Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Politics of Change



“… there are times when the world is in flux and the right voice in the right place can move the world.  Thomas Paine and Ben Franklin, for instance.  Bismarck.  Lenin.”  [Ender’s Game, Orson Scott Card]

The most repeated refrain at my workplace now is “change.”  The focus is always on change from within.  We’ve had a number of “workshops” on the theme.  A lot of Stephen Covey has been shoved down the throats of the participants.  The latest “workshop” ended a couple of hours back.  The participants were enlightened on the 90 / 10 principle of Covey, according to which we cannot change 10 percent of the reality because that is not under our control, but we can change the remaining 90 percent because that is related to our response to the reality.  For example, if my little daughter topples the coffee cup on to my shirt during breakfast, I can choose to let out my ire first on my daughter, then on my wife for being careless about where she placed the cup, then on my car for not being fast enough... end up paying the fine for over-speeding and then making a mess of everything at the office.  OR, I can choose to offer a gentle advice to the girl, change my shirt and proceed coolly, and be a winner.

Well, the choice is about my response to the situation.  So far so fine.  I wouldn’t disagree much.

The expert proceeded to argue that the real change should always be “from within.”  I raised a doubt that if everyone was working on changing themselves from within, the system might never change.  A corrupt political system like the one we have in our country, which propelled the formation of the Aam Aadmi Party, will flourish...

The answer given by one of the participants is that it is we who choose our leaders.  So Covey’s theory is valid: we change our choice of the leaders.  Ha!  I sat wondering how many leaders of my choice exist in the 600-odd political parties in our country.

A more logical answer, I think, would be that even the leaders should change themselves from within.  Wow!  That would be fantastic.  Fantastic, indeed.
 
After the workshop, one of the participants asked me: “What if I change and become the ideal person, and quite many others refuse to change and remain selfish, greedy, jealous...?  Won’t I end up being exploited by them?”

“Why didn’t you ask the question in the workshop?” I asked.

Not one participant had cared/dared to raise his/her hand when the expert asked them whether anyone of them would agree with my view that Covey’s theory was not applicable at the macro level.   

I think Covey’s theory is as good as the Communist principles or the teachings of the Buddha or Jesus or Confucius... If the whole world is willing to change from within, the outcome will be a paradise on earth.
 
But how many people will actually change from within?  My colleague’s fear (above) is extremely relevant.

I’m more inclined toward practical solutions.  That’s why I began this article with a quote from Ender’s Game.  The novel is about a battle school.  I haven’t even read half of it yet.  But I don’t mind applying the metaphor of ‘life as a battle’ to our day-to-day existence.  We can take all the inspiration possible from religions, psychology, or any other source.  But, in the end, we live in the world of the gazelles and the lions celebrated in an African saying (quoted below), according to which the only real option available to both the gazelle and the lion is: start running if they want to survive.  The lion has to run to catch its prey, and the gazelle has to run to escape from the predator.  [An interesting post on a theme very related to this is Raghuram’s latest one: Innocence Undefined.  By the way, it is Raghuram who couriered me his copy of Ender’s Game.  I wouldn’t read this science fiction had he not taken the trouble of forcing it on me.]

The world of human beings isn’t much different (claims to pure vegetarianism, notwithstanding).  Here too, survival is a struggle for many.  A Ben Franklin, a Tom Paine, a Lenin, a Gandhi... will be required once in a while to speak the right word at the right time.  If I may recall Alexander Solzhenitsyn, a cry in the wilderness is known to have started an avalanche.

Allusion:
 “Every morning in Africa, a Gazelle wakes up. It knows it must run faster than the fastest lion or it will be killed. Every morning a Lion wakes up. It knows it must outrun the slowest Gazelle or it will starve to death. It doesn't matter whether you are a Lion or a Gazelle... when the sun comes up, you'd better be running.”

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Innocence


 Ready?
Go ahead, don't bother about me. I'm just an intruder with a gadget.








Yeah, that's it. You are a newborn calf. You believe my words. Soon you will learn not to.




[Originally posted on 19 Oct 2010.  I'm posting it again because tomorrow my students will return after their Diwali break.]

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Is Kasab in Paradise?




