Badly behaved Natives and the Chidam-bhram*.

Thirty minutes of mayhem on a TV Show – and why we shouldn’t take Chidambaram’s remarks seriously, and why the Government is responsible for how citizens behave.

I thought I’d let the squawking pass, but it seems that the advice of Minister Chidambaram to Delhiites to enhance their social behaviour quotient in preparation for the firangis who will visit us for 11 days during the Commonwealth Games has stirred a hornet’s nest.

Just as the dust was sort of settling on his banal observation, I was pulled into the maelstrom thanks to Pankaj Pachauri’s popular show Hum Log on NDTV India – and since I couldn’t refuse and agreed to go, I am now guilty of being party to this inane issue as much I hold the others.

Now I really have no opinion on the subject; Chidambaram made an off-the-cuff remark by all accounts and frankly what he said has been said differently by many people earlier, not often of the same caliber admittedly, but by and large, to sum up the unique experience of ‘north India’ when seen from the more sedate South India perspective. There may be truth in it as far as aggression goes or even as far as some of the other aspects that he seemed to have hinted at – rude, disrespectful of law, traffic etiquette etc. etc. – but he merely skimmed the surface of the subject. His statement was a remark – it did not call for action or ask for any real modification – it was merely a plaint – and should have been relegated to the dustbin of inane remarks by such high profilers who have no interest in the remedy of it – as to why this trend occurs or persists. Besides, who is to determine what constitutes good behaviour – and who sets the standards – the Brits? Anybody serious about this must understand that we do not have the luxury of a homogeneous society with similar behavioural norms – we accommodate people who think nothing of picking their nose or blowing it in public or spitting the ‘pique’ after a bout of chewing paan – what should we do about it – ban the picking of nose or arrest people if they do so? Or ban the chewing of paan or force people to swallow the pique just because the westerners don’t like it ? Then again, the pressure cooker existence in turgidly populated cities where we have to fight to secure a foothold on a bus, in a train, in a queue…So what is Mr. Chidambaram talking about !

But our valiant media has picked up the gauntlet, and so it was that after a week of national foaming at the mouth and even as I thought that the mild epilepsy was receding – I found myself on the show.

Things began badly. I was late for the show thanks to misreading the off day rush on the famous BRT –it was a Saturday and no better and I was a good 15 minutes later than the start of the recording and had to sit out until the first commercial break. So if you saw the telecast I would be introduced almost into the second half of the programme. When I was ushered in and tethered to the collar mike, I could recognize Kiran Bedi and Nafisa Ali among another three participants.

It seemed to begin innocently with Pankaj lobbing the same question, I guess, [I still haven’t seen the show] and I trying to get into stride with a roundabout answer on why I thought the issue was inane and the real reason for all this still remained the high tension levels we operate on in the city and which is really caused by poor governance because people live under stress and are constantly reactive, anxious and stressed out. Summed up by saying that people become what their environment makes them. Oh, and I used the expression, ‘living like worms’, as they do in ghettos, and which is why, if you care to remember, the Delhi Government had the brainy idea of putting up ‘temporary curtains’ to hide these eye sores during the Commonwealth days.

Now I don’t have a very high opinion of Ms. Nafsa Ali in almost every aspect of her public life, including her histrionic skills, but for some odd reason she bit big time into the usage I employed and embarked on a titillating tale of tenderness for she retorted hurtfully “don’t call them worms”. Kiran Bedi, quick as she is, said “He didn’t call them worms, he said they were living like worms”, but our lady of broken Hindi seemed to have broken heart – for she raved and ranted and had to be literally shouted down. Buy how typical, I thought – it is almost as if the Congress party picks and chooses this type with care – that she should pick up a metaphor to react to instead of the real issue! [You should know she’s left the Congress party and become a Samajwadian, by now]

Well, that did it for me. First to be late for the programme and the frustration of the BRT monstrosity, and now this imbecilic argument with a novice in half-french Hindi was hardly the beginning I had vouched for this Saturday morning. But this is life and things can get worse, as I found out later.

Ms. Ali had a neighbour on the show who seemed like a slippery guy from the moment one set eyes on him, and I am making no reference to his pate here. His comments and reassuring platitudes – couching plaudits to the government and trying to assuage everyone’s concerns on almost all issues – seemed suspect to me and, I gather, to my other guest colleagues. I saw this guy smirking the moment another guest remarked that as along as there is dynastic tendencies in politics, there could be no accountability. That was a dead giveaway – a Congress mole, next to a Samajwadi [femole!] party member, I thought. How well programmed.

