By Sanjay Kumar
At the heart of big time corruption is a Melquiades-like Gypsy. Irrepressible, fantastic, survivor of assorted afflictions and scourges lashing the mankind and someone with very unusual sartorial preferences. He is alien yet intimate, exotic yet familiar, impermeable yet lovable. Rings of different sizes adorn his fingernails, earlobes, lower lip, browline. With his delirious ideas, capricious ventures, and impossible schemes, he introduces exotica in the stillness of Macondo. Flying carpets, magnets, ice, daguerreotypes, telescopes, and so on. When he comes to interact with powers-that-be, he wears a watch that moves anti-clockwise and, in fact, works as a time-machine. Not merely a watch, it is the face of time, inexorable ticking of the doomsday clock. The world stands still, powers-that-be sit paralysed, stunned and petrified and he starts telling them stories.
Stories about the worthlessness and wretchedness of the world; how life could throw nasty surprises; how death stalks our streets and homes when we think we are safe and secure in the loving embrace of our lovers; how the world is pushing itself towards extinction inch by inch, day in and day out; how our options are getting limited the way a superbug escaped from those seven-star hospitals would wreak havoc; and how artificial intelligence would one day take over the world leaving us cowering and trembling helplessly with omnipotent robots ruling the roost. Heaving a sigh and helping himself with a chewing gum that substitutes for water, he resumes to say with frightening clarity that the next war would destroy the planet. The end is nigh.
Powers-that-be feel anxious and stunned. They realise the fragility of their assumptions and uncertainty of projections. They feel inadequate, cornered, and desperate. They shuffle in their chairs, move uneasily, push the chairs back, take out their hankies to wipe off beads of perspiration, and feel that they need to make some sense of a world in turmoil, a world that is turning topsy-turvy. He senses their urgency and predicament. His silence only accentuates agonies. He grunts but says nothing. The situation starts becoming unbearable. He takes out his wallet, pulls out a card and hands it over to them. The card is bare. On the back of the card, at the far corner is written: Solomon Islands. The gypsy makes an unexplained exit.
Insecure, alarmed, and edgy, powers-that-be realise the giant bubble in which they have been living all along and how it could burst any moment. They go out in his search and comb through the length and breadth of the land to locate him. But the search turns out to be futile. They start forgetting about the encounter although his predictions do visit them in the disjointed morning dreams. And then they start spotting the Gypsy wherever they go – at the main gates of think-tanks, in the canteen of research foundations, in the corridors of AIIMS where people are gathering to pay tribute to someone very important who has just died of some mysterious disease, at the meetings of G-20, at Haridwar where the Ganges touches the plane. Insecurities – barely under the surface – force their way back. The Gypsy would come back again.
He comes back to tell that there is escape from calamities and catastrophes into a land where youth is a permanent physical condition, where libido is not ravaged by the passage of merciless times, where prescriptions and prohibitions do not stifle human existence, where life is one big carnival, where no one dies and where Gods walk with human beings hand in hand and vie with men and women for adulterous favours. The escape is those El Dorados, those seraphic islands which are innocent of decay, desolation, and death.
At the moment, he brings out a chocolate wrapped in some shiny material, holds for a while, and puts it back in his side pocket. He starts telling them a story, the story of a poor child who wanted to eat chocolate. As it was beyond his means, he vowed that when he would become something, he would buy chocolate every day. Now that he had made something of his life, chocolate was not much of a worry. But life could change its course all of a sudden. By some quirk of fate, he turned poor again. And his craving for chocolates continues. He tells them about an island where chocolates grow on trees and all that kids do is to shake the tree and chocolates come pouring down in plenty.
Come next meeting and they start calling powers-that-be by their first names. This time a holy man with spiritual aura as manifest in his flowing beard, flowing robes, and ever-flowing words of wisdom accompanies him too. He possesses a mysterious talent for combining this world with the other world. While holding forth on how meditation could liberate trapped souls from the cycle of life and death, he – almost unconsciously – refers to his visits to those islands which are often referred to as havens and sanctuaries. Effortlessly, they talk about beauty queens, models, arms dealers and how he blessed their ventures. Powers-that-be listen to the words of wisdom with rapt attention and reverence. While going back, the holy man abruptly whispers something. The first two sentences are not audible but what they hear is that the world is ungrateful and trust is in such short supply.
Meanwhile, he starts texting news snippets to powers-that-be – not the events that have happened but the events that would take place. Communal riots start for no reason; some hotheads suddenly take offence for some imagined grievances; some claim that their pride, others that their religion is in danger. Out of blue, media starts screaming how the war heroes had feet of clay and how the arms dealers were doing yeoman service for the motherland. Borders suddenly become hot; terrorists think nothing of killing innocent kids at some school in some neighbouring country. TV channels and newspapers bare their fangs. Experts in TV studios shout at each other. Dogs turn mute, silent, and sad. Patriotism echoes in the air. It seems there must be a final war to end all wars.
All the same, one gets to hear a lot about the arrival of a messiah. Someone with millenarian vision who would make the land pure and resurgent again; someone who would purge the evil and catapult the nation to join the high table of big nations. National destiny and manifest destiny – these expressions become commonplace. Atrocities of the past would be accounted for and there would be unprecedented prosperity.
It is against this background of impending crises and promised glory when ordinary citizens feel uprooted and unstrung, edgy and insecure, and crave for terra firma beneath their feet, that big corruption takes place.
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.
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