Perchance to dream, in fabled India

Perchance to dream, in fabled India

By M.J. Akbar | 19 October, 2013
In the long and complicated story of herd madness, very little beats the frenetic search for a thousand tonnes of gold because a certain Swami dreamt it was buried there.

Why has horror fiction never taken off as a genre in popular Indian literature? There is simply too much competition from newspapers. Which bizarre author's imagination could ever compete with the day's news in the wild and improbable? You do not need Bram Stoker, and blood being sucked from a woman's neck with the pearly fangs of a Dracula, in an India replete with the leech-habits of some rascals who sell themselves as godmen. The devotees of such frauds run into millions. Their usurped land extends across thousands of acres. How stupid can Indians get?

As it turns out, very stupid indeed. In the long and complicated story of herd madness, very little beats the frenetic search for a thousand tonnes of gold at a place called Daundia Khera in Uttar Pradesh because a certain Swami Shobhan Sarkar recently dreamt it was buried there more than 150 years ago by a Raja Ram Baksh. No one had heard of this Raja until the Swami's dream turned him into a potential hero of a Bollywood film. But apparently this princeling buried this vast treasure before 1857 so that the victorious British would not be able to lay their hands on Indian gold.

Don't blame the masses for frothing at the mouth. Even the august mandarins from the Ministry of Culture and Archaeological Survey of India are licking their lips. And our very modern, computer-savvy Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav has apparently sent an emissary to the venerable Swami to check whether the man of god will permit the man of the people to use this gold for the state's development. Of course, this magic gold, if ever found, will probably be used for the welfare of politicians in power rather than a populace in distress, but that is another story.

An early victim of insanity is common sense. How rich was Raja Ram Baksh? He was not the Nawab of Awadh, or the Peshwa of the Marathas, or Raja of Benaras or Rani of Jhansi.

Personally, I hope they find this gold, even though I am unlikely to get permission to even sniff at it, let alone be able to slip an ounce in a back pocket. Akhilesh Yadav might then be able to pay up for the computers he has bought to gift away, which is good news for multinationals. But silly questions keep wandering around in my vacant mind, and will not shift to better breeding space.

The pointy-heads of Government of India have explained that they are digging for this gold because they have "scientific evidence" of its existence. Interesting. This is not a rich seam of gold in the bowels of mother earth that we are talking about. This is gold stored in clay or iron pots, depending on the advice that the old Raja Ram Baksh got from his mandarins. How do you get scientific evidence about pots and pans? Did some clever laser beam actually see an underground glitter, and conclude that all that glitters is in fact gold? Gold, to the best of my limited knowledge, does not get musty or rot; so they probably did not smell its existence. Or would it be fair to suggest that a few baboos in Delhi have been reading Treasure Island during their festival holidays?

An early victim of insanity is common sense. How rich was Raja Ram Baksh? He was not the Nawab of Awadh, or the Peshwa of the Marathas, or Raja of Benaras or Rani of Jhansi, or we might have heard a bit about him in our school text books. He did exist, certainly. But if he was not in the big league, how did he amass a thousand tonnes of gold? Even the East India Company, the richest merchant of the age, could not claim possession of such a hoard. The Mughals of Delhi might have, but Nadir Shah emptied their vaults in 1739, and that alas was that.

How do you bury so much gold at a time when the heaviest equipment for digging is a spade? With lots of labour, one presumes. All those peasants must be the most honest Indians of the last two hundred years. India is a land of worst-kept secrets, not best-kept ones. It is a miracle that no one returned to the site in 1867 or 1877 or even 1887. And no one snitched to the British either.

In any conflict between superstition and sense, superstition wins hands down in India. The Baba had a dream, and no one dare argue with the mysteries of nightfall. Psychoanalysis, and its interpretation of dreams, would never have survived if Sigmund Freud had visited India.

Is India a land where dreams come true? Judging by everything from poverty to the manner in which road hogs drive in Delhi, the answer is clearly no. But if the manufacture of dreams were ever added to the Gross Domestic Production, we would have a GDP that surpassed the rest of Asia combined. Make no mistake. Those in charge of this production line make a neat profit. It is only suckers who invest in such dreams who return empty.

 

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