According to the lascivious promises made in the Islamic scriptures to the martyrs, Ajmal Kasab must now be in the blissful paradise reclining on “a raised throne woven with gold and precious stones,” wearing “silken garments,” “bunches of fruits hanging within reach,” jugs of wine at hand, served by “Houris with wide, lovely eyes (as wives for the pious), like preserved pearls, a reward for deeds that they used to do”…

Probably, Kasab was not aware of such heavenly rewards when he agreed to hold up the Kalashnikov against the teeming multitude in an Indian railway station.  Somebody with nothing more than primary education and abject poverty as the only resources, Kasab could not have been aware of even the voluptuous aspects of Islamic jihad.  When he was questioned by the police soon after his arrest, Kasab, lying in a hospital bed, said clearly that he had done it for money and nothing else.  He said his father must have been paid lakhs of rupees.  It is that earthly paradise that Kasab was interested in.  And that too, for his family, rather than for himself.  He knew he would die.

He also knew he would die a “martyr.”  So it is not unlikely that he was unaware of the paradise that awaited him in the life hereafter.  His masters must have conjured up a vivid picture of that paradise in the process of brainwashing him.  (One such picture, provided in wikiislam, is what I have given as a link above.  Such paradise cannot be anything but tempting for a young man deprived of even the money to buy a new pair of dress for Eid.)

It is more likely that Kasab died in despair, without even the kind of wisdom that one acquires in solitude or at least the terrifying realisation of one’s depravity.  According to a front page report in The Hindu [Nov 22] which quoted a police official who was present during the execution, Kasab probably did not even understand exactly what was going on.  “It’s also possible he’d ceased to care,” the report quotes.
 
Perhaps his mind had become numb.  Unable to feel, think or react.  A state that may be called “spiritual aridity,” a state that results from inner emptiness.

Will any god reward such emptiness, aridity, with paradise?  I don’t know.  My knowledge about the supernatural is zilch.

But I know that the kind of thinking that underlies the creation of people like Kasab should change if life on this earth (which can be a paradise too!) is to have some semblance of peace.
 
Tariq Ali, writer and film-maker, suggests the following: “We are in desperate need of an Islamic Reformation that sweeps away the crazed conservatism and backwardness of the fundamentalists but, more than that, opens up the world of Islam to new ideas.... This would necessitate a rigid separation of state and mosque; the dissolution of the clergy; the assertion by Muslim intellectuals of their right to interpret the texts that are the collective property of Islamic culture as a whole; the freedom to think freely and rationally and the freedom of imagination.” [The Clash of Fundamentalism: Crusades, Jihads and Modernity, Rupa & Co, 2003, pp: 338-9. Emphasis added.]

Alas, a similar suggestion can be made with respect to quite many religions today!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Trade Fair Entertainment

Is Delhi starved of entertainment?  The number of people who gathered today, a weekday, at Pragati Maidan to visit the India International Trade Fair (IITF) would make one think so.  The number ran to thousands.

A fraction of the visitors at IITF

If you were to observe for some time you would easily notice that most visitors never bought anything much from any stall.  The only stalls that did good trade were those dealing in food items.

I was also a casual visitor who had no serious intention of buying anything.  I was merely curious and today  being a holiday for me I decided to indulge my curiosity.  The realisation that there are too many people like me in Delhi who visit the IITF merely out of curiosity or just for the heck of it did amuse me.  And people are ready to undergo much inconvenience for the sake of such an insubstantial entertainment.

It was entertaining to watch other people, however.  The way they examine certain things which they may have no intention of buying, the way some people bargain with the traders who have come from other countries such as Thailand, Pakistan, Vietnam and South Africa...  I was particularly amused by the way a middle-aged woman managed to get a synthetic flower free from a Thai stall by flattering the charms of the young lady who was managing the sales.

A view of the foreign stalls
Some of the state pavilions are beautifully decorated.

At the entrance to the Kerala pavilion

The Gujarat pavilion
I was also struck by the number of boys who went around scrounging waste bins for plastic bottles and other things which they could sell for a pittance.

A woman collecting plastic from a garbage tank
I found very few things at the IITF that I needed.  Of course, I hadn't gone there to buy anything really.  I learnt much, however.  The greatest lesson, perhaps, is that I was fortunate enough to be blessed with the need for nothing. 

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Was Thackeray an Anachronism?



Bal Thackeray was the Hitler of Maharashtra.  He not only admired the ‘Great Dictator’ but also tried to emulate him by fighting the non-Marathis with all resources available to him.  The number of people in various parts of India who must have celebrated the death of Bal Thackeray at least in the privacy of their hearts may not be minuscule. 

