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Monday, December 19, 2005

ASK NO QUESTIONS, AND YOU'LL BE TOLD NO LIES

The forlorn, sullen and hapless figure of Chintamani Singh Lahoti sank into his oversized leather sofa. He kicked off his jootis and yelled to Praveen's mother ( translated) to make him a steaming cup of tea. Nothing to beat a hot cuppa when one was under the cosh and had run out of simple solutions. It had been another fruitless and exasperating day at Parliament today.
The smart ones had again strutted and preened as if they owned the place, and once again he and his cohorts had had to listen to the diatribe against people of his generation—those who did not use gmail, iPods, or even MP3 and whose linguistic proficiency in English was minimal, dwarfed by their political acumen and native pragmatism. His twelve-year old lad, Praveen ran in chased by his equally-irritating neighbour Rajeev. He knocked over a table , had his rose collection in disarray and came to an abrupt halt after being stopped in mid-flight by a sofa. Chintamani in his earthy dialect politely asked Rajeev to take his goodly self out of his house and buttonholed Praveen. “ Can you help with my work ? It’s in English. “ A remorseful Praveen hang his head, he had let his father down once again. That old family failing of the Raj’s language smote him hard as it had many generations before him. Chintamani ruefully shook his heavy head and drank his tea with his slurping almost audible in his native Rajnandgaon. Resting his head against the comfortable softness of the sofa, he went over the earlier episode in his mind.

The Likeable Kind Adorable leader was chairing one of his last meetings. He chided them for their pronounced silence in Parliament proceedings in contrast to the eloquent chirpiness of the rival party. We are in a minority, my friends, he droned on and we must be heard. His meandering mind drifted to the good old days when they , with a strength of just a handful, raised Cain and were seen as the most strident and strong of all. And today, these middle-aged men, purportedly Generation Next, sat silent. It was a tough call, he knew, to have all Parliament questions in English, as many of his colleagues had not a passing idea of this hitherto alien tongue. We must ensure that we ask intelligent, pointed, leading questions—that will show others our erudition and hold on the electorate, our Indian electorate, he said. Why then must the questions be in English, Sir, a lean leader of the Vindhyas asked. That is not the issue, the LKA leader screeched, the point is, we must be heard, our presence must be felt, we must change, he closed the meeting after cheery handshakes and he too knew, his coterie was not up to the task this time.

Over dinner, Praveen already tucked in, Chintamani was unusually quiet, a fact duly noted by that paragon of Indian domesticity-his wife Phoolwanti ( translated ) What is the problem, dear-you look very distraught ? Can I help in any way ? C clasped her hands to his and said ( translated ), I can only confide in you, P, these angrezi braggarts have made life tough. We have to submit at least five English questions on contemporary topics in Parliament tomorrow. And you well know my ineptitude in either. Praveen gets help from subject guides, cannot you do the same, she persisted. C smiled, how little his wife knew of matters of national importance-- published guides, he sneered. Don’t worry, something will turn up, she consoled him, ever the optimist.

Quaking with fear of scorn and disdain, unable to spend time with his beloved plants, Chintamani was driven to his workplace. He met his morose Party colleagues, they exchanged weak smiles and lifeless handshakes. After all, they shared his discomfiture with the task on hand, their education or lack of it had seen to that.
He heard a voice behind him, Arrey Mantriji, won’t you spend some time with us ? Anil Behra, in a ludicrous wig motioned to him to come over around the building –not here, would like to speak in private, he said. Yes, what is it, a breathless C who had followed him asked. Behra was with his colleague Suvarna Rani who was dressed to kill. Behra introduced his organization, Nag Daak sotto voce and his motto-to deliver information to whoever required it. We communicate stealthily , his pitch ended and C blinked twice. So what this bloke was saying was that he would give him some questions that C could pass off and submit as his own.
And how much would Behra want for this, er, service ? The response, which came from the glib Suvarna rattled him and he blanked out. Regaining his composure, he mustered up the presence of mind to say ( translated ) Okay, we shall see. We are ministers, we can commit nothing without proper examination of the facts. I will revert. Behra, thinking fast, sweetened his deal even as C was retreating into the foyer of the House—I could even help your other friends in similar distress, he said to the swarthy back of C, they need not be left out. I will see, C called. ( translated )

We are saved, P, all the results of your devotion and purity of mind, ( translated ) C gushed to his blushing wife at dinner. So, somebody came forward to help you, she goaded. C recited the day’s events with dramatic flair, he knew when he had an audience. So, ask, ask how much I am to pay for all this , C( translated ) bantered. Upon receiving an ignorant nod, C swelled up and recited the most satisfactory finale of the tale, No, Phoolwanti, you don’t understand, even I didn’t at first, I don’t have to pay them anything.It’s a new fangled concept, in fact they are paying me money to submit the questions, his triumphant explanation trilled on …..


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