At Odds with Ends

At Odds with Ends

By M.J. Akbar | 2 January, 2016
‘O Lord,’ Voltaire once prayed, ‘make my enemies ridiculous.’ Who could ask for more in the cut and thrust of public life?
A curious role reversal seized Parliament for much of last year, resulting in apoplectic fits that bode ill for the health of the institution. It is logical to assume that government should have a vested interest in minimal sessions, ideally with legislation going through without much debate. Governments, being establishment, should prefer minimum scrutiny and maximum leeway. Instead, it was the Opposition Congress that was determined to destroy the many opportunities Parliament provides to act as a pressure house of public opinion, and a court of enquiry that can squeeze information out of the reluctant files of government. Congress repeatedly killed question hour by a barrage of hooting and hollering that would invite serious censure in a boarding school at end of term. When Congress did cooperate in passage of some bills, largely out of fear of public backlash, it did so without much discussion. The notable fact was the isolation of Congress; all other Opposition parties distanced themselves from such tactics. Will this make much difference to future behaviour? It is difficult to predict what turns an irrational strategy might take.
A thought for the coming year that could develop into a theme should, of course, be derivative, building on experience of the days just departed. Voltaire, the French philosopher, rationalist and revolutionary, was not famous for obedience to God, but when he did raise his head towards the sky Voltaire could make an effective point. “O Lord,” he once prayed, “make my enemies ridiculous.” Who could ask for more in the cut and thrust of public life?
Said Bette Davis,“You should never say bad things about the dead, only good. Joan Crawford is dead. Good!”
Bettle Davis.Seasonal angst, like a few other debates, can be cooked up. But this one belongs strictly to the dessert side of the dinner: delicious, unnecessary but an essential complement to a proper meal. Whatever happened to the literary Christmas cracker? This was not, as the prefix clarifies, something that merely produced a brief explosion and died. It was an intellectual conceit in the form of quaint question and unexpected answer that carried a shade more meaning than the obvious. It amused while it taught and rescued information from boredom or worse morality. Newspapers would devote goodish space to the art and books would be compiled that eventually became next year’s gifts. British papers still devote time and attention to this magical tease. Its disappearance from India is a reason to mourn. Optimists will argue that the cracker has grown up to become a quiz and taken over all seasons but nostalgia has its virtues. I offer an example. Who wanted to straighten out the Leaning Tower of Pisa? Mussolini. Or: power without democracy is insanity.
Joan Crawford.Christmas is about nativity, the birth of a saviour, and a mission of charity and benefaction towards those less fortunate than ourselves. The Christians of the Year 2015 were without doubt Priscilla Chan and Facebook-founder Mark Zuckerberg, who celebrated the birth of their first child by promising to donate 99% of their fabulous wealth to the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative. The amount is beyond belief; nearly 45 billion dollars. Billion. Frankly, I have no real concept of how much a billion amounts to, but 45 of them could well constitute the annual revenues of a small nation. Nor are Priscilla and Mark at that point of their lives when they could be tempted to take out insurance policies on the afterlife. They are young. And they are not alone among America’s new and old billionaires. The founder of Microsoft, Bill Gates has a foundation financed by a $44 billion trust. Their work in India, among other nations, has been splendid. When will India find such billionaires?
Quote of the year must surely belong to the recently published autobiography of faded Hollywood star Burt Reynolds. He recalls the day that the glamorous star Joan Crawford died. There was a party that evening, and among the guests was Crawfod’s bitter rival, the catty Bette Davis. Davis told reporters, “You should never say bad things about the dead, only good. Joan Crawford is dead. Good!”

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