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Tuesday, December 12, 2017

The Man Without Properties - A Satirical Play in 3 Acts

                                   

THE MAN WITHOUT PROPERTIES

                                                    (A Play in Three Acts)

                                                                     By

                                                     Vijaya Kumar Dar


Cast of Characters


President of India: An unkempt man of 70 with a mop of hair brushed so it falls on the sides. He is wearing a Nehru jacket and trousers.


Lady Maindhi: A severe looking woman in her 60’s wearing a white saree.


Mumble Singh: A wispy old man with a blue turban, scraggly beard, and large spectacles. Owlish looking. Wearing a Nehru jacket and trousers


Plumberji: A short, balding, blunt looking man in his late 70’s. Wearing a closed Nehru jacket and trousers. Thick glasses.


Lady President of India: An unpleasant looking woman in her 70’s. Wears a coloured saree with palloo on her head.


Monty Spudseller: A strong looking man in his late 60’s wearing a blue turban, a suit with a tie.




ACT I

SCENE I

(Sometime in the year 2004)

A hall in the President’s office

Enter Lady Maindhi accompanied by Mumble Singh and Plumberji.

President greets the three and invites them to sit.

President: Ah, welcome, Lady Maindhi. I see you have Mumble Singh and Plumberji with you. How is the mood of the party now that you have won a majority in the Parliament?

Lady Maindhi: Thank you Mr. President. With the blessings of the Holy Virgin, our forces today have vanquished the armies of Satan with the help of our brethren who believe in the Holy Book. People have been falling over one another in their attempts to cajole me to lead them in this hour of triumph, and to make this nation as great as The Holy Roman Empire. I have come, Mr. President, with the list of the members who have expressed complete faith in my leadership and who are urging me to form the next government at the centre.

President: That is very good Lady Maindhi. I am sure the list must be authentic and I really do not have to look at it. So who is going to be the Prime Minister?

Lady Maindhi: (looking a bit surprised): But Mr. President, I thought you understood that the people want me to take up this post.

(Aside: “what a duffer this Bhajan Party has selected”)

Mumble Singh and Plumberji together: Yes, yes, Mr. President, Madam is the only choice of the country and we have come to seek your blessings before we make a formal announcement to the people.

President: Ah, yes! But before you came, this busybody Submarine Sammy had come here. He was sure that you would soon be coming to me with such a demand, and he told me that I should not accede to it as it would be illegal and liable to be challenged and struck down by the Supreme Court.

Lady Maindhi (looking very cross): Why, that good-for-nothing dark, Tamil rascal has the temerity to suggest that my appointment would be illegal? How dare he?

Plumberji (ingratiatingly and then angrily): Yes, yes madam, the first thing we have to do is to throw that man into the darkest cell of Tihar and lose the key. What brazenness, what blasphemy! The man is a horrible conspirator and should be quickly taught a lesson.

Mumble Singh (wringing his hands and looking sheepish): He thinks that just because he is a Harvard professor he can claim to know everything. He has forgotten what a long list of degrees I have acquired and how much more scholarly I am.

Lady Maindhi: (rather authoritatively): Well Mr. President, please let me have your letter immediately. Cannot keep the people waiting any longer!

President: Madam, I would be very happy to give you the letter, but I am afraid this Sammy has shown me the clause of reciprocity under which our citizens cannot hold the office of Prime Minister in the country of your birth, and accordingly you, not having been born in this country cannot become the Prime Minister here. Now if you have someone else in your party, I would be glad to issue the letter to him or her. And, by the way, there is no bar to your becoming a minister, but the objection is only to the office of the Prime Minister.

Lady Maindhi: (turning to Plumber): Hey, Plumber, you are a lawyer, aren’t you? Come on and read the law to the President.

Plumberji (looking downcast): Madam I have been so busy running the party affairs, first with your mother-in-law, and then with your husband that I have not practised law for a long time. I do not know if Sammy has got his onions right?

Lady Maindhi: Never mind his onions, or garlic. Call that stupid turtlehead Veesingh immediately and ask him where we stand.

Plumberji: Yes, yes, ma’am. (Goes aside and makes a call from his cell phone).

(Loud) Madam, Turtlehead says that daft Sammy is right. Madam what shall we do now???

Lady Maindhi (getting up): Well Mr. President, we have to go and discuss this development with my family and other pets. We will be back soon.

President: Any time Lady, any time.

All exit.

                                                ***********************

SCENE 2


Lady Maindhi’s residence at 10, Lokpath

Enter Lady Maindhi, Mumble Singh and Plumberji. Lady Maindhi looking visibly agitated mumbling threats and imprecations against everybody. Plumberji in most ingratiating manner trying to suggest to Lady Maindhi:

Plumberji:  If I may say so madam, why don’t we recommend the name of your Binacaji? After all she is born here and cannot be disbarred.

Mumble Singh: But Plumberji, Binacaji has said she doesn’t want to enter politics. She and her husband Bobbyji are busy raising funds for the party to fight the future electoral battles. After all we have to think of the nation and its poor people. We must not take Binacaji away from her national duty.

Plumberji: Madam, in that case why not make our Baabaa the Prime Minister? So what if he is not very qualified or experienced. Mumble Singh and I will stand shoulder to shoulder with him and make sure he does not falter.

Mumble Singh (aside): Your shoulder will reach Baabaa’s knees, you rogue. You think you can wheedle your way in and lick the cream.

Lady Maindhi: Enough! I have heard the two of you talking rubbish. Neither Binaca nor Baabaa is going to sit on that chair while I am alive.

Aside: (You think I married that fool in England just to be a dumb housewife listening to that tyrannical mother of his. Thank God she is no longer around to torment us all. For that we have to thank the guards who rose to the occasion and rid us of that monster.)

(Loud): Now we have to think of someone else since I am sure that foolish man with the stupid haircut will be difficult to persuade. Oh I can’t understand why those idiots of the Bhajan Party made him the President? Anyway, his term will soon end and then we will show him his proper place.

