This was inspired by a post in LiveMint today, the 50th anniversary of Jawaharlal Nehru’s death, which was itself modelled on a Monty Python sketch, “What did the Romans do for us?” In keeping with the Roman theme, a little “Brutus is an honorable man” was done to the LiveMint post.
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The large “den” of a Lutyens bungalow. The air conditioner emits a low hum; a half-read book by Slavoj Žižek sits open atop another by Julia Kristeva. The room is smattered with photographs of the owners of the house with senior bureaucrats and politicians. Altaf and Reuben, dressed like they stepped out of a Tommy Hilfiger catalogue, are lounging on the capacious sofa at one end of the room. Vanita sits on the floor next to a power socket with her MacBook Air plugged in; she is surfing the internet. Manish is at the desk, frowning as he tries to make his way through an essay by Ismat Chughtai on the 25-inch screen of his father’s desktop computer. There is some knocking on the door. The maid ushers in five graduate students – classmates from JNU. One has a Che Guevara t-shirt on, and another is wearing his father’s re-election campaign pin.
Altaf: We should place a full-page ad in the newspaper. Panditji’s 50th death anniversary is coming up very soon.
Vanita: I’ll call my aunt, she knows someone in the Indian Express. It’s going to be hard to get a full page at this late date otherwise.
Altaf: Excellent. Maybe we should think about what we want to write on the poster…a big photo of Panditji is hardly going to make sense, and I want to avoid what everyone else will be writing – remembering, missing, thanking, vagera vagera.
Vanita: Let’s Google for something.
Altaf: Abbe, your mother spends more time at 10, Janpath than at home and you still need to Google for some tidbits about Panditji? (Laughs)
Manish: (Giving up on the essay) Arre, we are hardly writing a term paper for Professor Mishra, yaar. Google’s first page search results should be more than enough.
Reuben: But is the Indian Express enough? What about the Hindu and the Times? And so much is digital these days…should we not try to get some pixels on a couple of these big portals?
Altaf: Who reads these blogs or social media, man? Only narcissistic chaps who need to constantly update their status or tell everyone about their sonogram, lunch, bad haircut… Blaargh!
Lucky: But we should put something in the Hindu and Times, though.
Vanita: Erm…not sure I know anyone at those two. You know I got into a fight last month with Pallavi at the Hindu.
Lucky: Trust me, everyone will want us. After all, they still have to live in this country and can’t all go to the US to work for Microsoft or Texas Instruments! (Laughs)
Vincent: But isn’t that taking them for granted?
Altaf: What nonsense! We have done so much for them, yaar. Panditji went to jail for them and was beaten by the British.
Rahul: And to this day, we are keeping the country safe from the saffron scourge. Without us, this country would have long ago abandoned secularism and degenerated into a traditional, superstitious, brahminical tyranny!
Mridula: And they would have banned alcohol and become vegetarian too!
Reuben: India owes us for the sacrifices of our fathers and our fathers’ fathers…and their fathers.
Rahul: Indiraji may have been India and India Indiraji, and Rajivji and Soniaji have also done a lot for this country but Panditji remains its DNA, its moral compass. Just think what and all we owe Panditji for.
Mridula: Well, there is the IIM.
Rahul: Oh yeah, the IIM. Hmm…I was reading this book about inequality for class yesterday and I will say that there may be a point to it when people say that Panditji focussed on higher education and ignored more critical primary and secondary education. Furthermore, it’s not like there are scores of IIMs around…it is only creating a small pool of quasi-elites by virtue of networking. No matter, it is our failing that reduced these great institutions from their potential glory. Can’t blame Panditji for everything like these internet Hindus! (Laughs)
Mridula: There’s the NID too.
Rahul: Oh puh-leez! They may be doing some nifty things now but remember that horrible Bauhaus crap they were espousing for ages? I remember as a child, how I used to get depressed when we returned to India from our foreign trips…dull, drab buildings, tools, cars… Thank the gods for liberalisation! Panditji did a great job in setting the foundations of capitalist India.
