sonia Gandhi.
Vile invective being hurled at political leaders, particularly at hustings during the elections, is not a new phenomenon. Not in India, not anywhere in the world. In fact, if history teaches us anything, it is that political leaders from time immemorial have never been short of an abusive word when it comes to describing their political opponents. For the most part these politicians give as good as they get. Prime Minister Modi has himself brushed off these diatribes against him by quipping that he has digested several kilos of gaali (insults) and is none the worse for it. While that may be so, his party apparatchiks as well as those of other parties, are so thin-skinned that they are quick to take offence at any comment made against them and as we are witnessing, ready to run to the judiciary and the media and make maximum capital out of it. It is in this regard that one can take a few salutary lessons from those leaders from other nations who abuse and have been similarly abused in much viler, if wittier, fashion.
At the dawn of the 19th century, former U.S. President John Quincy Adams described his predecessor Thomas Jefferson as ‘a slur upon the moral government of the world.’ This may be regarded as high obloquy given the less vituperative times in which these two worthies operated on the political landscape. Contrast that with this salvo from erstwhile British PM Boris Johnson who greeted Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn as ‘a mutton-headed old mugwump.’ Never one to hold back, the garrulous Boris did not hesitate to take a sideswipe at former U.S. President George W. Bush characterising him as ‘a cross-eyed Texan warmonger.’ Speaking of British PMs, even the iron lady, Margaret Thatcher was not spared. Parliamentarian Jonathan Aitken opined that Mrs. Thatcher ‘probably thinks Sinai is the plural of sinus.’ Arguably one of Britain’s most fearless and dynamic political figures, Thatcher’s authoritarian ways tended to rub a lot of people the wrong way. Politician Tony Banks was at his acerbic best, ‘she behaves with all the sensitivity of a sex-starved boa constrictor.’ Again with the snakes! As I have not had the privilege of observing a boa constrictor on heat, I am unable to visualise the level of sensitivity they exhibit at such charged moments.
In Syria, where they go straight for the jugular, their defence minister General Mustafa Tlass said of PLO Chief, Yasser Arafat, ‘He is the son of 60,000 whores.’ Religious heads were not spared, as Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe had no hesitation in calling the much respected and admired Archbishop of South Africa, Desmond Tutu ‘an angry, evil and embittered little bishop.’ We will let the feisty Boris Johnson have the last word as he describes former US Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton thus, ‘she’s got dyed blonde hair and pouty lips, and a steely blue stare, like a sadistic nurse in a mental hospital.’ Boris probably had Nurse Ratched, the main antagonist from Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest in mind.
I guess what I am driving at is that we in India should try and not get too hot under the collar if our leaders are called names, even vile ones, during the frenetic cut and thrust, rough and tumble of elections. It does not make for very civilised discourse, but then, with rare exceptions, who ever expects politicians to be civil to one another? Certainly not at the hustings. Our judiciary is already creaking under the intolerable strain of too many cases and too few judges. Give them a break and stop running to court, wailing, ‘Mamma, he is calling me bad names.’
I would like to end with a quote from a contemporary writer, the brilliant satirist Marina Hyde, who had this to say on former British PM Theresa May’s final days in office. ‘May loses her majority and is effectively left on life support for the rest of her premiership. (Boris Johnson spends a lot of time hanging around the plug socket looking shifty.)’ At the end of the day, even the most reviled politicians are not known for their Dickensian Uriah Heep’s ‘umble, ‘umble persona. When asked how he would rate his performance as President, Donald Trump said, ‘I would give myself an A+.’ Not for him all that false modesty, school exam report stuff like ‘could do better,’ ‘room for improvement,’ and all that guff. Only a straight A+. What a man!
So, I say to our politicians in India. Develop a thick skin. You can shed it later, as the snakes do. On the other hand, like Cleopatra, if you have ‘immortal longings,’ slide your hand into a little basket of figs containing a venomous asp, and let the slithery reptile do its deadly stuff.
Suresh loved reading it
Thank you, Kalyan. Are you the same KG from the UB Group?
Thought so. Many years ago, when I was Advertising Manager of Dunlop and Ad Club President in Calcutta, I had the pleasure of meeting you at the CC & FC. Mid 80s. Lovely catching up.
Great piece, as always. However, it goes off the track when you surmise a BJP guy joining the other two Congress worthies behind the bars for calling the ex-party chief names. We are duty-bound to protect our own, you see, come what may.
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