25 Mar

What’s the matter, Babu?


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There are many words in and out of the dictionary that are used with a certain passion, while their exact meaning remain confined to the pages of the dictionary. There are various categories of such words. Some sound sophisticated – raunchy, intrepid, serendipity. Some are just fashionable – fag, dude, anti-Semitism, imperialism. Some, with the passage of time, attain layers of grime and ignorance, and through a process of Semantical acrobatics (that’s a new word that I am trying to ‘coin’; once it has attained fringe parlance, it shall be called a ‘neologism’; once it is accepted as everyday parlance, not necessarily respectable as some books would tell you, it shall be inducted into the dictionary. For most words, mind you, that is ceremonial cremation. Once a word enters the portals of a tome, it remains forgotten and surfaces only when researched. A word in the dictionary is like a comatose on life support. Just joking) acquire absolutely new passion, absolutely new colours, absolutely new meaning. I can think of no better word to introduce this development than ‘babu’.

And while we are at it we shall beckon a ‘thought of the day’ and try to understand what someone said about lies.

If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.”
–Joseph Goebbels

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Goebbels was the Minister for Public Enlightenment and Propaganda during the Nazi regime, and one of the closest advisors of the little genius. Do keep in mind that Goebbels started his life as a journalist. So, how was it that he proceeded to propagate the lie and garner enlightenment for his Chosen People. I would presume he recalled an incident from Medieval history on the shores of Mediterranean.

Everyone loves Alexander. At a young age he did what people thrice his age could only dream of. Across the world people spent the next 23 centuries trying to match his exploits. While not a match, there were quite a few common things between Hitler and Alexander – they were both short, they were both brave, they were both mad, they were both stubborn, they were both ravishers and thrived on rape and rapine and pillage, both came close to conquering the world, and both died rather ingloriously (Alexander died of mosquito bite or whatever, we still don’t quite know; Hitler reportedly took cyanide and simultaneously shot himself – one does not know what hit him first, the poison or the bullet). History, however, looks quite differently at the two. There is a city called Alexandria. There is no city called Adlofia or Hitleria. Hitleristan, anyone? Now for some strange reason we shall overlook, Alexandria had the world’s greatest library. Well, at that time, Alexandria was the greatest city for that matter. Any city that goes either too much towards the sky, or too much towards any other direction, incurs the wrath of gods or people. Sometime back those foolish people in the Middle East (can anyone tell me why is it called Middle East? I mean, there can be a west, there can be a east. If it is in the middle, it is called centre. But Middle East! Don’t much blame Tolkien for that matter. He must have got his Middle Earth designation from present geography only) tried to build a little tower in a city then called Babilu, now called Babylon. What happened? Well, something happened that we are not quite sure of, but the remains looked like the aftermath of some cosmic erectile dysfunction. In another city of a continent that is an accident of history (well, there was this fool who wanted to find India and sailed West when everyone went the other way. He met a few Neanderthals with bananas – he DID NOT find the plains of Punjab) people became vain again. And time and again like in the Biblical times, plagues rain down on New York. Sometimes it is a rather large dinosaur that stampedes across the town. Then come some gorillas. Then some icecaps melt up in the north, and it is flood. Sometimes huge rocks rain down from the sky. See, bible again and again. Then they built a tall tower. Wait, not one, but TWO. Whoever heard of such sacrilege. And see what happened.

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So, on the shores of the Mediterranean, the largest city of the ancient world was built. It was also the site of an ancient wonder, a wonder that withstood the wrath of man and god for more than a thousand years. Close to the Lighthouse of Alexandria, scholars from around the world came and studied everything under the sun and the moon. Every book that passed by the city was taken to the library – a copy was returned back. Of course, it was not the time of copyright yet. Outside of the library the city flourished, enticing traders. With trade comes prosperity. With prosperity come the people looking for a shortcut – marauders and conquerors. Like most cities, Alexandria was conquered not once but many times. But finally it fell to the Muslim army led by Amr ibn al ‘Aas (okay, that is not the origin of IBN!). Message was sent to the Caliph as to what is to be done with the library and its books. Amr received the famous reply:

“If what is written there is in the Koran, they are superfluous. If what is written is not in the Koran, it is blasphemous.”