Vincent: And the space programme. You know, Vikram Sarabhai set up the first space committee in Nehru’s time.
Rahul: Not to be pedantic guys, but as a history student, I feel I have to point out that ISRO was set up in 1969. INCOSPAR, it’s predecessor, was established in 1962 with Bhabha and Sarabhai pushing the project. Panditji had to have the vision to agree, of course, and that redefined Indian technological achievements forever! Sure, our space programme may have several shortcomings, but we must credit the vision that led to a programme in the first place. You know, like how Barack Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize a few years ago…the audacity of hope!
Amita: Very well said, Rahul. There’s also electricity and irrigation. He got those dams built—Bhakhra Nangal and all that stuff. (Power fails) Oops, never mind!
Mridula: Well, anyway…didn’t he set up the IITs?
Altaf: I heard something interesting about that from my cousins, you know, the one at Caltech and his brother at MIT? The IITs are great by Indian standards, they say. But the original research, industry tie-ups, patents, publications…they are nowhere near the world’s best as we think they are. Sure, the students who go there are very smart…but as my cousin said to me, imagine how much better they could have been if they had the opportunities universities like Ann Arbor, Madison, A&M, Austin, GaTech, or Stanford give. It seems to me that my cousin thinks five or six somewhat decent technical schools cannot serve an entire country.
Vincent: Well, the fertilizer plants and steel plants.
Sheetal: And he also created the Life Insurance Corporation.
Vincent: And the Unit Trust of India. It was India’s first mutual fund.
Altaf: (Laughs) Are you folks really so cocooned? No doubt, Panditji was a great man and the best prime minister India has ever had but you know that our fertilizer plants are woefully inadequate to this day, right? We also use chemicals that have been banned in Europe and elsewhere and agriculture in general has been only inching forward after the boom of the dwarf wheat in the 1970s. Thank God we buy our vegetables imported or from special farms! Ammi told me that the minister told her at Friday’s dinner that oddly, a semi-arid state like Gujarat has had more success than some other more fertile regions.
India imports steel, and I am not even talking about the special steel needed for warships – just regular steel, of which we imported some eight million tonnes last year. Remember how we exported cotton to Lancashire and imported fabric from England during the Raj? As for the LIC, do you know how badly our banking and insurance sectors need reforming? My mama was saying that Sunil Mehta – wohi, former AIG country head – was quite agitated about how inadequate the regulations are. I think the lesson is that starting something in a web of atrocious regulations is no achievement. Besides, are these really achievements? Whoever the prime minister would have been if not Panditji would have also needed to attend to iron & steel, electricity, education, etc.
Rahul: You are being harsh, yaar. Nehru set up the Lalit Kala Akademi too, you know.
Altaf: You are going to bring up art in India? Really Rahul? Did you forget our trip to Spain last summer? Remember the Prado? Or for that matter the Reina Sofia or the Thyssen-Bornemisza? Yesterday, I had lunch with Kathrin, that German exchange student and a work of art herself, if I may say so. (smiles) It is almost embarrassing to talk about the Lalit Kala Akademi with someone who actually understands art; so much of our stuff is abroad, and our museums and galleries are…well, let’s not go there! The only reason I go to their events these days is to break the tired monotony of life…everyone is becoming an engineer and getting fancy jobs at MNCs. None of these philistines can tell the difference between a Monet and a Manet…thank God for Nehru, seriously!
Mridula: Well, he also set up Vividh Bharati so that Indians didn’t have to listen to Radio Ceylon for Hindi film songs.
Altaf: That reminds me…the IYC has friends at Vividh Bharati, right? I know a professor at Harvard who can speak a few words about Panditji’s visionary leadership.
Lucky: And it was in Nehru’s time that we won our first test match in cricket.
Rahul: (Gives Lucky a pitiful look) Dude…WTF?! Just shut up, man!
Vincent: Damn. You realize if these IITs weren’t set up, we couldn’t have become world-class engineers and there would be no fundu jobs at Google and Microsoft.
Rahul: Well, he also promoted Amul and dairy cooperatives.