Aside: (Just to think how much I have waited for this opportunity, only to be scuttled by that interfering Sammy and this kalam-pusher. Fortunately Gorbachev finished the USSR and the KGB; otherwise today they would have been at my throat demanding all that money back. Good for them. Their money is now safe in my Swiss bank account where nobody can touch it. Even my dear Lotus, who had a share in it, is mercifully gone, and I alone can operate that account and enjoy its fruits. But how much more delicious it would have been had I become the Prime Minister today. Oh what shall I do now?

Mumble Singh (approaching timidly): Madam I have an idea. Plumberji is the most senior member of our party. He has worked with your mother-in-law, and he served her most faithfully. After her tragic assassination he thought he should have been asked to form the government, but that President Jhadoo Singh, in his infinite wisdom, chose instead to call your dear husband. I beg you, madam, let Plumberji have the post that he surely deserves. His skills in plugging leaks and stemming runaway floods of allies and partymen are well known. He will serve you as faithfully as your family and I will support him at all times.

Lady Maindhi: Thank you Mumble for reminding me of those terrible times. The earth really shook when that mighty tree was felled. By the way, how many of your faith committed suicide to show their anguish at the bodyguard’s foul deed, and atoned for that terrible crime?

Mumble Singh: I believe, madam, there were more than 3500 of them who lit instant pyres using anything inflammable they could lay their hands upon, like tyres etc., and committed jauhar like the Rajput ladies of yore. Our able members Durjan Kumarji, Tattlersahib, Bagulabhagatji really worked hard to help these martyrs in their cause. It was not easy but within three days they showed what metal they were made of and lit the greatest homage to our fallen leader.

Lady Maindhi: And where were you at that time? Why didn’t you show the same respect?

Mumble Singh: Oh Madam, I had gone to my native place for some urgent domestic work. Also you may recall, I was not a politician then, just a bureaucrat. By the time I came back, your dear husband had said that enough homage had been paid and that the stalwarts of the party had worked tirelessly for too long and they needed some rest. More such occasions could be sought when homage would be paid to the departed leader.

Plumberji: (Interjecting): So madam, should we draft a new letter asking the President to approve my name?

Lady Maindhi: Wait! How impatient you look?

Aside (I can see you are already dreaming about the loaves and fishes of office. I know how you love to eat fish, especially that loathsome Maachher jhol that stinks to high heavens. But how can I forget that you had told that family retainer Jhadoo to swear you in even before my darling Lotus had boarded the plane that was to bring him to Delhi. No, you cannot be trusted)

Turning to Mumble Singh

(Loud) Well Mumble what do you say if we go back with your name instead of mine?

Mumble Singh, overcome with emotion falls at Lady Maindhi’s feet and while trying to look down, cannot but help letting a sly smile creep up to the corners of his mouth.

Mumble Singh: Oh madam, I am so unworthy of this august office that had been held first by that giant among us, your mother-in-law’s father, then by her and after her by that shining star of the country, your late husband. Madam, please reconsider. I am totally unworthy to sit in the chair from which such godlike people, divinely ordained, dispensed justice and largesse among the people of this country.

Lady Maindhi: Oh stop talking nonsense. Didn’t that nincompoop Barasingarao occupy it for full five years? Weren’t you his Finance Minister? So if he can sit on that chair, why can’t you? After all you are also not from the dynasty.

Mumble Singh: But Madam, while I was serving him, I was always looking towards you for guidance, and my eyes were constantly turned towards 10, Lokpath. You might have also noticed that when this imposter died and his followers tried to bring his body into the Party’s Headquarters, how stoutly the party members resisted that move. Did I even utter one word in his favour? No madam, because I knew he was just an interloper, even like the last Prime Minister we had from the Bhajan Party who was prone to writing and reciting poetry at every possible opportunity, instead of trying to do some real honest work. Please madam, do refrain from suggesting my unworthy name.

Aside: (Plumberji, now your goose is truly cooked. Just see how this putli will dance to my tune).

All exit.

                                                ******************************



Scene 3

Back in the President’s office. Enter Lady Maindhi, Mumble Singh and Plumberji.

President: Well, well, Lady Maindhi, have you consulted your family and pets? What is the decision?

Lady Maindhi: Oh, Mr. President, how I wish you were there? You would have heard the most heart-rending cries from the faithful, who just could not understand how that unworthy Submarine Sammy had wrecked all their hopes to see me anointed as the undisputed queen of this land. How they cried and beseeched me to reconsider? Oh what disappointments on their faces when I refused like Julius Caesar who had refused the crown three times? But eventually they understood and reconciled to their fate.

Well, Mr. President, we have decided to make this Mumble Singh here the leader of the house and he shall rule in my place till our Baabaa is ready to take over the command as is his rightful duty. Meanwhile, Mumble Singh will keep the seat warm by placing a sheepskin over the cushions in order not to pollute it with his rather too frequent gassy disseminations. By the way, Mumble, why do you eat so much dal? Why can’t you eat pasta like normal people?

President: A very good decision, Lady Maindhi, I daresay. Mumble Singh has all the qualifications for this office and although he is not an elected Member of Parliament, I am sure you would have thought of a safe constituency for him to fight a bye-election.

Lady Maindhi: No Mr. President, Mumble Singh cannot win an election even from the safest seat in Andhera Pradesh., where my loyal Reddy would be ever ready to ensure his success. We will have to think of a Rajya Sabha seat for him. I think Assam would be the right place, what with more than half the population consisting of illegal immigrants. We will smuggle in our Mumble Singh as one more and no one will notice. Anyway, he is hardly audible or noticeable. We will make CM Google search for a place for him and Google can be trusted to create a residence record for him.

President: Well, in that case Lady Maindhi, you may declare Mumble Singh as the leader and form the next government at the centre.

Signs the letter in front of him.

Here you are.