Just as Hitler wanted a Germany of pure Aryans, Thackeray wanted an India of pure Hindus.  His blinkered vision rankled with inveterate hatred for Muslims and Christians, a hatred which went to the extent of getting even cricket matches and pitches dashed to wrack and ruin if the Pakistani team was in the vicinity.  His men, mostly antisocial elements, went around assaulting people who celebrated the Valentine’s Day.  He hated people for loving people.  He did not hesitate to wield his cudgel against Sachin Tendulkar merely for stating that he was a Marathi but also an Indian
This very same Thackeray had, however, no compunction about forming a political alliance with the Muslim League during the Bombay Corporation elections in the 1970s.  Many of his friends till the end of his life were Muslims who had political or financial clout.  One of the physicians whom he trusted most was a Christian, Dr Samuel Mathew.  He was overjoyed to have Michael Jackson perform for his Shiv Sena.  When Michael Jackson condescended to use his toilet, Thackeray’s bowels moved with ebullience.

Was he a bundle of contradictions?

I think he was a blatant anachronism: a Hitler born a century late.

Thackeray lived in a time when nations opened up their borders not only for trade but also for migration.  But he chose to live in a small world guarded ferociously by his puny-minded Cossacks.  When the whole world opened up gates, Thackeray chose to close gates.  He asserted that the land should belong to the sons of the soil.  Who had built up that land as an economic fortress, however?  How many Marathis were responsible for the emergence of Bombay as the economic capital of India?  Of course, such questions do not matter of dictators.

Like every dictator, Thackeray loved to impose his views on others.  He justified his perverse inclination by projecting Shivaji as his patron saint and inspiration.  Hitler was the second most important idol in his pantheon.    He admired Indira Gandhi when she imposed her dictatorship on the country in a foolhardy venture called the Emergency.  This admiration also won him the support of many Congressmen in his state.
It may be a mere stint of irony that Thackeray lost his voting rights from 1995-2001.  After all, he didn’t believe in democracy.  Yet that punishment, for rousing communal passion during electioneering, must have hurt him much since he thought his vote was more valuable than a million others’.
 
Speak no ill of the dead, says the adage.  Let me conclude by saying that Bal Thackeray was a brave man.  Like Hitler.  Like Narendra Modi.  Even like Joseph Stalin whom Thackeray didn’t like because he was Leftist and not Rightist. 

Let me conclude this obituary with Modi baai’s words in honour of the dead: “Balasaheb Thackeray was an epitome of courage and valour.  He was full of life.  He fought like a warrior.  I’ve lost someone who always guided me.”

Alas, leaders like Modi, Thackeray, Hitler, Stalin... don’t need any guiding light.  Aren’t they their own lights?  Like William Blake’s Tiger that burns bright in the forests of the night...?!

Friday, November 16, 2012

Jab Tak…?




The movie [Jab Tak Hai Jaan] was a terrible disappointment.  Three hours wasted.  Add another hour for the formalities in the multiplex and the intermission. 

At my age I shouldn’t expect anything great from Bollywood, I know.  But I wanted to enjoy my Diwali break with my wife who loves movies.  Even she felt bored.  May Yash Chopra Rest In Peace.

It’s an ancient story told in the most boring way possible, except for the bikini shot of Anushka in the beginning, and the skimpy dress that both Katrina Kaif and Anushka are asked to wear in quite many places.  Add Anushka’s Delhi spirit, and you have the salt and pepper.

Delhi spirit means superficiality at its best.  Confidence at its best too.  Yash ji was merciful enough to give some depth to Anushka’s character for the sake of the movie.  I think the movie would have been far better if the real Delhi spirit was explored.  But Bollywood is not interested in any spirit, except the commercial one. 

What Anushka’s character says in the movie about the contemporary young generation is quite true, however.  That’s the only worthwhile thing I found in the entire movie.  For the rest, it is balderdash.  Accidents and loss of memory and such rubbish.  Don’t spend your money and time is my recommendation.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Medha Patkar and A K Antony




Medha Patkar was in Kerala today.  She praised A K Antony, India’s present defence minister and Kerala’s former chief minister.  She said that Antony was trying to bring development to Kerala without harming the environment. 

Antony is an honest politician.  No, I don’t mean any irony like the one spoken by Shakespeare’s Brutus about Mark Antony of the ancient Rome (Sonia Gandhi’s Italy).