Altaf: Bete, IIT has probably not produced enough engineers in its entire existence to populate Google and Microsoft! And Rahul, don’t talk like Lucky now – the credit for Amul can go only to Verghese Kurien and not Panditji or Narendra Modi. Panditji’s support of Amul must correspond to its output only when the support was extended, not decades hence.
Rahul: Altaf bhai, are you actually questioning Nehru’s immense contribution to India? I think you have been reading too many kachra blogs like CRI on the internet! What next, you will accuse him of nepotism, suppression of free speech, “sickularism,” and being soft on corruption?
Altaf: Don’t be silly, Rahul. India can never be grateful enough to Panditji for his hard work. He single-handedly created the IITs, IIMs, the NID, the LIC, India’s space and nuclear programmes; he provided Indians with water, electricity, milk, and irrigation systems for their farms. Admittedly, there are some problems but look at the Congo or Mauritania…India has done far better than many other countries.
Mridula: Altaf, you are a bit of a military buff, right? I was just running a Google search on Vanita’s MacBook and listen to this: the prototype of Vijayanta tank which won us the 1965 war with Pakistan…
Altaf: What about it?
Vincent: It was developed in Nehru’s time, yes I know. And it destroyed Pakistan’s Patton tanks.
Altaf: Yes, I know. India bought the license to manufacture the Vickers Mk 1. After that, we moved on to copying the Soviet T-72 and we are still busy copying and importing weapons to this day. Those IITs seem to not have aided indigenous development much. IITians take everything for granted. They get their degrees and many disappear abroad with no sense of service and only to fund the saffron scoundrels. They have no clue how much Nehru sacrificed for the IITs.
Vincent: Well, after that war India was able to forget the humiliation of 1962 when India lost the China war.
Altaf: Who is over China? Not India! All these damned Sinophobes keep preaching that China is a threat. Nonsense. Panditji was right all along, Hindi–Chini bhai–bhai. But the Right wing of the Party hijacked the agenda and forced us into a conflict with our neighbours. I don’t understand how no one sees the threat of imperialism emanating from the US and NATO.
Sheetal: No, Altaf…I think the Sinophobia is correct. Panditji was great, not perfect.
Altaf: Great? He was the greatest of our prime ministers, Sheetal! Just because the IITs and IIMs have not ushered in an era of full literacy, electrification is incomplete by a long shot, agricultural policies kept India begging for PL 480 alms until the 1970s, and our industrial production is perhaps not up to mark does not mean that Panditji is at fault. He had a vision which was faultily implemented by his underlings and probably even sabotaged by those RSS murderers. It was the Right who wanted to build up defences along the border. Clearly, this antagonised Beijing and that is the true reason for the 1962 war. It was the Right’s trap that Nehru was pushed into…Ramachandra Bade, Kripalani, Rajagopalachari, Nath Pai. Cheh!
Mridula: Panditji spoke about peace and friendly relations with other countries and we were the first in the whole world to impose sanctions on South Africa because of the apartheid and we opposed Britain and France taking over Suez and supported anti-colonial struggles.
Altaf: He did indeed. These saffronista hawks don’t get it – they call themselves realists and ask how non-alignment helped India, or worse, compare the Suez Crisis to the Hungarian incident. Don’t these people have any sense of morality or conscience?
Vincent: We did hold our head high in the world in those days…
Altaf: Yes. Materialism is not everything. India may have been poor but Panditji never allowed the country to fall into the hands of greedy corporates, Hindu terror, or amoral politicians who’d sell out their Palestinian brothers for the sake of a few weapons from those Zionist fascists.
Manish: Speaking of materialism, yaar Altaf, can you talk to your dad about extending the lease to our bungalow? With the new government about to come in, bastards might ask us to vacate the premises. If you extend the lease now before you are technically out of office, I’d be much obliged.
Altaf: No problem, come on over for afternoon tea tomorrow and I will have the paperwork done and ready for you. You all interested in heading to the farmhouse and splashing about in the pool? Okay, let’s hurry up and write a few words about Panditji’s wise legacy and send it out. What a man, guys, what a prime minister!