The thought has occurred to me before, but seems more relevant now. If you are lucky in life, you become a statue in death. If you are super lucky, you turn into a giant statue, majestically distinct from the torso-sized apparitions where it is impossible to determine whether our hero had a sparse moustache or merely the misfortune of a diarrheic bird dropping by for a rest and a chat on his head. The great icons of a nation get disfigured on a mammoth scale, whether it is Gandhi dominating India’s Parliament or Lincoln staring grimly from America’s Mount Rushmore. It needs distance to get sufficient perspective on such majesty. No man is a hero to his valet, possibly because the valet stands too close to nose hair.
Since we all die in hope, even those of us condemned to hopeless existence, we must presume that there must be some great Cabinet in the Sky presided over by a Gandhi or a Lincoln. Gandhi must be looking down upon the scattered governments across the land he liberated and wondering whether his heirs had gone quite mad or were merely venal. In the Mahatma’s case there is of course nothing personal in this. His blood-heirs are author-academicians like Rajmohan Gandhi or bureaucrats like Gopal, men of impeccable integrity and blessed with a self-esteem that has nothing to do with any political thermometer. But since Gandhi was father of the nation rather than merely father of a family, his concern over the slow and steady destruction of his legacy must surely induce more than a passing twinge.
If Gandhi’s extended band of freedom warriors are spending their evenings in his heavenly company, the gloom must be pervasive. I assume that heaven is heaven because there are no political parties. So the Indian circle around Gandhi possibly extends to Savarkar and Shyama Prasad Mukherjee. Can you imagine a heavenly discussion between them about a ghost which won’t go away, Bofors, and the more recent phantom that is so tawdry it invites more contempt than censure: the spectacle of former BJP president Bangaru Laxman slipping a wad of notes into a drawer while a hidden camera captures idiocy for posterity? Are they having a good laugh, or have they broken down into a flood of tears?
Mahatma Gandhi must be looking down upon the scattered governments across the land he liberated and wondering whether his heirs had gone quite mad or were merely venal.
The wonder that is modern India is not that a Bangaru episode happened a decade ago, but that the private camera remains the principal tormentor of public lives. The small camera is the perfect prison for gargantuan appetites. Bangaru Laxman was only caught with his hands up. These days politicians seem keen to be caught with their pants down.
One would imagine that they would be more careful about sex than money, but the culture of laissez faire that has seized the powerful seems immune to the potential of hazard. Delhi, which is pretty ho-hum about graft, is still in visible grip of exhilarating rumour after it has forwarded the incriminatory tape. The false dollops of morality are silly: “It isn’t the sex that interests us, but the compromise of public duty.” You bet. Some of the more creative ministers are kind enough to satisfy both impulses, for prurience as well as bribery.
How does such colourful theatre look from the sky? In Milton’s Paradise Lost, the wonderfully etched Satan describes his core competence: turning Heaven into Hell and Hell into Heaven. The Mahatma and his peers must be wondering which nether region is now the relevant metaphor for Delhi. What do you think bothers them more, corruption or stupidity? It is possible for great empires and aspiring nations to survive the occasional bout of greed, as long as it is occasional rather than endemic; but stupidity can be devastating. I fear that some of the headliners of India’s current ruling class are more prone to idiocy than they are to theft. It is even possible that some of them get caught out because they have padlocked their senses to ego.
It is the job of a leader to control such an epidemic. But our leaders are either helpless, which is not encouraging, or complicit, which is not acceptable. It is only the searing heat of public pressure that occasionally forces accountability. No one resigns, and no one is dropped, except for fear of electoral consequences. The guilty have also acquired the extraordinary capability of behaving as if nothing ever happened. Delhi is a glasshouse. Everyone whispers but no one throws stones.
You never see a laughing statue, for laughter is not heroic: even the laughing Buddha is a bit of a joke. Those ambitious sculptors who try and catch the Mahatma’s beatific smile only manage to turn him into a toothless question mark. But you can always see a statue cry. Just go out and take a look during a shower.
It must be raining heavily in heaven these days.