Yesterday A K Antony criticised the Congress government in Kerala for scuttling many of the progressive measures that the Central government could have done for Kerala.  He said clearly that he was able to do much more for Kerala when the Left govt was ruling in Kerala than now when the Congress govt is ruling.  He said he has no courage now, when the Congress govt is in power, to bring industries to Kerala.  He said that the Left govt had cooperated more with him.  He became emotional mentioning the Left leaders like V S Achuthanandan (former chief minister) and Elamaram Kareem (minister in the Left govt) for the support they gave him in bringing developmental projects.  (I watched both Antony and Patkar on TV – that’s why I could gauge their emotions.)

Kerala’s present Congress govt has been trying to scuttle the Kochi Metro rail project being handed over to Dr Sreedharan of Delhi Metro Rail Corporation.  The reason: Dr Sreedharan won’t accept bribes and the policy of bribes.  Which Congress politician in Kerala wants to run a project without what’s called “cuts” ?  This is what made A K Antony emotional.

This is what makes me emotional too.   

When will we Indians rise above the need for “cuts”?  When we will we realise that every “cut” we are making is a cut into the breast of the ordinary Indian, the poor Indian, who still stands in front of a temple or gurudwara for the food supplied in charity?  When will we raise India from that quagmire of charity?
We need more Medha Patkars and A K Antonys.  

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Novel as history and biography



Nobel Laureate Mario Vargas Llosa’s latest novel, The Dream of the Celt [Faber & Faber, 2012], delves into the history of the colonisation of the Congo and Amazonia as well as the biography of Roger Casement, an Irish nationalist.

Llosa questions the very validity of history many times in the novel.  Most history, implies the novelist, is a “more or less idyllic fabrication, rational and coherent, about what had been in raw, harsh reality  a chaotic and arbitrary jumble of plans, accidents, intrigues, fortuitous events, coincidences, multiple interests that had provoked changes, upheavals, advances, and retreats, always unexpected and surprising with respect to what was anticipated or experienced by the protagonists” (109-110).

A historical novel may be more accurate than documented history because the novelist looks at the events from a wider and deeper perspective than a historian.  For example, Sir Henry Stanley is portrayed in history as the heroic founder of the Congo Free State.  Stanley, along with David Livingstone, was the ideal that drew Roger Casement to the Dark Continent “in an outburst of idealism and a dream of adventure” (24).

Casement will soon be shocked, however, to realise that “the hero  of his childhood and youth (Stanley) was one of the most unscrupulous villains the West had excreted onto the continent of Africa” (29).  After many years of dedicated service for the natives of Africa and Amazonia, Casement would suffer a blatant distortion inflicted on his character by history. 

Casement understands that the white man’s burden was merely a mask for what in reality was “horrible plundering, ... dizzying cruelty, with people who called themselves Christians torturing, mutilating, killing defenseless creatures and subjecting them, even children and the old, to atrocious cruelties” (88).
 
The novel is divided into three parts.  The first part deals with the colonisation of the Congo, the second with Amazonia, while the third shows Roger Casement’s struggle for the liberation of Ireland from Great Britain and the tragedy he suffered in the process.

History has witnessed many distortions in all the three cases.  For the colonists, colonialism is the process of bringing light into the darkness of savage existence.  In reality, the civilised white man is more bloodthirsty than the savage, whether in the Congo or Amazonia.  Greed and cruelty are the hallmarks of the colonist.
England has its noble side too.  It honours Casement with knighthood for the great work he did in the Congo and Amazonia by reporting the evils perpetrated by the European colonists.

Soon Casement would be seen as a traitor by the same England.

The evils of colonialism persuade Casement to think that Ireland should not be a British colony.  Casement knew that “Patriotism blinded lucidity.”  He understood clearly what G B Shaw meant when he said, “Make no mistake: patriotism is a religion, the enemy of lucidity.  It is pure obscurantism, an act of faith” (170).  Phrases such as ‘act of faith’ in the mouth of a man like Shaw who was a “skeptic and unbeliever” meant superstition, fraud or even worse.   Yet Casement is convinced that colonialism is an evil in any form, even in the civilised form in which it was practised in Ireland.
 