Shaking Mumble Singh’s hand,” Congratulations Mumble Singhji!. Today you have become the Prime Minister of this great nation. I hope you will prove to be its worthy son! Good luck, and may God Bless you!”

Lady Maindhi, Mumble Singh, and Plumberji exit.

President: Oh my countrymen, today I truly fear for you. The quirks of our electoral system have thrown up this unholy combination like the pot of poison that the churning of the oceans had thrown up. But then there was a God to swallow the poison and hold it in his throat. Today there are no gods and no devatas. Only puny, ambitious people, who will spread this poison among the multitudes, the hapless and the poor. Mark my words; this Mumble Singh is not as innocent as he looks. He nurtures within his bosom the grossest ambition and like Dr Faustus will not be loath to make a pact with the Devil if it gives him the power to rule. His ingratiating smile is the smile of the fox before it pounces upon his prey. Make no mistake; he will ruin this country for sure.

Fade.

                                                *******************************


ACT II

SCENE 1

Five years later. Year 2009. The Hall in the President’s Office.
New President, a lady in a saree is seated in her chair.

Enter Lady Maindhi, Mumble Singh.

Lady Maindhi: Greetings Madam President. As you must know, our coalition has again swept the elections. We have come to you for the formality of your permission to form the next government at the centre.

President: Yes, my dear Lady Maindhi. I was quite sure of these results. After all didn’t we have our own man as the Election Commissioner? How we stuck to our guns and appointed him in spite of the combined assaults of the opposition? I am glad you didn’t give that silly kalam-pusher another term in the office. One never knew what was happening under that mop of his. If that Nevla had not become the Election Commissioner, you may not have been able to get enough seats. You saw how at the last minute your candidates were declared victors even though they were trailing in the beginning. Even that cocky Chorambrum had to be rescued by Nevlaji. Now you see how important money becomes and its control? Why do you think we have such an interest in cooperative banks?

By the way, I have heard that you have decided to continue with Mumble Singhji as the Prime Minister till our Baabaa is fully ready to take on this onerous responsibility from his aging shoulders. What a day that will be? Once anointed, he will rule till the people completely forget the names of opposition parties and their leaders.

By the way, Lady Maindhi, I hope you have considered my name for the next term. Unfortunately our constitution does not permit more than two terms for the President. Else I would have requested you to keep me here in perpetuity to guide and help Baabaa. Maybe, Mumble Singhji you should think of the possibility of amending the constitution in this respect.

Mumble Singh: Sure Madam President. I will instruct the next law minister to seriously look into it.

President: (signing the letter): Here you are Lady Maindhi. Please go ahead and announce your new cabinet. I shall be pleased to swear them in at an auspicious hour of your choice.

Lady Maindhi: Thank you madam President.

(Aside): You really believe I will nominate you once more? Let your term finish and then you go back to the village from where we plucked you. We need this office for Mumble Singh and Plumberji when my Baabaa becomes the Prime Minister.

(Loud): All right Mumble, let us go. We have a lot of work to do.

Mumble Singh: Yes madam.

All exit.

                                    *************************************

Scene 2

Lady Maindhi’s residence at 10 Lokpath

Enter Lady Maindhi with Mumble Singh in tow.

Lady Maindhi: Mumble Singhji please sit down. Now let us finalize the cabinet. You, of course, will continue to warm the seat for Baabaa. By the way, have that sheepskin replaced. By now it must be stinking to high heavens. I don’t know when Baabaa will be ready and it may happen anytime; so I suggest you change the covering every week.

Mumble Singh: As you please Lady Maindhi. I will give an order for a new sheepskin to be put on the chair every week.

Lady Maindhi: Good. Now let me see. During the last term of five years we have not served the nation too well. You know, we allowed that Sugar Daddy and his sidekick Playful Petal to skim the cream and now see where they have reached. The first one is controlling the richest sport in the country and the second one has brought our Maharaja to utter ruin while enriching toddy tappers and elfin upstarts.

Mumble Singh: True madam. I am also learning that Sugar Daddy has become the richest man in the world, owning, I believe huge amounts of land in America and God knows where else.

Lady Maindhi: Even I have heard that. Can’t understand what he needs all that money for. After all he has only one daughter and she too is well settled. Now look at me, two children. My girl had to select that scrap merchant without any means, and how hard I have to work to make him respectable. Why, I had to literally twist the arms of that land-baron of Gurgaon to give my son-in-law a small share in his business. And look at Baabaa. He has found this floozy from some drugland and he won’t let go of her. Here I am working my bones off to make both ends meet, and he is gallivanting with her from an American lock-up to god knows where.

Mumble, this time we must not allow these interlopers to do all the service. We must replace them and show the nation who their true well wishers are.

Mumble Singh: Yes madam. May I suggest we keep Sugar Daddy in his ministry of Food & Agriculture? I will make such policies that will send inflation almost vertically up. That will cook his goose for sure. After all I have been with the World Bank for so many years. That is all we do in the Bank anyway. Our policies are designed to make nation’s bankrupt and whole populations destitute. We have a special expertise in this area. By the way I will advise Monty Spudseller to immediately implement the plan to ensure double-digit inflation in fifteen days’ time.

Lady Maindhi: Good. Let Plumberji continue to hold Finance. He cannot read one Balance Sheet from another and his budgets are as confusing as his pronunciation. But he is useful as the oldest member of our party and can be trusted to keep stray sheep in the pen. Also keep Chorambrum in his Home portfolio. He is a meddlesome fellow and thinks he knows everything. Even as a lawyer he has nothing much to show. I would rather trust his wife more at any time. But he is verbose and uses long, dramatic sentences to say nothing. His put-on accent also helps in keeping news editors amused. Besides, he was too cunning in his previous job where he allowed his son to manipulate the stock market and we have heard that the rogue has made a tidy pile of a few thousand crores through his father’s P Note and other leaks. We will sort that little brat when the time comes, but let us ensure that Chorambrum does no further damage in this area.

Mumble Singh: Right madam.

