By Sanjay Kumar
A girl in the examination hall is perplexed. She knows the answer but is not sure about how to begin the answer. She asks Santa to help her with the start. Santa looks left and right, up and down and around before whispering almost conspiratorially into her ears: THE. The answer starts with ‘the’.
Santa and Banta could be found seeking to inverse the status quo: from the examination hall where fear reigns supreme to the trains which rattle off to a noisy start, pretending to run for sometime before screeching to an abrupt halt and then resuming without any courtesy to those government offices that seek to usher the Republic into a welfare state to those monstrous malls of glass and aluminium where everything is under CCTV surveillance and those political rallies in which people scratch their balls without any trace of awareness, guilt or embarrassment. They upset the applecart, taking liberty with sacred cows, giggling, laughing, and sneering at the ways of the world that aim at regimenting our lives. They are here, there, and everywhere trying to create a new world of delicious possibilities from the flawed fabric of their minds.
But most of all, they are within us. Shorn of our trappings and delusions when we peel off the layers of our prejudices, predilections, and pretensions and manage to find our quintessence, there we get two bewitching, vaguely familiar, strangely complacent, mysteriously invulnerable, and potentially envy-inducing idiots, who exist at the junction of banality and transcendence. They are everywhere yet nowhere, recognisable yet slippery, in our face and still faceless, pervasive yet anonymous, buffoons yet the very epitome of wisdom.
So they could be located where someone chooses to oppose the tyranny of reason and the claustrophobia of dictated existence. Wherever regimentation has not put solidarity out of fashion and communique has not replaced spontaneity, Banta and Santa could be located in their bawdy, burlesque glory.
And there is no better example of chaotic spontaneity than our trains in which all manners of disorderliness collide with one another: a seat meant for two manages to accommodate seven or so passengers, who end up becoming close kin by the end of the journey and before they disembark, regale one another with credulous tales as to how the land on the moon is being portioned off into plots and is up for sale. Saucer-eyed, people listen to the mungfalli-seller, the authenticity of whose weights and measures is seriously apocryphal and would have surely invited the punitive ire of Alauddin Khalji, also contributing his pearls of wisdom.
Santa and Banta exist whenever and wherever we suspend our sense of judgement, let gullibility take over, laugh hoarse for no reason, grin like idiots from ear to ear, trust an alien with his secrets and intentions, allow ourselves to be made fun of and have self-deprecation in generous measure.
Santa and Banta are our childhood – pure, unassailed, and unassailable – when many of us would carry our lunch to those government schools in a three-storied tiffin box of aluminium, dangling from one hand and a bundle of tattered books held together by a black rubber band off an abandoned cycle tube under the armpit of the other limb. We would run after unsuspecting and not so unsuspecting dogs that would raise their hind legs to let themselves go anywhere while looking at us in defiance.
The location of Santa and Banta is wherever there is impulsiveness and subversion in air. Wherever authorities are being challenged and people show resilience to defy decay, devastation, death, and laugh in the face of impossible odds. There they run amok with irreverent eccentricities.
Wherever there is disdain for established pieties, they are there. When someone opposes disruptive memories from the past and advocates a deliberate amnesia and dignified reconciliation with the past, they are there if not in form then certainly in spirit. Whenever someone laughs no-holds barred and allows himself to be turned into a laughing stock in order for the world to become a livelier and lovelier place, Mr. Santa and Mr. Banta are bound to be there (I am sure they are going to run me down for using Mr.).
The greatest tribute to them comes from Oscar Wilde, “Humanity takes itself too seriously. It is the world’s original sin. If the caveman had known how to laugh, History would have been different.”
Sanjay Kumar attended Delhi University to pursue graduation and post-graduation. He is heavily invested in movies, history, literature, and popular culture. He is based in Patna, Bihar, India.
Cafe Dissensus Everyday is the blog of Cafe Dissensus magazine, based in New York City, USA. All materials on the site are protected under Creative Commons License.
Read the latest issue of Cafe Dissensus Magazine on ‘Remembering Sir Syed Ahmad Khan in Bicentenary Year (1817-2017)’, edited by Dr. Irfanullah Farooqi, Aligarh Muslim University, Aligarh, India.