Casement who was knighted by Great Britain a few years ago now is condemned as a traitor.  His biography is now distorted.  His diaries are produced (fabricated?) vindicating his homosexual affairs.  Llosa thinks that “Casement wrote the famous diaries but did not live them, at least not integrally, that there is in them a good deal of exaggeration and fiction, that he wrote certain things because he would have liked to live them but couldn’t” (399 – Epilogue). 

Perhaps the crux of what Llosa wants to show through the novel is expressed succinctly by the novelist himself in the Epilogue: “it is impossible to know definitively a human being, a totality that always slips through the rational nets that try to capture it.”  Llosa’s novel is an imaginative attempt to capture that totality, an attempt that is grounded on solid reality, however.

Note:
1.      The page numbers given in brackets refer to the 2012 Faber & Faber paperback edition of the novel.
2.      While I obstinately use British English in my writing, I have retained American English spellings in the quotes from the novel. 

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Diwali, Gifts, and Promises



Diwali gifts for me!

This is the first time in my 52 years of existence that I received so many gifts in the name of Diwali.  In Kerala, where I was born and brought up, Diwali was not celebrated at all in those days, the days of my childhood.  Even now the festival is not celebrated in the villages of Kerala as I found out from my friends there.  It is celebrated in the cities (and some villages) where people from North Indian states live. 

When I settled down in Delhi in 2001 Diwali was a shock to me.  I was sitting in the balcony of a relative of mine who resided in Sadiq Nagar.  I was amazed to see the fireworks that lit up the city sky and polluted the entire atmosphere in the city.  There was a medical store nearby from which I could buy Otrivin nasal drops to open up those little holes in my nose (which have been examined by many physicians and given up as, perhaps, a hopeless case) which were blocked because of the Diwali smoke. 

The festivals of North India have not enticed me at all.  I hide myself during Holi in order to avoid smothering my lungs with dust.  I hide myself during Diwali for a similar reason.

And then came this glittering gift.  Surprise of all, from the boss.  The boss may have mastered the art of concealing threats behind a (plastic) smile. 

But the best gift came after the gift-threat offering function.  Another boss (so many bosses these days!) told me that he wanted to discuss with me about a paradigm shift in education.  This was because of the play I staged for the Annual Day, the script of which play is available below.  (The play was about the need for a paradigm shift in the socio-political system.)

Can gifts mean something other than threats?  I mean, can gifts mean promises?  Promises for a better relationships?   

Can festivals like Diwali mean promises to other people, people other than ourselves (other than MYSELF)?  If they can, I’d find them meaningful – in spite of all the pollution for which I’m willing to find a medical remedy.

I came across an old man in the afternoon, a man known to me personally.  “Going to Kerala during holidays?” he asked.  “No,” I said.  “Why?” he wanted to know. 

I explained that the holiday was of just 12 days and it would take me six days to travel, three days each way.  My current situation doesn’t permit a flight.  He gave me a rather long lecture.  On how it used to be in his youth.  How people travelled, even walking many days, in order to meet parents, brothers and sisters.  Now nobody bothers about anybody except themselves, he said.  Life is all about amassing wealth and earth.  “Look at these lands,” he said pointing at the land on both sides.  “It belongs to a person who calls himself a Swami-ji.  They call him Maharaj.  But this Maharaj too will die one day.  He can’t take all these hundreds of acres he has amassed. …”

He went on to tell me about atma (soul) and its spiritual needs.
 
That was also a good Diwali gift, I think.   Not because I believe in atma, but because this friend of mine whom I come across once in a while during my evening walks enlightens me in his own genuine way.



Friday, November 9, 2012

Parivartan in the Palace


Introductory Note:  The following short play was written by me for the Annual Day of my school.  It has been staged today, the Annual Day, whose theme was PARIVARTAN. 

The Cast
King
Chatterjee - Minister
Mrs Pandey - Minister
Patel - Minister
Sharma - Minister
Patnaik - Leader of Opposition
Nath - Opposition Member
Mrs Nanda - Opposition Member
Beggar
Soldier 1
Soldier 2