(Aside) Fortunately our friendly neighbours from across the border came in with their timely help and sent that Kasai and his team to clean up a bit of our Big City. How I used that opportunity to get rid of that paramour of yours? As Home minister he was a complete mess, though I believe he would spend hours in front of the mirror to try new clothes and hair gels. I don’t know what you saw in him, neither brains nor personality? But then who can understand the mind of a frustrated woman?
 
(Loud) And madam, may I suggest we give the education portfolio to Kapti Sybil. You know how many split personalities he carries! Every time he raises his eyebrow, like that screen-villain K. N. Singh, he looks so different. Madam he also has a great ability with numbers. He can make any number disappear and make it look like a round figure. He will raise our standards so high that in no time we will have zero illiteracy and zero absenteeism from schools and colleges.

Lady Maindhi: All right. I don’t much like him myself, but he is dangerous and should be kept in good humour.

Mumble Singh: Madam there is a lot of pressure from our ally in the south. His party is our largest partner and he is demanding a number of cabinet posts. Especially he wants cabinet ranks for his son, nephew, and one more that I am not sure if he is his son from a wife we know nothing about.

Lady Maindhi: What is his name?

Mumble Singh: He is called a raja but I am not sure if that is also his name. Maybe he is a prince of some little estate in the hills.

Lady Maindhi: Oh that raja. Don’t worry. He is not the old man’s son. My sources tell me that he is actually his son-in-law on the sly. I believe there is something between this raja and the old man’s daughter who has taken to writing poetry. Anyway, give him the Telecom portfolio. I am sure he will make a very useful contribution to us in that post.

And tell the old man we cannot accommodate his son, that good-for-nothing Hara-kiri. In fact he should suggest that course for him. The fool cannot speak one word of English or Hindi. What will he do here in Delhi? Even the south Indian stenographers have become extinct in this computer age.

Mumble Singh: But madam we cannot afford to displease the blind, old man. Why don’t we give Hara-kiri Chemicals  & Fertilizers? As it is these industries are frowned upon by the green activists and we may soon have to shut them down and outsource our requirements from the poor countries of Africa. If he resists shutting these industries the public will be angry with him, thereby saving us any embarrassment. His lack of communication will also annoy the people and I am sure he will ask us to relieve him of this burden.

Lady Maindhi: Good thinking, Mumble Singh. I didn’t know you had this ability.

Mumble Singh: (Aside) there is a lot you don’t know about me. Just wait and see how I twist you around my little finger. Changing the sheepskin every week! Wait and see how I will keep that yuppie puppy of yours cooling his dandy heels in the party office.

Loud: (ingratiatingly) Madam is too kind. Otherwise what is my worth?

And madam, to keep the old man happy we will give his nephew the Textile ministry. I have heard from my sources that the young man used to run a small garment unit before his father cemented his place in the government. So, he has first-hand experience of the industry. Further, there is not much money to be made here. Recession in the west and Chinese domination of the market will ensure the industry remains in the doldrums. We will upgrade him to cabinet rank so he will be able to flaunt his suits and ties. Quite a dandy isn’t he!

Lady Maindhi: Fine. So I think all the problem people have been taken care of.

Mumble Singh: Yes, almost madam. There remains the matter of that cantankerous woman from Banga. She buys new sarees and then deliberately crumples them up in order to look woeful and poor. I understand she never repeats a saree. Have you seen how her hair is also deliberately unkempt to go with the image? Actually she is an ambitious little witch and will do anything to be able to rule the state. However, we will have assembly elections there soon. Till then let us give her the Railways. This department has been doing without a minister for some time now, and the babus there are actually running it well. The last minister, that mumbling, bumpkin of a fodder-thief found himself completely off his tracks in this ministry and allowed it to run on its own, as he understood nothing of the technology or the logistics. The babus have found the arrangement very useful and have not troubled the minister at all. They would do the same with this Ditty from Banga and we will reap the benefit of trains actually running on time. She will spend all her time and energy in Banga trying to destabilize the incumbent party who have anyway done enough and more to destroy that state. Anybody can win an election against them this time. So, the chances are that Ditty will win and form the next govt. there. We should keep her in good humour and latch on to her sari palloo for some seats in the elections. Once she goes there, she is out of our hair for good.

Lady Maindhi: Smart thinking Mumbleji. Now we must hurry and finish the formation of the cabinet. Swearing-in has to happen tomorrow as it is the most auspicious day in the calendar. The Cardinal himself called me from the Vatican and told me the day and the time that would be most suitable for such a great event to take place.

They start poring over the list of names and filling the posts.

Fade out.

                                                ******************************

Scene 3

Prime Minister’s Office at 7, Ratrace Road

Enter Mumble Singh, addressing the audience

Mumble Singh: Oh! What a relief! Swearing-in is over and all the lip-smacking vultures have got their pounds of flesh. How easily I have manoeuvred the whole lot to my advantage! Another five years! Could anyone have imagined that I would be the Prime Minister of this country for ten years? TEN YEARS. And that too without having to win an election! Yes. Can you imagine me getting my feet dirty in the hustle-bustle of election rallies, running from one dirty village to another, picking up snotty little brats and wiping their bottoms? No, thank Wahi Guru for these mercies. Nobody can remove me from here now. Not that Plumberji, nor that chhokra who would like to be king. Change the sheepskins every week, my foot! What does she think? I am just a windbag farting around all the time? No, I am not a fool. Not for nothing have I been plotting ever since that Submarine Sammy told me about the reciprocity clause. It was destined that I should be in this chair today. Otherwise why would Plumberji have contrived to fall out of favour? No sir, your man of destiny is standing before you today. Be sure you watch his rise and continuous rise!!!

Enter Monty Spudseller

Monty Spudseller: Congratulations Boss! What a brilliant performance! Now what are my orders?

