Able was I


“Able was I ere I saw Elba.”  Santosh muttered to himself as the petrol meter whirred on like a frenzied spinning top. 

“What?” Marina asked. 

“What?” Santosh looked at her puzzled as he handed over a blushing pink ₹2000 note to the petrol man.

“You quoted Napoleon’s weakness.”

“Oh, that.”  Their car moved out into the rain that beat a rhythm of pain on the roof and the windshield.  “When a cloud is unable to hold the pain anymore, it sheds the pain,” Santosh said.  “The cloud is unlike human beings.  It cannot get used to pain.  It has to release the pain.”

“Able was I ere I saw Elba,” Marina decided to ignore the rain’s pain.  “Was Napoleon interested in palindromes?”

“The palindrome is in English,” said Santosh.  “Why would Napoleon use English, the language of his enemies?  At any rate, was it Elba that disabled him?”

“Now that you ask it,” reflected Marina, “he had emerged as a successful leader on Elba.”

“Light cannot be kept hidden for a long time,” Santosh said as he manoeuvred the car through the barricade put up by the traffic police.  Barricades had become ubiquitous these days.

“Vested interests destroyed Napoleon,” Marina recalled history.  “The emperors of the neighbouring countries were not happy with the democratic ideals of Napoleon.  The Church was not happy with the Napoleonic Code.”

“Precisely.  Neither the political system nor the religious system wants the citizen to get more importance than the systems. Napoleon promoted the happiness and dignity of the individual.”

The rain had just subsided when their car reached the next barricade.  A police constable waved them to stop.

“Your Aadhar card.”  The cop said imperiously.

“You mean my license?” Santosh asked taking out his driving license.

“I said Aadhar card,” said the cop more imperiously.

Santosh remembered the Prime Minister’s 8 pm address of the previous day.  “All identity cards other than the Aadhar will become invalid from midnight today,” the PM said.  The PM’s 8 pm addresses made many things invalid at rather regular intervals.  “All other identity cards will be mere shreds of worthless paper from this midnight.”

India had made a midnight tryst with destiny seven decades ago.  Is that the reason why the present Prime Minister is so fond of midnights?  Santosh wondered.

“This exercise is to identify the illegal immigrants and antinational people,” the Prime Minister went on.  “Give me just fifty days and if I don’t solve the problem of illegal immigrants and antinational people you can shoot me.”  Santosh admired the man’s persuasiveness.

“I didn’t take the Aadhar card,” Santosh said to the cop.

“What about you, madam?” The cop turned to Marina.

“I’m sorry I don’t have it with me now,” she said.

“Both of you are under arrest.”

The cop asked them to get out of the car.  They were taken to the police station in the police vehicle and the cop drove their car to god-knows-where.

They were ordered to produce their Aadhar cards the next day.  However, as a punishment for their negligence of this day they were asked to sing patriotic songs like Saare Jahan se Achcha.  Since they didn’t know any of the approved patriotic songs by heart, they were asked to sit and listen to them and memorise them.  By the time they had memorised approved patriotism, it was 8 pm.  Since the PM’s 8 pm address to the nation was mandatory listening for all citizens, Santosh and Marina had to sit in the police station and watch the TV.

“Our ancient scriptures have stipulated that the ultimate object of government is to promote the happiness and dignity of the citizens,” the PM said.  “In accordance with the ideals enshrined in the most sacred scriptures of the most ancient civilisation on the earth, my government is committed to bring happiness and dignity to every genuine citizen of the country.  For that purpose, we have decided to raise funds by raising the price of petrol and diesel by a few paise every day.  Give me just fifty days and you will all live in happiness and with dignity.  Otherwise, you can shoot me….”

The nation applauded.  The clouds released their pain once more. 

Their car was parked outside.  It refused to start.  The fuel indicator showed Empty.  Absolutely empty. 


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