Not Just A Pretty Face
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Not Just A Pretty Face

Manish Tewari – wordsmith, ulcer-buster, his master’s voice. We love you like we hate you.

By Anand Ranganathan

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Makers of Pancharishta (the Ayurvedic digestive tonic) must love Manish Tewari. Watching over the confederacy of Zandu managers gathered in their teak-panelled board room to discuss the sales figures of this miracle drink, is a garlanded photograph of their favourite customer, Manish Tewari, the unflappable and genial Congress spokesperson, who alone must account for a quarter of their domestic sales.

What Munni did for Zandu balm, Manish threatens one better for this ulcer-curing magic potion. Credit must go to that Zandu genius who identified the spokesperson as a niche and target market. “They need it, sir”, he must have pleaded to his sceptical Vice President. “I’m telling you! There’s a huge market out there. Congress Party alone has 18 spokespersons, any of whom can be asked to appear at three in the morning and defend the indefensible. Odd hours, lack of sleep, pack of lies, keeping a brave face, pretending to be ‘straight from the heart’, having to remember to be polite on TV even though all you want is to get up and grab your chair and hurl it at the Opposition spokesperson…I’m telling you, sir, we have here a goldmine of ulcer sufferers!”

A day later, a mysterious package lands up at Manish’s official residence in Lodi Garden, and from that day onwards the soreness of his inner lining subsides. The ulcers retreat grudgingly to their doghouse and Manish is back to his charming best on the nightly parades, hoping to win back the trust millions had placed in their favourite politicians by defending the presence of millions in the trusts of these very saviours of the nation.

Adarsh, 2G, CWG, Anna, Ramdev, FDI, Coalgate…you name it and Manish has cheerfully negotiated them all. He is a certified scam-buster, the larynx his Prime Minister never had, the kavach that shields his High Command from the Opposition’s evil eye.

I have tried, believe me, to be riled up by him and his resolute outpourings, but have been won over in the end, and now I enjoy his offerings like you begin sometimes to enjoy a really bad film after the interval (Bodyguard and Jism 2 come to mind at once). I loved his attack on Team Anna particularly. His calling them “armchair fascists, overground Maoists, and closet anarchists”, gave it away entirely. It might have fooled his bosses into thinking that the riposte had hit the spot and was one more tick in the “Manish’s achievements” column, but I knew better. I knew how much Manish would have enjoyed coming up with these masterful phrases, each one a gem, each one better than the other, and how these phrases, by their mere use, had negated all venom inherent in them. Overground Maoists – brilliant! And that embarrassed smirk on his face when he faced the nation again after going AWOL for a couple of weeks, well, it was priceless – like my wife’s Mastercard.

Manish likes to “reflect and ponder” or so his bio-data suggests under the “cultural activities” heading (http://www.india.gov.in). But those who think his job is easy know nothing! Do they know, for example, how impossibly difficult it is to become a party spokesperson in the first place? The chosen ones have to pass a test that would make the IIT entrance exam cower behind a lamp post like a kicked-around wet cat. That’s right, it is the test to beat all tests, an examination that will examine your loyalty under the most trying of circumstances – when you don’t know where you are or how you got there, when you have lost all control of your motor functions, a place from where even the toughest of spies emerge exposed and shame-faced only to walk over to the nearest window ledge and jump to their guilt-ridden ends. Those in the know call it simply The Test. The men and women who dread it, call it by a different name: Narco-analysis.

Telgi failed, so did Abu Salem and Surender Koli, and Jagan Reddy escaped its clutches only because the CBI sleuths couldn’t locate his magnificent mansion which they were tracking based on The Times Of India investigation and documentary evidence. But Manish passed it with flying colours. He emerged from the OT of 24 Akbar Road and tore at his drip tubings to the kind of tumultuous applause Stalin would’ve approved. No amount of gentle but continuous slapping of Manish’s scruffy cheeks could manage to eke out from his distended mouth, Swiss bank account numbers or coal block allocation details. In the end he was meandering in the lawns of Akbar Road like a Zombie, asking those he encountered the way to the nearest studio. A star was born, a star whose twinkling would light up the path to re-election for his beaten and battered colleagues.

I have often wondered what transpires in the immediate aftermath of an exacting grilling of an interviewee, and it remains my dying wish to be a fly on the wall of the BBC Hardtalk studio. When the interviewer – it used to be that bald old grim reaper, Tim Sebastian – extends his hand and says: “A pleasure having you on the program”, and the credits roll across the screen, I have habitually imagined the conversation that might have flowed but was never disclosed.

Tim: “Phew! I got you there by your short and curlies, didn’t I, mate?”
The interviewee: “Are you kidding me, you SOB? I can’t feel my nuts – they lie smashed to smithereens somewhere here, I daren’t look. Try getting a visa next time, you bastard!”

Something similar, I imagine, is Manish’s predicament. After defending the exigencies of his corrupt colleagues on television, what with having to duck and dodge “Arnab bullets” and “Sagarika sonic emitters”, he must return to party HQ and leap at the throat of the nearest minister, throttle him with his trembling hands and scream: “Next time ask Renuka to do it, saaley, I’m done with you!” Poor Manish – no matter how much the public derides him and calls him names, he will always have a place of affection in my heart. He fights constantly for a losing cause, knowing that no one believes a word of what he says. It can’t be easy. Ask Vijay Mallya.

He is the Jeeves who understands perfectly the code of the Gandhis. And unlike his partner-in-crime, Ms Renuka Chaudhary, who comes across as another Wodehousian character (but this time the fearsome aunt Agatha who chews broken bottles for pleasure and kills rats with her teeth), Manish doesn’t beat about the bush – he comes straight to the point. What point exactly is not clear. But that is precisely his job, to cover-up the broken cookie jar with a kitchen towel so mummy won’t know who put the hand in the jar in the first place. And he does it with aplomb, day-in-day-out. He is that hand that stops the cradle from rocking. And toppling over.

Not Just A Pretty Face
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