Amr used the books to heat bathwater for his soldiers. Viru in Sholay got his idea of the coin from this monologue – heads I win, tails you lose. Goebbels got his inspiration to burn books from this example.

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Imperialism of every kind requires a Man Friday, a Vibhishan. When the British were just stretching their arms a little here and a little there, they sent a man of genius from their shores, to find a way to build a system that neither the wiles of a wronged goddess, nor the spite of a hounded prince could dismantle. Recognising that education was the very base of any enterprise, and that a trained workforce the very oxygen, he recommended a panacea for the problems that stared the British in the face. As the Law Member of the Governor General’s Council he published the Minute on Indian Education in 1935, and the most resounding logic of his thesis was captured in these words:

It is impossible for us, with our limited means, to attempt to educate the body of the people. We must at present do our best to form a class who may be interpreters between us and the millions whom we govern; a class of persons, Indian in blood and colour, but English in taste, in opinions, in morals, and in intellect. To that class we may leave it to refine the vernacular dialects of the country, to enrich those dialects with terms of science borrowed from the Western nomenclature, and to render them by degrees fit vehicles for conveying knowledge to the great mass of the population.

Today, Macaulay sits on the same bench as Kautilya and Machiavelli. These three people have the dubious distinction of being the most derided writers of all time. Derision rests chiefly because the deriders take little opportunity to read what they wrote. Derision is thus a cloak of ignorance, a excuse and safety valve of frustration. “Am I politic, am I subtle, am I Machiavel?”, asks a character in Machiavelli’s The Prince. Obtuse intellect should not be despised for its failure to appreciate intellectual sharpness. Today Macaulay’s children is another term of derision. A term used inevitably used by those who derive much of their intellectual genes from Macaulay and his contribution. To quote from Wikipedia:

Macaulay’s Children is used to refer to people born of Indian ancestry who adopt Western culture as a lifestyle, or display attitudes influenced by colonisers. The term is usually used in a derogatory fashion, and the connotation is one of disloyalty to one’s country and one’s heritage.

Macaulay’s Children are everywhere. This breed has flourished like spongy mushroom in a dead forest after a hot shower. They faced much danger. They were tortured as a Western curse, despised as apsanskriti, branded as fifth columnist by the baba and the mullah. But like dark loins of a sultry woman that is crucified from the pulpit but ravished in the heat of passion, Macaulay and his benevolence charmed the mob. Every constitutional and unconstitutional development during the times of the British is the result of the toil of Macaulay’s spawn. No Nehru and no Gandhi could ever read without Macaulay coming to Calcutta. But long before Nehru or Gandhi, this Vibhishan was a creature of derision, a spittoon of societal venom, the envy of waylaid in the march of the meritorious and the privileged. This Vibhishan worked from the inside under the shadow of a tyrant that looks down with pity. Day in and day out this Vibhishan works his humble way, a small silent uncomplaining cog in the vast wheel of the empire. This Vibhishan is the humble author a thousand systems that decades of frivolous independence have made into wasted vestiges. Cursed on both sides, this humble Vibhishan laid the first foundation of modern India. This humble Vibhishan was the first modern man that welcomed modern science into his home, that bid adieu to the centuries of ossified evil passed on even today as aspects of religion and culture. This humble Vibhishan was the first to celebrate toil, hardwork, thrift, planning, the value of education that looked beyond how to do Saraswati Vandana. This humble Vibhishan was the first to send its children to schools and colleges that laid the foundations of modern India. This Vibhishan, this Macaulay’s spawn is the Cabinet Secretary. The Prime Minister. Prannoy Roy and Barkha Dutt. This Vibhishan is you and I – I writing on the internet, you reading it there. Yes Premji saab, Murthy saab and Roy saab, you are his spawn.

This Vibhishan, this Macaulay’s Children has another name. Shorter and funkier.

Babu.
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