Then we have some serious interjections from the audience members who made terrific sense and of course Kiran was bang on, on almost all points along with some help from the Jamia Ex-chancellor who was making a lot of good points as we went along. And just when I though this discussion was finally going somewhere, the slippery guy dropped the bomb : In a direct suggestion by Pankaj – and by this time Pankaj has seen logic in the collective opinion of the panel that it is governance that makes people who they are and how they behave – that Government has to go beyond whitewashing for guests and get on with real-to-show development in all fields, not just flyovers – this guy took over as official spokesperson for the Delhi government [and the Congress party, I suspect] by suggesting that we should not be looking at life in Delhi so negatively, we have progressed a great deal over the years [flyovers!, I am sure] etc etc. Obviously he hadn’t heard of people fighting off neighbours over parking space, the road rage, water fights, power thefts, the condition of public transport, crime per se and crime against women, the JJ clusters without toilets or schools and the ever increasing pressure on infrastructure as more and more migrants are accommodated in sub-human conditions in slums just because some politician has to win the next election.

Well, I squirmed in my seat while he spoke at length and then asked Pankaj that I had to set the record straight – and since this fellow admitted earlier in the programme that he works closely with the Delhi Government he was in my view “an interested party” [in my unexpressed opinion, a stooge] – and had no business to paint the life of an ordinary citizen in glowing terms when it was not true for the majority of the people. And then I proceeded to rubbish the asinine concept of Public Private Partnership [PPP] which Ms Ali also touched upon.

Now I have been saying this for some time that there is nothing called PPP [ it’s just a lot of Pee, frankly] to my mind for the simple reason that the state cannot take our money in advance as tax and then ask us to step in and assist it in doing the job it took the money for in the first place. That is the Bhagidari fraud this Government insists on playing on us. The other variation of the theme – more prevalently used in context of commercial projects – is not something that merits a term like PPP with its connotations of some social bonding project because it’s plain outsourcing, don’t you see. Even the darned Red Fort was built as a public private partnership in that case – the Emperor ordained its existence, subcontracted the construction, the finance was deployed by the state and eventually all works are for the public since the money is theirs. What’s so blooming PPP about all this?

And so it goes. But by now Ms. Ali is on song and she wants to spread good cheer and love and brotherhood – too much Sri Sri I think – “Why, we will build this city together” or some such stuff, she cries. And I just burst a gut.

If you have the stomach to see the show, click on the links my friends have sent me [more to rile me than anything else, I suspect].

If not, that makes two of us.

*Ref. the Title: There is a play on the word ‘Chidambaram’. For those who do not know much Hindi, “Bhram” is Hindi for ‘confusion’ or ‘misconception’. Mr P. Chidambaram is the current Minister of Home, Government of India and has reportedly told people of Delhi to learn to behave in time to receive international guests for the Commonwealth Games in 2010 at New Delhi. Chidambaram is from the southern part of India, which has a definite cultural bias that compares favourably with North India.

3 Responses to “Badly behaved Natives and the Chidam-bhram*.”
  1. sanjaykaul says:

    Thanks for visiting Arjun. Glad you like it. Do feel free to contribute your ideas on some of the issues we take up here. Would add great value.

  2. Arjun says:

    “Femole” – Classic!

    This is my second day on the blog and I already love it.

    Thank you Mr. Kaul.

  3. Sonali says:

    How can we expect these “high and mighty” to even realise how frustrating it gets, when it takes more than an hour to cover a distance of a kilometre and a half. And that’s not where the trouble ends. Due to the maddening traffic jam, one finally decides to walk down as that’s a faster way of reaching the destination. Whenever “Madame Dixit” or “Sir Chidambram” or at this juncture, the overhyped and insane “CWG Committee members” have to move around, the area is cordoned off. At that point also, its mere mortals like us who suffer due to diversions and further jams. The joke is that people who drive us to the edge, make even slightest movement within the city, a living nightmare and frustrate us due to ineptness of the system to even provide basic infrastructure and facilities, have the audacity to lecture us and call us names.

    Now, how cool is that…

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