It is time that all political parties came together to lift the nation of nearly 900 million poor men, women and children out of the depressively dark pit that it has sunk into.
Two evenings ago at the 42nd International Film Festival of India, Bollywood actor Shahrukh Khan made ministers and top bureaucrats – and not to speak of a national and an international audience that had gathered there – wait for 40 minutes before he finally emerged to open the 11-day cinematic event in Goa’s Margao.
Federal Minister for Information and Broadcasting Ambika Soni, Goa’s Chief Minister Digambar Kamat, senior officials and movie fraternity grinned and bore what I felt was downright insulting.
If this was not it, the actor joked about wanting to wear Bermuda shorts for the function. “I am wearing them under my clothes”, he said. “In case, the women here want me to strip myself to my shorts…”, he joked, while the dignitaries on the dais smiled, politely. This was no occasion for such crass jokes.
This is India, but of course, where film stars are not just cheered and adored, but adulated and worshipped to an unimaginable extent. Sometimes, temples are built for them!
A week ago, the International Children’s Film Festival of India in the southern city of Hyderabad constructed three makeshift tents on the sprawling grounds of a cultural village to screen an impressive line of movies from just about every corner of the earth.
Atrocious seating arrangement, single-projector screenings (which meant the film had to be stopped every time the reel was changed), and poor projection and sound were the Festival’s “highlights” – and mind you in a city that is known for its modern, state-of-the art cinemas and high technology. And, this is not 1930s India, where tent cinema existed.
Why did the Children’s Film Society of India, which organises this bi-annual festival, get into this mess? Nobody could give me a convincing answer.
But, well, this is India.
At the other end of the spectrum, the Indian rupee sinks to its lowest ever point against the US dollar causing a ripple effect on the prices of precisely those commodities that the common man uses every day. The government has done little to halt the slide.
In the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, Chief Minister Jayalalithaa, who some months ago dangled goodies like free television sets, notebook computers and wet-grinders to woo voters to elect her and her party, Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, pressed the ‘raise’ button the other day.
The price of milk from the government dairy, Aavin, was hiked by Rs 7 a litre, power charges were upped by 40 per cent and bus fares were doubled!
This is India. Well.
In the central Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, Chief Minister Mayawati bulldozed the opposition to pass a resolution dividing the state into four.
Known for building tens of her own statutes and installing it all over the state, and for trying to spoil the sanctity of India’s best known icon, Taj Mahal, by constructing a commercial corridor around it, Mayawati can be ruthless in pushing her goals.
A few hundred miles away, Rahul Gandhi, the heir apparent to the Congress Party’s dynastic throne, promises to make Uttar Pradesh the country’s best state in 10 years. Give the Congress a chance, he urges.
But the Congress has frittered away innumerable opportunities in the past 60-odd years!
But, then, this is India.
One of India’s premier five-star airlines, Kingfisher, owned by liquor baron Vijay Malya’s company, is all but bankrupt, and is now urging the government to bail it out.
But why must the government do that in a field where freedom has been given to private players? Surely, organisations like Kingfisher cannot have the best of both worlds.
But, you know, this is India.
Rail safety has taken a hard knock in the past few years. The other night, the Doon Express hurtled its way into tragedy and grief when two of its airconditioned coaches caught fire killing several sleeping people. A woman who lived to tell the tale said she saw someone pouring what looked like gasoline and setting one of the bogies on fire!
For two full days, there was no reaction from the Federal Railway Minister.
This is India.
While the nation passes through turbulence and trauma, political leaders in parliament are bent on disrupting proceedings. The winter session once again saw a battle between opposition parties and the government on issues such as price rise and corruption. Debates were not allowed, speakers were shouted down and pandemonium prevailed.
Is it not time that all political parties, whatever be their ideologies, came together to lift the nation of nearly 900 million poor men, women and children out of the depressively dark pit that it has sunk into?
But this, this is India, where greed and self-interest rule, destroying the very fabric of a great civilisation.
And, we call this incredible. India incredible!
Gautaman Bhaskaran is a Chennai-India based author, columnist and film critic, and can be contacted at [email protected]. He is an FMT columnist.