Poet and Novelist
Age gets a lot of respect in south Asia. More so in India. Perhaps, because of the feet-touching ritual in the majority community. Social interaction is littered with ‘da’ and ‘di’. I remember our President SD Sharma touching the feet of Aruna Asaf Ali. Of course, if some religious sanctity is added to age, then it becomes a win-win situation. We saw during the Karnataka elections last year Amit Shah banging his massive head on the floor in front of Lingayat saints. That had nothing to do with votes. It was just reverence in front of the unbeatable combine of age and religion-based awe. Moreover, Lingayats stood out as a minority section among the Hindus and hence Shah, ever so mindful of minority sensitivities, was paying his respects.
The question arises: why must we flop before age? The older you get, the more scatterbrained you are, memory takes liberties with you and with facts. You get weaker, you dodder, and words don’t come to mind (excepting insults, as shown during our elections). What on earth makes them so worthy of respect? The Prime Minister set a very good example by the 75-year bar for office in his own party, and prohibited his admirers from touching his feet. In contrast, the Behenji of UP seems pleased as punch when Brahmin and Thakur aspirants for a BSP ticket tap her feet.
This trait has a flip side. The oldies raise their arms to bless, as if they are saints and the youngsters their devotees. The aged also start looking condescendingly at the younger lot and, at times, make fun of youth. Both Rahul Gandhi and Akhilesh Yadav have faced these barbs. The PM himself called Akhilesh babua while Mayawati was called bua (aunt). The phrase Rahul baba is often used by the BJP.
These worthies should be reminded of the famous riposte to Horace Walpole, brother of the then PM, administered by the young William Pitt (1708-78), later Earl of Chatham. Pitt, who entered Parliament in 1735 at the age of 26, had declaimed furiously against the Bill. Horace Walpole, brother of Prime Minister Sir Robert Walpole, who had moved the Bill replied: “Formidable sound and furious declamation …may affect the young and inexperienced, and perhaps the gentleman may have contracted his habits of oratory by conversing more with those of his own age than with such as have more opportunities of acquiring knowledge….”
Pitt’s reply was classic. He started by saying that, “The atrocious crime of being a young man which the honourable gentleman has with such spirit and decency, charged upon me, I shall neither attempt to palliate nor deny; but content myself with wishing that I may be one of those whose follies may cease with their youth, and not of that number who are ignorant in spite of experience.” He added for good measure that, “surely age may become justly contemptible if the opportunities which it brings have passed away without improvement and vice appears to prevail when the passions have subsided.”
Much of the above is wasted on us. None of the protagonists I have mentioned above would have known of Chatham (or Chatham House) or Walpole. England's history had some lessons for us, how the people did not stick to dogma alone. Its culture, beliefs, its body politic moved with the times.
As George Bernard Shaw stated humorously in his play The Man of Destiny, “You will never find an Englishman in the wrong. He does everything on principle. He fights you on patriotic principles, he robs you on business principles, he enslaves you on imperial principles…he supports you on loyal principles and cuts off his king’s head on republican principles.”
Our parties are stuck in a time warp. The Congress with its socialism and non-alignment, and the BJP with its opposition to Article 370, majority-pampering, in a word most things penned down by Savarkar as he propounded his creed. Let some fresh breeze blow in these dust-and-cobwebbed sanctums.
John F Kennedy was just 43 when he became President and caught the imagination of the world. Western culture suddenly seemed to flower. Later, of course, the Vietnam war and his assassination cast a shadow, as also did the assassinations of Martin Luther King and John’s brother Robert Kennedy. Both Jesus and Alexander were young; they also died young. The moral of the story is that youth is not something to be scorned.
Judiciary & speed
Meanwhile, the Supreme Court has gladdened our hearts with its speed. To relate from personal experience, a zamindar travelling with a minister in her official car, fired and killed a college student. Students were raining stones on the car, egged on by the leader of the Bharatiya Kranti Dal. The same night, I reported to the UP Government who had shot the student. I was called for evidence exactly eight years later.
Hence, I was absolutely delighted to see the news about the Supreme Court In-house Inquiry Committee report (sealed forever from public view) and how their Lordships and Ladyships went about it, in regard to the allegations of sexual harassment made by a Supreme Court staffer. The entire enquiry was completed in four days! It sounded like the four-minute-mile barrier being broken by Roger Bannister in the 1950s. The best part of it was that the dismissal of the staffer took hardly two days (as press reports make it) followed by denial of a lawyer to the complainant.
If only our police could do likewise, procedurally I mean, our conviction figures would mount, and the jails would be full. May I also offer a salute to the Delhi Police, for suspending relatives of the complainant.