Mumble Singh: Monty, we have known each other for a long time now, even though you are so many years junior to me. After all we have worked for the same great organization that is the foremost expert in making healthy nations sick and completely ruining the sick ones. Now, we have retained Sugar Daddy in the Food & Agriculture ministry. He thinks he is the kingmaker because he has amassed all this enormous wealth. We want to put him in his place so that he never ever dares to glance at the Prime Minister’s chair, which, we know, he covets so much. Let your planning department create a situation where the country has galloping inflation in food products. As a matter of fact, I have promised Lady Maindhi that you will have a double digit rate of inflation within two weeks. So get along with the job.

Monty Spudseller: But sir, the agricultural production figures are very good and it will be difficult to raise the prices when supplies are profuse.

Mumble Singh: What nonsense! It is so easy. Just ask Food Corporation to buy all the food produced by raising minimum procurement prices. FCI doesn’t have enough storage space for all that grain and they will leave it in the open only to be destroyed by the elements and rodents. Simultaneously allow private buyers to buy as much as they can and let them hoard it, by selectively leaking this policy to them. You can depend upon the covetousness of your merchant classes to help you to the maximum in this noble endeavour. Soon your surplus will turn into a shortage. And then see the graph rising! That will put paid to any ambitions Sugar Daddy might have harboured.

Monty Spudseller: Brilliant sir. But what about Baabaa? How do you keep him in check?

Mumble Singh: You are still too young to understand the workings of a Faustian mind. Only when you have mastered all the arts and sciences do you look towards those teachers who can give you the knowledge of total control. I was lucky to have been apprenticed by that artful master Barasingarao who taught me so much. But what I learnt most from him was the art of total “inaction”. You do remember his famous statement; “taking no decision is also a decision”. How do you manipulate people and situations without appearing to be doing anything and yet things happen exactly as you wish and desire? I learnt this from Barasingarao, till then the only person who had completed a full five years as Prime Minister without belonging to the first family. How he managed to destroy the credibility of the Bhajan party by allowing them to demolish a disused mosque would have done credit even to Senor Machiavelli? And the manner in which he fixed those junglees from Jharkhand was just amazing. Have you ever heard of large sums of cash given as bribe for votes being deposited in Bank accounts?  Just look at the deep divisions he has left as his legacy. Not even that Mandal-vandal could achieve so much with his cock-eyed policies. It was his ego that got the better of him and his edifice came tumbling down like a house of cards. Now look at me. Do you see any ego? Similarly did Barasingha have an ego? No. That, my dear Monty, is the secret. All these Chorambrums, Baabaas, Kapti Sybils have huge ego problems. They can never reach the heights that men like me can. The only person who could really be a threat is Plumberji, but his indiscretion in 1984 has sealed his fate. Now just keep doing what I tell you and we both will reap the benefits.

Monty Spudseller: What benefits sir? In our last term what have we made?

Mumble Singh: You are too immature. Is money everything for you? Haven’t you read your Faust? What did he ask for when the devil gave him his powers? Did he ask for diamonds and palaces or any such things? No. All he asked for were some fruit that was out of season and some exotic delicacies. Played some harmless tricks on the Pope. Yes, what he really hankered for most was the kiss of Helen, the queen of Sparta. You see, I do not even desire that. What would you get from the fleeting kiss of a dead queen? After all how much money do you need? Hasn’t the state taken care of all our needs? Is there anything we want that has not been provided? It is only the shallow minds that want to hoard and collect filthy lucre. Look at Sugar Daddy. He may be the richest man in the world, but what good is his money? Cannot even keep his lips straight. And all the time worried about his connections with the resident of Clifton Karachi. What has that connection got him? Maybe a few thousand crores. But is he going to take them with him to the next world? No, all that will remain here. But one word of indiscretion and he is finished. I am sure he must not even be sleeping well. Or look at our patron Lady Maindhi herself. What has she got from all that money she keeps in Swiss banks? She has opened herself to blackmail by Cockroachies and such unsavoury characters. What for? Just a few billion dollars in foreign banks? Now look at me. Could you seriously have thought that I would be requested, yes REQUESTED, to occupy this office by a descendent of the Imperial family? Me, a man without any properties! No money or assets worth the name! But here I am, dear Monty. Listen to me and keep following my instructions. You and I will still make history in this land.

Now go, and put the wheels in motion.

Both exit.

                                               
******************************

ACT 3

Scene 1

Sometime in March 2011

Lady Maindhi’s residence at 10 Lokpath

Enter Plumberji

Plumberji: Good Morning Lady Maindhi. Did you wish to see me madam?

Lady Maindhi: (irritatingly) Yes Plumberji. What is this nonsense going on about corruption in the country? I am being told that the Supreme Court has started asking silly questions about spectrum allocation, commonwealth games, and some foreign accounts. Since when have the courts bothered about such trivial things? Don’t they have anything better to do?

Plumberji: I beg your pardon madam but our chosen people for some jobs seem to have gone overboard and now the media and the opposition parties have got some whiff of the situation.

Lady Maindhi: What nonsense? We had placed very trusted people in charge. Mumble Singh suggested the name of that raja for telecom and Golmali has been the chief of the Olympic Association for as long as I can remember. They have done no corruption. All the money they raised through spectrum sale and contracts for stadia has been fully accounted for and every rupee deposited in our accounts. And, of course, in the process if they have skimmed a few rupees off the top, should it really worry the courts? Ask Bahuji and she will confirm that what I am saying about Golmali is true. After all she is one great book-keeper. You remember when her father-in-law was the chief Minister of UP. It was she who managed all the books. Tell the media to speak to her. As for the telecom guy, he is too daft to even understand what skimming-off-the top means.

Plumberji: Yes madam. But the problem is that the CAG has done some calculations according to which the loss in spectrum sale is a huge number that I cannot even write down on one piece of paper. Similarly the loss in Commonwealth Games has been estimated to run to tens of thousands of crores. It seems our Income Tax department has been snooping upon some Nadia dame whose telephone conversations have been taped. I hear she has been promising heaven and earth to all and sundry. The opposition is asking for answers and won’t permit the Parliament to function.

