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Friday, August 26, 2011

(Published in Sify.com on 25 August, retrieved from http://www.sify.com/news/ramlila-maidan-are-indians-addicted-to-drama-news-columns-lizoC6gdghc.html)




(Picture Courtesy: Sify.com. Unauthorised reproduction of this image is prohibited.)



In India, we don’t believe in half-measures. From the double-replay of shock, horror, hurt, surprise, and joy on the faces of our saas-es and bahu-s, to the Hazare supporters singing bhajans out of tune on the dais at Ramlila Maidan, every aspect of the Indian psyche seems to be geared towards laying it on thick. From corruption to cricket, there is no subject that doesn’t draw a feverish response from this country of 1.2 billion.
Take a look at the carnival at Ramlila Maidan, where Anna Hazare has been living on determination and not-so-fresh air that smells of samosa and sweetmeats. Chances are that more than half his adult supporters, some of whom have contrived to lose their children in the swelling crowd, have no clue what the Lokpal Bill is about. And that’s not counting the toddlers television channels have been interviewing, as evidence that the clueless can make a contribution, if not to anything else, to the volume.
However, what makes our country so entertaining is that every movement usually has an unequal and opposite reaction.
Take the vociferous Anti-Anna camp. Not so much the Congress, which has spawned a bunch of its own Gandhians, what with Sanjay Nirupam sporting an Anna Hazare cap, Priya Dutt calling the Bill in Parliament ‘flawed’, and other MPs meeting India Against Corruption activists. But the other lot, who’re frowning about corruption at the grassroots level and in corporate dealings, who’ve called the Jan Lokpal Bill ‘draconian’ or ‘disturbing’, and who’re cheesed off that Anna Hazare has got so much more media attention than his fellow-starvers-for-a-cause.
Now, everyone seems to be forgetting that negotiating with the government is a little bit like bargaining with an auto driver (“Madam, 100 rupees! No one will come for less!”), and unless the version ‘Team Anna’ is holding up has a couple of implausible clauses (“Whaaa! I can walk it in 2 minutes, come on, no one will pay more than 30 rupees!”), there’s no way the final version will be relatively reasonable (“Madam, final fare, 70 rupees.”)
Besides, the hysteria over civil society holding the government to ransom borders on ridiculous. The death of Swami Nigamananda, the continuing fast of Irom Sharmila Chanu, and the practically comic end to Baba Ramdev’s agitation – his leap off the dais, his dramatic hospitalisation, tender images of him being spoon-fed by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar among others – are clear evidence that it is very rarely that a life-threatening fast puts the government in turmoil.
The one thing that has upset people more than the goings-on at Ramlila Maidan, its echoes elsewhere in the country, and the consequent traffic jams, is the performance of the Indian cricket team in England.
How could our boys in blue, whom we rated above Kapil’s Devils and threw crores of money and acres of land at after they won the World Cup, let us down by losing 4-0? The captaincy skills of the man whom corporate leaders were drawing inspiration from a few months ago are now being questioned.
As fans contemplate tarring the houses their heroes were gifted, experts hold lengthy discussions on the need for the team to be revamped, the burden of a heavy playing schedule, and the ill-effects the IPL has on the average cricketer’s health.
Dhoni and team are possibly more grateful than anyone else to Anna Hazare for dominating news bulletins and prime time analysis, which would otherwise be devoted to further scrutiny of the test side’s failings.
The Hazare hullaballoo has also given the moral police a break, with news of protests over Aarakshan confined to the inner pages of dailies. Remember how people who’d likely never heard of Leonardo da Vinci, and were under the impression Mona Lisa was a Bengali actress, protested against the release of The Da Vinci Code?
In a country where it’s as easy to build an army to reclaim Ram Janmabhoomi, as one to decry the delay in implementing the Uniform School Education system, as one to bemoan the damage gay rights could do to Indian culture, one wonders whether we are programmed to exist in a state of heightened emotion. And between editors of news channels offering to tear up sundry documents “in front of the whole nation” everyday, and politicians alleging that a sinister foreign or domestic force is using the bilingual, mild-mannered Anna Hazare as a front, it’s hard to imagine we aren’t.

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