Sunday, April 13, 2014

Hark! The Aardvark or the Lark?

Summer holidays in India can be extremely boring.

As a child, I used to get pretty excited in April, about the impending holidays. Around this time of the year, you could still find the red and orange Palash flowers on the hilly trails of Jharkhand. The Lantana bushes would be overgrown and messy, and one would have to wade through them to stay on the beaten track. Then, the summer would quickly arrive. The bushes would become dry and shriveled, and the afternoon sun would be too bright to make a trip outside the house possible. Around an hour after lunch, when everyone would have fallen asleep, a black crow, which used to live in the tree behind the house, would start cawing incessantly. For some reason, it always reminded me of my English teacher.

Right before the school closed for vacation, our English teacher would remind us that at our age, he knew every single word in the English dictionary. And so, inevitably, on most afternoons, after the crow stopped cawing, I would take out my well-worn edition of "The Oxford's English Dictionary", and turn to page one, with the resolve that I too would become the dictionary one day. But it was always the first word, that stopped me dead in my tracks. How in the world, would a snouty ant eater, make it to the most coveted spot in the English dictionary. The Aardvark, I always thought, must have friends in really high places.

Since the two As put the Aardvark in quite an enviable spot in the English dictionary, I always wondered if India's newest political party with national ambitions, had similar objectives, when they chose their name. The Aam Aadmi Party (common man's party), would easily appear at the top of any alphabetical list of political parties in India. Were you to abbreviate it to AAP instead, you still wouldn't be able to dislodge it from the top. In fact, I have had a gnawing suspicion for quite some time, that someone in the AAP, in his or her childhood, had come to envy the Aardvark -- just like me.

Since we are talking politics, and since the largest democracy in the known universe is going through its largest transfer of responsibility and blame, from the huddled masses to a few chosen ones, I thought that I too, should express my opinion by cawing a bit.  And trust me, I would not have. In fact, I was planning to quietly march up to the nearest polling booth on election day, and vote. Simply. And then, came the postman.

The Economist, our favorite family magazine, has decided to usher in the daybreak this week, by playing the Lark. I don't like to beat about the bush, and so, I will just say it -- this week's edition disappointed me.

On the cover, they have put a photograph of a stern looking Mr. Narendra Modi, who has also thrown in a frown -- for good measure. In its editorial, the "newspaper" has expressed its inability to "back" Mr. Modi for India's highest office. First, it acknowledges the fact that Mr. Modi is perhaps better qualified than anyone else, to lead India to better times and deliver the fruits of economic development to the aspirational youth of today. Next, it reaffirms that in spite of the good things that Mr. Modi might have done, he has not yet apologized for the riots of 2002, from which, the judicial system may have exonerated him. And then, it chides Mr. Modi, for not wearing a skullcap in atonement.

While Mr. Modi may have been condemned for being biased, the esteemed "newspaper" cannot claim to be completely free of the same hazardous human infliction. What if I called The Economist a magazine, generally written for, and read by the rich white anglo-saxon man? What if I said that expressing public distrust in the judicial system of an "inferior brown-black" country, shows bias of the kind that cannot be washed down with the choicest of single malts, that the Scottish bureau might dispatch respectfully to the editor, from time to time? And what if, the fact that the editorial staff does not show up for work in turbans, can be construed as utter disrespect for the Sikh community in Britain?

Nonsense, they would say. And so do I.