A view from the play



The King’s Palace.  There’s a throne in the centre.  Chairs on sides.  When the curtain rises all the ministers and opposition are standing on the stage talking among themselves softly.
Drum beat.  Bugle call. Silence on the stage.  All stand at attention.
Soldier 1: (from side) Attention, attention!  The Great King, the Champion of champions, the Warrior of warriors, the Conqueror of the world, the Eliminator of enemies, his Excellency, the Mighty Shatrughna Vikram Singh Bahadur is on his royal waaaaay.
Royal music as the King arrives in royal robes attended by Soldier 1 and Soldier 2. 
All:       Hail the King, His Excellency!
King sits on the throne and waves hand for others to sit.  All are now seated. But all will stand soon as the drama unfolds.
King:    My loyal ministers and members of the Opposition, Ladies and Gentlemen, We wish to congratulate you on passing the Bill to allow foreign direct investment, FDI, in our country, India.  We are informed that our Opposition has some objections to the Bill. 
Patnaik: Yes, your majesty.  Bringing FDI into our country will ruin many of our small shopkeepers and retail dealers. 
Nath:   Your Excellency, from the time we started liberalising our economy, the rich became richer and the poor became poorer.  Thousands of farmers and other poor people commit suicide every year. 
Mrs Nanda: Regarding food availability, 75 percent of the country’s population do not eat a healthy diet.
Patnaik: It was only 58% in 1993-94, when we started liberalising the economy.
Nath:   It rose to 68% in ten years.
Mrs Nanda: And now 3 out of every 4 citizens of this great country do not get proper food.
Pandey: Your Excellency, the members of the Opposition are trying to divert our attention.  We are discussing FDI, not poverty. 
Chatterjee: FDI is meant to bring in more wealth.  More wealth means less poverty.  [Pointing at the Opposition] Why don’t you understand that?
Sharma: Ye log badmaash hai.  They want to stop the flow of foreign wealth into our country.
Patel:   They are enemies of the country.  Gaddar.  Gaddar.
Patnaik: Don’t use unparliamentary language, you semi-literate country bumpkin.
Patel:   [Moving toward Patnaik with clenched fist as if to hit him] You dare to call me names, you silly foul-mouthed thief.  I know how much money you have already received as bribe from a foreign company for passing the FDI Bill without opposition.  Why do you pretend to oppose it now?
Chatterjee: Because he wants to fool the people.  He wants the people to see him on the TV opposing the Bill.  That’s all.  Just showing off.
Patnaik: Your Excellency, these ministers are raising false charges against me.  I can prove that it is they who have received huge bribes from foreign companies...
Sharma: Chup, chup!  Don’t speak another word.  We all know that bribes are part of politics.  There is no rajniti without rishwat.
Nath:   But the ruling party always gets more rishwat.
Pandey: So your problem is that you are not getting enough rishwat.
Mrs Nanda: Your Excellency, stop this nonsense.  These people are forgetting that they are leaders of a great country.  They’re behaving like petty thieves on the streets.  And for the information of all of you, I must say that I have never received any bribe. 
Chatterjee: Do you want it?  We can find some foreign company for you.
The ministers and members of opposition laugh.
King claps his hands twice.
King:    Order in the durbar!  Behave yourselves.  Don’t think I am a fool just because I don’t speak much.  Hazaron jawabo se achchi hai khamoshi meri, na jaane kitne sawalo ki aabru rakhe. 
A moment of silence.
Then Beggar’s cry is heard from outside.
Beggar: Bread, bread.  Give me bread.  I’m hungry. I’m dying of starvation.
King:    What’s that?  Who dares to make such noise in the palace premises? [To soldier 1] Go and see.
Soldier 1 goes out.
Chatterjee: It’s a beggar.  A mad man.  He goes around shouting that he’s hungry.
Pandey: He’s always hungry. 
Patel:   I wonder why the people of our country are always hungry.
Sharma: People are always hungry.  First for roti.  Then kapada.  Then makan.  Then naukri.  Then mobile phone, TV, computer, car... Ha! Their hunger will never end.
Mrs Nanda: Is that why you’re giving them foreign retailers?
King:    You mean to say that you knew this beggar for a long time?
Chatterjee: Yes, your Excellency. 
Pandey: Very long time.
Patel:   Very, very long time.
Sharma: From the time of Independence.
Patnaik: From the time of the Mughals.
Nath:   From the time of the Vedas.
Mrs Nanda: From the time of evolution.  From eternity. 
King:    Why didn’t you do anything about it then? 
Chatterjee: We did, your Excellency. 