Lady Maindhi: Oh Plumberji, you are so tiresome. Anyway, isn’t the IT department under you? How did they do such a stupid thing without your knowledge? And as for the Parliament, what difference does it make if it works or not? When has the Parliament done anything even when it functions? These opposition wallahs are just a bunch of buffoons. Throw a few crumbs to them and see how they will crawl. Go and do it at once. You know whom to use for this purpose. Speak to Mulla Yamsingh and his sidekick Humbersingh will arrange everything. Also talk to that Dotty Bukbuk and tell her to shed some crocodile tears on TV. That should soothe some hearts.

Plumberji: Madam, it is not just the opposition. It seems a new beast called civil society has suddenly taken birth. It is a very strange animal. At its head is an old demonetized Anna coin in a dhoti-kurta, while the rest of its body is made of thousands of clones wearing Gandhi caps and claiming to be Anna coins too. This animal is threatening to launch a country-wide agitation if all the skimmers-off-the-top are not put in jail.

Lady Maindhi: But I thought the Anna coins had been taken out of circulation more than fifty years ago. How come they are still around? Why don’t you just put this beast in Tihar jail and be done with it? What is so difficult about it?

Plumberji: But madam, this animal cannot be put in jail. It is the size of a behemoth and no jail is large enough to contain it. We have to do something about it before it gets out of our control.

Lady Maindhi: Ok. If you are so disturbed then throw that raja and his rani into jail. Even dump Golmali there. Anyway he suffers from dementia and cannot remember his own name. If you need to round up a few more people you can throw a few of the IAS officers and some businessmen in there too. Only make sure that the really important ones are not touched.

Plumberji: Like, madam?

Lady Maindhi: Look, I don’t want you to bring any harm to my Aamdani brothers. Especially the older one! I have so much reliance on his expertise in creating wealth from nowhere. He was very well trained by his father. Do you know how close he had become to my mother-in-law? She did nothing without consulting him. Unfortunately, the younger one has gone astray. He has made some very silly friends and his wife is no good. That is why he has been throwing rocks at some Miss Universe bimbo. But still, in his father’s memory, I’d like to protect him. You can haul up some of his executives and give them the treatment but do not harm him.

Plumberji: As you say madam. But the head of this civil society beast has threatened to go on indefinite fast if we do not bring in a piece of legislation and appoint an ombudsman that will oversee corruption in the whole country. They want to call him a LOKPAL.

Lady Maindhi: LOKPAL! Why would they like to have a caretaker for my road?

Plumberji: Not your road madam. The Lokpal will be a central authority that will have powers of investigator, prosecutor, judge and executioner. Kind of a multi-headed, multi-limbed being, as we have in our Hindu mythology.

Lady Maindhi: Oh you and your Hinduism! Such a stupid religion! Three hundred crore gods, and yet they cannot find an Indian to rule them. See how within only fifty years after independence from the British they have fallen on my feet to rule them? I tell you, you cannot govern by yourselves. You need a foreigner to whip you into shape. Now here is what I want you to do:

Throw that raja and his rani into jail.

Give his job to Kapti Sybil. He will make all the figures that you cannot write on a piece of paper vanish into thin air and show that the loss is one big zero. Next, unleash that Doggy from my kennel and let him loose upon this new beast. He will tear it to shreds in no time.

Tell our pet columnists and editors to start a campaign discrediting the move by the head of this beast. Call upon people like the drunken editor of Lookout and our spoonfed columnists to write scathing articles and editorials on the proposed fast. Start a blitz on our pet 24x7 TV channels and let our spokespersons Phoney Itwari and Insane Jhonny, with some guidance from Dotty Bukbuk, the screaming Sagging Ghost and her blinking husband throw every kind of accusation on this beast and discredit it completely. You see it will self-destruct in no time.

Now go and put this whole operation into active mode.

Exit.

                                                ********************************

Scene 2

Sometime in April 2011

No. 10, Lokpath

Meeting going on between Mumble Singh, Plumberji and Lady Maindhi

Lady Maindhi:: Mumble Singh, I am told the crowds are becoming bigger and bigger at the site of the fast.

Mumble Singh: Yes madam. The old geezer is proving quite a draw, and attracting a lot of young people to his cause. We have tried to dissuade them gently not to be swayed by what he says, but so far it does not seem to have worked.

Lady Maindhi: What do you think we should do? Maybe you should offer to resign. Our Baabaa can take over. He is young like these crowds. I am sure he will be able to strike a chord with them.

Mumble Singh: If you think so madam, I’m most willing to step aside and let Baabaa handle the situation. After all he will have to do it one day. But are you sure this is the right time? Young people are most unpredictable. Also the image of our government is not very bright. You have put the Telecom minister in jail as well as the MP from Pune. A number of senior bureaucrats and noted business barons are breaking bread in Tihar. The CAG and PAC are dead against us. Many more scandals are waiting to be exposed. Do you think we should let these burdens fall on the young, delicate shoulders of Baabaa?

Lady Maindhi: Maybe you are right. So what do you suggest?

Mumble Singh: Madam let us send Kapti Sybil to talk to this village fool. Sybil will twist him with honeyed words and promise him everything. Oh he can be no match for that wily fox. Let him promise that we will make a joint drafting committee with five of their members and five from our side. Plumberji here will chair this committee. Sybil, Chorambrum, Oily Moily and Salmonella will be the other members. Let them nominate any five from their side. I am sure that with Sybil and Chorambrum they will make no progress at all and after the tempers have cooled and all the agitators have gone back to their homes, Plumberji will announce a breakdown in talks and produce a draft bill that has already been prepared by me. Under this bill we will prosecute everyone who reports any corrupt act while ensuring that nobody of consequence from the government is harmed by it. Even the opposition will go along with us. After all they too have the deepest desire to serve the nation.

Lady Maindhi: Do you think it will work? What if that country bumpkin goes on another indefinite fast?

