(Published in Zeitgeist, The New Indian Express, dated 17th April, 2010)
The worst thing about doing my bachelor’s degree at a reputed convent college in Chennai wasn’t being made to buy five-hundred-rupee tickets for its forgettable annual play. It wasn’t being called “chile” or asked about “getting friendly with boys”. It wasn’t even being asked by one of my lecturers whether ‘Measure for Measure’ was written by Shakespeare or Marlowe.
Oh no, the single worst moment of my college life occurred soon after I had dressed up prettily to receive my gold medal on graduation day. I stepped into campus, a song in my heart and a skip in my step as I passed through its forbidding gates for the last time, only to be told I had to pay twenty rupees to rent a hideous yellow gown that would make the picture of my receiving the imitation gold an eyesore. To say nothing of rendering the twenty kilograms I had shed through the year pointless.
Two years later, the incident repeated itself. Only, I had to pay twenty-five pounds, the gown was black and I was glad to hide the extra layers my daily flapjack and panini had contributed to my frame. And November in London was cold enough for me to go so far as to envy the Vice Chancellor, who was wearing something the Queen wouldn’t venture out in.
The same can’t be said of June anywhere in India (except the regions that would rather not belong to us). Which is why, Jairam Ramesh has become my hero since his historical feat of shedding the vestigial gown. Of course, as any sensible action or honest opinion in this country is bound to, it has had almost exclusively negative repercussions.
The problem is, perhaps, that he did a Tharoor. He should probably have left the mediaeval vicars and popes out of it. Heaven knows they have their own problems (no wordplay intended), from witch-burning to paedophilia. One has to feel sorry for the minister duo, whose resemblance is more than skin-deep. Two educated, well-read, well-written Southern gentlemen, trying to fit into a group whose pastimes include slipper-throwing, table-banging and money-garlanding.
Jaishi’s problem, one must conclude, is language. They’ve both been accused of not speaking enough in the vernacular. While Shashi Tharoor addressed a gathering in Malayalam to prove his critics wrong, Jairam Ramesh decided to answer Mulayam Singh Yadav’s challenge in Hindi. Ironically, though, the language they struggle with most is the one they know best. Perhaps Jaishi should put down a glossary of terms and link it to their Twitter pages. If they do decide to, here’s a list of non-neglectables:
Cattle class (noun): slang for economy class, humorous, non-offensive
Holy cow (idiom): expression used to indicate surprise, non-offensive
Interlocutor (noun): person whom one is addressing in a conversation, a listener who is allowed to speak to the addresser occasionally, not a mediator, not a conductor of tripartite dialogue, non-offensive, non-humorous, undiplomatic
Barbaric (adjective): cruel, savage, offensive to the perpetrator but not to the victim of barbarism (noun)
Colonial (adjective): belonging to the coloniser (noun), who is an illegal occupant of a host country, a conqueror, non-offensive, occasionally complimentary, less occasionally snide
Snide (adjective): sarcastic, mean
Relic (noun): souvenir belonging to times long past, offensive when mentioned in connection with people, but NOT with objects
Mediaeval (adjective, US medieval): belonging to the Middle Ages, a period of European history lasting from the 5th to the 15th centuries, non-offensive
Perhaps Jaishi should meet up for a cuppa every other day, and display their erudition where it’ll be appreciated. Mr. Tharoor would nudge Mr. Jairam, “hey, think the High Command got who Priya Duryodhani is in The Great Indian Novel?” and Mr. Jairam would grin, “oh, don’t worry. You’re not Sikh enough for that skeleton to fall out of your cupboard!”