Pandey: We cut off his tongue, your Excellency.
King:    How can he speak then?  Can’t you hear him?
Patel:   He grew another tongue.
King:    What!  It is treason to have more than one tongue.
Patnaik: Yes, your Majesty, we must arrest him for treason.
Nath:   And hang him to death.
Enter Soldier 1.
Soldier 1: [Bows] There is no one outside, your Excellency. 
King:    No one!  And he grows another tongue!  From eternity!  What’s all this?  Is he a ghost?
The cry of the Beggar is heard again.
Beggar: Bread, bread.  Give me bread.  I’m hungry.  I’m dying of starvation.
King:    [To Soldier 2] Go.  And don’t come back without getting him.  It’s an order.
Exit Soldier 2.
Mrs Nanda: Do ghosts eat bread?
Sharma: As far as I know, ghosts drink blood.
Mrs Nanda: I can understand.  There’s no blood left in the veins of people.  Haven’t you people sucked it all already?  That’s why the ghost is asking for bread.
King:    If there’s no bread, can’t he eat cake?  Oh’ he’s giving me a headache.
Enter Soldier 2 with Beggar in chains.
Soldier 2: [Bows] Your Excellency, here’s the beggar.
King:    Are you the beggar who was crying for bread?
Beggar: Are you the king?
Sharma: Don’t ask questions to the king. 
King:    I am the king.  And I order you not to beg.  Don’t you know that you are living in a country that is going to be an economic superpower?
Beggar: I ... I don’t understand.
Chatterjee: The king commands you not to beg for bread anymore.
Beggar: I ... I don’t understand.
King:    [shouting] DO NOT BEG FOR BREAD ANYMORE.
Beggar: I ... I don’t understand.
King:    Ah!  He is as deaf as a stone. 
Soldier 2: Pardon me, your Excellency.  He is not deaf.  He understood me easily when I spoke to him outside.
King:    Are you deaf?  Can you hear me?
Beggar: I can hear every word perfectly.
King:    Why don’t you take my order then?  Are you pretending to be deaf?
Beggar: King...
Pandey: Call him, Your Excellency.
Beggar: [looks puzzled at Pandey] Your Ex... Ex – lens...
Patel:   [cynically] He’s not only hungry, but illiterate too.
Mrs Nanda: What an achievement of an economic superpower!
King:    Quiet, all of you!  [To the Beggar] Why are you always hungry?
Beggar: King, you have taken away our lands.  For building national highways.  For constructing shopping malls.  For special economic zones.  For resorts.  We were left with a little land after all that.  There you asked us to cultivate foreign seeds.  Then you asked us to buy foreign fertilizers.  Foreign insecticides and pesticides. Our lands took all that poison and lost their fertility.  Our lands died.  Nothing can grow in them anymore. 
King:    This man is a traitor.  Hear what he says.  We brought development to the country.  And he says we killed his land.
Chatterjee: He must be punished.
Patel:   Throw him in the prison.
Pandey: Torture him.  Break his hands and legs.
Nath:   Hang him to death.
Sharma: Organise a party rally and burn him to death in public.  His death must be an example to everyone.
Beggar: You can do anything you wish with me.  But there are millions out there.  Millions who will rise in revolt.  Millions who will demand Parivartan.  Parivartan. Change. Revolution.  You can kill me.  But there will arise a million in my place.  There will arise Anna Hazares and Arvind Kejriwals, Medha Patkars and Teesta Setalwads.  How many murders will you commit in order to stay on in power?
King:    Quiet!  [Calmly] Parivartan!  He says parivartan.  What’s that?
Sharma: Kranti.  Rajya kranti.  He is a militant.  He should be executed.
Mrs Nanda: Your Excellency, he’s demanding a paradigm shift.
King:    Para- what?
Mrs Nanda: Paradigm shift.  A shift, a change.  A change in the way we see and do things.
Chatterjee: What’s wrong with our way of seeing and doing things?  We are becoming an economic superpower.  We are doing what America is doing...
Mrs Nanda: Why should we do what America is doing?  Why should what America does be right?
King:    What do you suggest, Mrs Nanda?
Mrs Nanda: Your Excellency, what we now have is a system based on wealth and only wealth.  That should change.
Sharma: Without wealth, it is death. 
Chatterjee: Your Excellency, don’t listen to this woman.  She’s crazy.
King:    Never mind.  I want some crazy ideas now. [To Mrs Nanda] Go on.
Mrs Nanda: Let us create a new social system.  One which is based on the old values of compassion and cooperation.  Let us show people that it’s not merely wealth that keeps life going.  Let us show people we can live together happily, helping one another, sharing what we have with each other...
Patnaik: This is insane!
Nath:   This is not politics.
Patel:   This is religion.
Pandey: This is communism.