Mumble Singh: Madam you have forgotten how short people’s memories and interests are? I am sure civil society will see that it has been bested and in order not to look foolish again will desist from repeating its mistake.

Lady Maindhi: Well if you think so, then please put Sybil on the job right away.
Suddenly Lady Maindhi looks ill and collapses on a chair nearby.

Plumberji: (Alarmed) Madam, madam, what happened? Orre koi hai? Jol lao, dactor ke bulao.

Lady Maindhi: Oh I feel unwell. Suddenly my legs seemed to collapse under me. There is a sharp pain in my neck, and my head seems to be reeling. Please leave me now. I need some fresh air and rest.
All exit.
                                                ************************

Scene 3

29th August 2011

No. 7 Ratrace Road, Prime Minister’s Office

Mumble Singh is sitting behind his desk. He is looking quite exhausted. The strain is visible and his face is chalk-white.

Enter Monty Spudseller.

Monty Spudseller: Phew boss! That was a close one. For a moment I thought you had blown it and nothing would save us. Seeing those crowds surging all over Ramlila Maidan, and the support this one Anna was getting across the land, I thought our time was up. I truly thought so. In fact I had told my wife to start packing as we would have to head straight for Washington where there is always a value for my services.

Mumble Singh: Look at me. I have never been so taxed. These last 13 days have been the longest in my life. I had to resort to all kinds of subterfuge, chicanery and plain silence to thwart the members of this civil society. But they seem to have anticipated all our moves and cut through us like a swarm of locusts. Even I thought that I had overplayed my hand and I may have to quit and retire into the moonlight. You at least can still go back to Washington. Where will I go? Even that humble apartment in Assam is a bogus address and I have never paid any rent. The landlord will not let me even enter. Eventually, I may also have to take asylum in America. I hope that Bush remembers how much I flattered him and told him that all Indians love him madly. But, then I recall how mentally deficient he is. By now I am sure he has forgotten all about me or India or even about Iraq.

Monty Spudseller: Quite so. But now don’t you think the situation is under control?

Mumble Singh: For the time being, yes. You see, it was I who suggested that we form a committee and appoint five of our ministers on it. The idea was to string the civil society members along and then ditch the whole process. That part of the script has worked beautifully. Plumberji and his committee stand completely exposed as a bunch of cheats. These five were the closest threats to my continuance as the Prime Minister. Now they are neutralized. Baabaa will always remain a threat, but I had to plan my move with him with utmost caution.

Monty Spudseller: I don’t quite follow how you have removed his threat.

Mumble Singh: You are still a kid. Fortunately Wahe Guru came to my aid. He struck Lady Maindhi with a dreadful ailment, which has forced her to go abroad for immediate treatment. Naturally Binaca with her husband accompanied her. Baabaa too had to go and keep an eye on his brother-in-law. You never know when he might make Lady Maindhi sign some papers that would give him control over the Swiss accounts. These scrap merchants can never be trusted.

With the Maindhi clan out of my hair, I could plan my course without hindrance. First I let Sybil and Chorambrum detain and send the Anna to Tihar jail. That I knew would create immense anger against them. Then I ordered his unconditional release the same evening. I let him have his Maidan where he could stage his fast. For the next eight days I let him stew in his own juice. You see, I know he has a lot of resilience, having been in the army for some years. When I felt the time had come I allowed some middlemen like a model-turned-godman to intervene. This was all eyewash. These middlemen were made to talk to Plumberji, Kapti Sybil and Salmonella. I made it seem as if the government was willing to negotiate. Every time a breakthrough appeared to happen, I’d scuttle it. The masterstroke was my intervention in the two houses of parliament. All were expecting that I’d make a big announcement. But I kept them guessing and ultimately made it clear that the demands of the civil society would not be met. The fast was now entering a crucial phase. There was desperation on both sides. Again luck helped me. Baabaa’s first cousin, the estranged son of his uncle, put the civil society draft before the speaker as a private member’s bill. This was a godsend. I immediately informed Baabaa about this and he went berserk. “How dare that fat buffoon try to steal a march over me? I’ll show him his place. Tomorrow I’ll make an intervention in Parliament that will make history. Then we will see who becomes the true heir of the family throne!” he said.

Well, then you know what happened next. Baabaa made his intervention. I had already got it drafted for him and all he had to do was to read it from his ipad. And what a performance he gave? Clenching his fists and speaking as if he was declaring war on an enemy, he played the role of the pugnacious brat to the hilt.

That speech of his, my dear Monty, has finally removed any remaining aura he may have had. You should have seen the outrage in the public. People were marching from all over Delhi to his house to express their anger. Cleverly, I arranged to shut down the Metro stations near his residence. That caused more inconvenience to the public and built more resentment against him. Today I can say with confidence that Baabaa will not be any threat to me for the rest of the term of my government. His mother, if she returns from wherever she is getting treated, will not be able to tell me to keep the seat warm for her darling son. Changing the sheepskins every week! Let us see now who has the last laugh!! Ha! Ha! Ha!

Fade Out


THE END







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Thursday, January 24, 2013

RANDOM THOUGHTS


16th December 1971: the war in East Pakistan came to an end when the Pakistani Army led by Gen. Niazi surrendered to the Indian Army led by Gen. J.S. Aurora. Pakistan was dismembered as it lost its Eastern wing and the independent nation of Bangladesh was born. The events that led to this partition of a nation that by itself had been born out of a brutal vivisection of the sub-continent are well known and need no recounting here. Pakistan as a whole could not survive even a quarter of a century, and no matter how much spin its propaganda machinery may wish to put on India’s role in the events, the blame for the break-up rests squarely with the West Pakistani leadership symbolized by the adventurism of its Armed Forces represented by Gen. Yahya Khan, and the reckless ambition of its political class represented by Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. Despite the thrashing it got in this war and the generosity with which India handled the 90000 POWs captured in East Pakistan, Bhutto always believed that he had outwitted Mrs. Indira Gandhi at the Simla Conference. The truth, as always, lies somewhere in-between. Mrs. Gandhi could have extracted a more humiliating agreement from a vanquished foe, but despite her own rather dictatorial and imperious mentation, she could not resist the millennia-old civilizational imprint that the Vedic religion would have left on her DNA. The generosity of Hinduism derives from the ingrained belief that we are all part of that One underlying Reality of the Cosmos, and that there is none who can be called “the other.”

