Author of The Land of the Wilted Rose, of the The White Mahatma Quartet, Anand Ranganathan studied Chemistry at St. Stephen’s College, Delhi, and went on to pursue a doctorate from Cambridge. A man of varied interests, he is researching dengue and tuberculosis at the International Center of Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology at Delhi. We told you, varied interests!
Chota Baba Is Watching You
“He is on his way! He is on his way!” screams the Minister without Portfolio as he rushes into the jam-packed Oval Room unannounced. A hesitant Mexican wave jumpstarts its roll but soon stalls as confused geriatrics in starched kurtas and Gandhi caps realise ‘he’ isn’t there yet. Damn! The perils of unsynchronised sycophancy.
They’ve been waiting all day for this, some having taken the pre-paid from Nizamuddin in the wee hours of the morning, only to be carted around all the Mughal Dynasty roads – Shahjahan, Humayun, Aurangzeb, Bahadur Shah Zafar – by the wily autowala, before finally landing at the famous Akbar Road mansion. But they are here now – ticket hopefuls, Youth-wing Romeos, party servants, ministers, MLAs, MPs – all busying themselves with trivial chatter which includes, among other things, Rajya Sabha and Presidential nominations, while gazing at the door from where would enter the fruit basket of their eyes.
The Oval Room is indeed oval – a Padma for the mistri right there – and one large segment of the softly curving wall is taken up by a row of 50-inch LCD screens currently displaying moving images. The images are of slain prime ministers who’ve ruled the nation, and are undeniably moving.
In the centre of the room is a single ergonomically-designed chair, from the rear of which commences a gentle incline that goes all the way back to the wall opposite. The incline is appointed with mattresses and bolsters. There are no chairs for the faithful to sit on.
Suddenly, the door opens and a young man walks in, constantly pushing up his kurta sleeves. He goes straight for the ergonomically-designed chair, not wasting his time on admiring the Mexican wave surging back and forth in his honour. He collapses on the chair and extends his palm. A remote is placed on it at once. He pushes up his kurta sleeves, which seem to have a life of their own – tumbling down as they do every time he pushes them up. He takes aim and presses the remote. The black-and-white images disappear and the screens come alive with spycam-streaming of the editorial rooms of all major print and electronic media houses. Their names are displayed in irregular brass letters under their respective screens.
The young man smiles contentedly and two dimples appear on his cheeks. He scratches his day-old stubble and asks, to no one in particular, “What’s that screen in the far left all about? I just see one man in his pyjamas there…”
A damsel with high-power glasses and a well-oiled mane springs up from the mattress at once. “That’s the Justice in his bathroom, sir. Took us a while to fix the cam up but we did it in the end.”
The young man swivels his chair around. “Well done, team.” He swivels back to face the screens and increases the volume for the screen labelled Justice. The justice is brushing his teeth and chanting a Kabir doha at the same time. Not much is decipherable.
The young man ‘mutes’ him and activates the screen on the far right. Six men and a woman are seated pensively around a table resting their elbows on it. The table is covered with newspapers and coffee cups and Reliance red-herring prospectuses and CDs.
“So what are we going to do about this CD?”, demands a formally dressed, droopy-eyed man as he picks the CD up and continuously slaps the table with it.
“We can’t do anything, sir,” says the bald man to his right. “The Justice will take us to the cleaners – we’ll have to shut shop for this. The coochie-cooing was consensual, sir. And moreover, I think the CD is doctored.”
The droopy-eyed man thumps the table with his fist. “Of course it is! The very fact that it’s twelve minutes long…Unless –” he produces a wicked smile, “the man’s on Musli Power.” He looks straight ahead. “Any idea, Dhingra?” Dhingra stutters nervously. “No, sir, didn’t think of that angle. But don’t worry – I have sources close to Jackie Shroff; wouldn’t take me a minute…”
“Good…” sighs the boss. “Now, look. I say we hold back the CD story and the Facebook story, and try and break something else in the meantime.”
“What- what- what- what- Facebook story?” asks the woman in a shrill tone.
“Arey, nothing, yaar,” says the boss. “Chadha hacked into that old minister’s account and discovered a pending friend request from one of the Reddy brothers.”
“Well, if we break this, it could seriously damage the reputation of the Reddy brothers. And I tend to -”
The young man has had enough with the electronic media for the time being. He pushes his kurta sleeves up one more time and activates the screen dedicated to one of the largest selling newspapers, the one where truth, lies, and advertisements prevail in equal measure. Here, too, men and women are taking tough editorial decisions.
“Now about that cartoon…” says the boss, “the one which shows the minister as an ape clamouring for evolution.”
“Yes, what about it?” asks the cartoonist sharply.
“Well, for a start, we didn’t evolve from apes.”
“WTF! Don’t you ever go to satsangs, man?!”
“No. I’m only into astrology.”
“Fool! Anyway, I got a call from him this morning saying he’ll stop our anda vans from delivering tomorrow’s edition if we go ahead.”
“Big deal. We have the bicycles.”
“And he also said he’ll make sure that when he dies, our competitor will be handed his full-page remembrance ads contract – of his birth AND death anniversaries – for -get this – the next 40 years…”
“Ok. Cartoon’s off. Can we manage a small ad to fit in that space instead?”
“As a matter of fact…”
The young man throws his head back and laughs. The faithful soon follow with their own versions of the young man’s laughter. The young man turns around slowly. “Where’s my fall gal?”, he asks, his eyes searching the flock.
The fall gal runs a quick hand over her well-oiled mane and comes forward. “I’m here only, sir,” she giggles, holding a file close to her chest.
“Look, fall gal,” says the young man, “all this is great – and I mean it – but we need a stamp of approval for this. This topic, you know, of censor…”
“I know, sir. So sad.”
“The moment I table anything more than a goddam telephone or an electricity bill, the Opposition’s on to me like an army of Egyptian scorpions.”
“I know, sir. So sad.”
“So here’s what we do. I’ll table the telephone and the electricity bill in Lok Sabha, while you…”
“Got it, sir. Genius, sir.”
The young man smiles at the tribute and swivels a half arc. “Chopper aa gaya?”, he asks a hunched-over minister. Without waiting for an answer he shoots up from the ergonomically-designed chair and leaves the room, ignoring one more time the rumbling Mexican wave.
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