Sharma: Foolish ideas from a silly woman!
Mrs Nanda: Your Excellency and my friends, how long do you think we can go on fooling the people?  How many spectrums, 2G or 3G, or anything, will we go on selling stealthily, before the common man sees through the darkness of our deeds?
Beggar: How many times can you turn your head pretending that you don’t see?
Mrs Nanda: How many thousands of acres of forest land will we steal from the tribal people and forest dwellers in the name of development?  How many millions and billions will we stash away in Swiss banks before we see the people starving below our nose?
Beggar: How many times should you look up before you see the sky?  How many ears must you have before you hear the people cry?
Mrs Nanda: We have been cheating, Your Excellency.  We have been cheating the people all along. 
Beggar: How many times will you raise prices of everything from cooking gas to transport means before you see the thousands committing suicide in this country?
Mrs Nanda: How many scams and scandal must rock this palace before we open our eyes to the truth?  How many...
Chatterjee: Stop this woman, Your Excellency. She’s in collusion with this beggar.
Patel:   She’s calling us thieves and scoundrels.
Beggar: What else are you?
Sharma: People like her and this beggar should be killed.  They are rebels.
Patnaik: Yes, death to rebels. Kill them.
Nath:   Kill them.  Let’s avert a rebellion in the country.
Pandey: Your Excellency, I think Mrs Nanda has a point.  Why not listen to her fully?
King:    Silence!  Silence! Mrs Nanda, don’t you know that people are selfish and they don’t like to share and care.  They only care for themselves.
Mrs Nanda: It’s because of the system, Your Excellency.  Change the system.  What do we know about the people?  We live in air-conditioned palaces.  We travel in air-conditioned vehicles.  Have you ever seen a poor man like this [points at Beggar], your Excellency?  Have you felt the pulse of his veins?  Have you experienced the love that flows in his blood?  Have you ever stopped to touch a person with love?  Even to smile at a person with concern?  What did we do?  We made economy the basis of everything.  Money, money, money.  What about relationships?  This is the parivartan that is needed, Your Excellency.  Build a system founded on relationships. 
Beggar: [elated] Hurrah!  There’s someone with sense in here!  Listen to her, Your Ex – Ex – lens.  Listen to her.  Throw away your shiny robes and golden crown.  Get out of this stuffy room that smells of foul air.  Go to the open fields and listen to the birds chirruping.  See the sun shining and the moon beaming.  Stand in the falling rain or jump into the gliding river.  And then clean the earth.  Clean it of all the filth that your old system created.  Wash away the greed.  Then there will be a new earth beneath our feet, and a new heaven above our heads. 
Mrs Nanda: A NEW HEAVEN AND A NEW EARTH.  Yes, Your Excellency.  That’s parivartan.  A new heaven, and a new earth.
King:    Yes, I want a new heaven and a new earth.  [Taking off his crown and handing it to one of the soldiers] I want parivartan.  And I start it with myself.  I am going to be the change that I want to see in the country. 
Mrs Nanda: Thank you, Your Excellency.  Here, today, at this moment, let us begin the parivartan.  This is the moment of a new beginning.  The beginning of a new era in this country.  Let us celebrate this new beginning with a song.  I’m sure, you, Mrs Pandey, will be happy to join me in this song, I’d like to build the world a home.  I’m sure, your Excellency, that you, and all of you gentlemen, would like to join in.  Please do.


I'd like to build the world a home
And furnish it with love
Grow apple trees and honey bees
And snow white turtle doves

I'd like to teach the world to sing
In perfect harmony
I'd like to hold it in my arms
And keep it company

I'd like to see the world for once
All standing hand in hand
And hear them echo through the hills
For peace throughout the land

That's the song I hear
Let the world sing today
A song of peace
That echoes on
And never goes away

I'd like to teach the world to sing
In perfect harmony

I'd like to teach the world to sing
In perfect harmony

I'd like to build the world a home
And furnish it with love
Grow apple trees and honey bees
And snow white turtle doves

I'd like to teach the world to sing
In perfect harmony
I'd like to hold it in my arms
And keep it company






Curtain falls slowly as the song ends.

Acknowledgement: This play was inspired by THE BEGGAR AND THE KING (a play in one act) by Winthrop Parkhurst.  

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