After the reality of partition had been rammed down the throat of Mahatma Gandhi and the Congress Party, India had come to terms with the changed circumstances and was willing to buckle down to the task of building a nation out of the ruins of colonial rule and partition. Pakistan too could have undertaken the task of reconstruction and rehabilitation in real earnest and, I am sure, it would have found a more than willing partner in that task in the people and the government of India. Instead, goaded by an ideology of a proselytizing Islam, it launched a military expedition almost immediately after independence to annex Kashmir on the pretext that the majority of the population in the valley was Muslim. Islam that had emerged from  the sands of Arabia in the 7th century had practically swept everything that had stood in its way and had established its hegemony over vast nations ranging from Moorish Spain through North Africa, Central Asia, the Middle East, Indonesia and some other parts of South-East Asia. Islamic armies had been invading the Indian sub-continent from the 8th century onwards and some Muslim kingdoms came up in the North long before the Mughals conquered Delhi and firmly established an empire ruled by Muslim kings. In its ambitiously self-confident and stridently Abrahamic way, Islam tried not only through compulsion but also invited conversion to it of a large number of socially exploited Hindus. However, in spite of such a long, continuous political rule by Islam, India did not get substantially converted to the faith of the rulers. This is an unprecedented Islamic failure, as was noted by Mahatma Gandhi’s grandson, Ramchandra Gandhi. The culmination of this failure, according to him, “is the partition of India, and the seeking of a piece of land, Pakistan, by Muslim separatists not in battle but from a third party, the British, in petitionary negotiations, a final embarrassment.” It is this ‘embarrassment’ and not the loss of Kashmir that is behind the continued hostility of Pakistan towards India. The ‘unfinished business of partition’ that its leaders keep reverting to is the failure of Islam to attract the majority of Hindus to its faith. Pakistan’s reaction to the military defeat in 1971 is not of an army having overreached itself and engaged a far superior antagonist in combat, but the anguish of having been unable to impose religious hegemony over the sub-continent. Bhutto’s promise of a thousand year war and Gen. Zia’s strategy to bleed India through a thousand cuts are not mere rhetoric. They are at the core of Pakistani ideology and the raison d’être for its existence.

The recent skirmishes across the LOC in Poonch sector and the barbaric beheading of Lance-Naik Hemraj are nothing but a manifestation of this millennia-old frustration of Islam with Hinduism. Having abandoned its sufi traditions it has come into direct conflict with a belief that is both idolatrous and iconoclastic at the same time. Hinduism has the iconoclastic advaita at one end of the spectrum, the other end of which is a riotous worship of images of all forms and shapes. Non-sufi Islam is not able to comprehend that form itself could be an attribute of the formless. It is due to this incomprehension that there is no immediate possibility of religious peace in the sub-continent. Attempts at political, cultural and economic rapprochement are important in their own way; candle-light vigils on the borders and aman ki asha invitations to Pakistani musicians and singers and resumption of sporting ties can only bring temporary peace; but they are unlikely to be abidingly successful until Islam abjures its self-imposed isolationism and suspiciousness. 

Unfortunately, India after Nehru has been unable to build upon its democratic traditions so carefully articulated in the Constitution by Dr. Ambedkar, and nurtured by Nehru and Shastri. The untimely death of Shastri within about a year-and-a-half of Nehru’s passing did not allow India enough time to develop the political maturity that a settled democracy requires. The Congress satraps at the centre and in the states brought all their manipulative skills into play when they pitch forked Nehru’s daughter into her father’s chair in the misplaced belief that they would be able to pull the strings from behind the curtain and effectively control her to their material and political benefit. Indira Gandhi was too shrewd for them and by splitting the Grand Old party she not only marginalized the old men but created a class of party members who had no political base of their own and were totally dependent on her for their survival. These courtiers multiplied in numbers as they saw the fortunes of absolutely worthless and insignificant individuals soar, only by virtue of their proximity to the lady. By the end of 1971 she had become invincible and soon thereafter began to demonstrate the first traits of dictatorship. The imposition of the emergency in 1975 completed this phase when like Mussolini she cleared the beggars off the streets and made the trains run on time, achievements which were thought to excuse Fascism. Stalin had told H. G. Wells in an interview that “obsolete classes don’t voluntarily disappear.” Indira Gandhi and her younger son set about this task of making “obsolete classes” disappear through such programmes as forced sterilization, bull-dozed evacuation and wholesale incarceration of political opponents. The media was co-opted through economic and physical terror and made to fall in line with the official policy. The transformation of the Congress was complete and till date it has not recovered from the depredations of Indira Gandhi and her descendants. However, I believe that her voluntarily lifting of the emergency and calling for elections in 1977 was due to an atavistic belief in democracy that her father had instilled into her from a young age. Like Nasser she might have wondered if it was “really possible to change the future of our country by eliminating this or that person, or is the problem deeper than this?...We dream of glory of the nation. But which is more important, to eliminate those who ought to be eliminated. Or to bring forward those who should be brought forward?”

Her violent removal from the scene did nothing to change the political health of the country and the diseased cells of the body politic continue to feed upon the national organism. But Indira Gandhi had one quality that has been lacking in the leaders who followed her. When it came to Pakistan, she, like Anthony Eden, “stood for peace, but would not appease.” Rajiv Gandhi, though well-intentioned, was too inexperienced and naïve and soon found out that to survive in the murky power corridors of Delhi he needed the same courtiers, (who by now had become power-brokers) he had initially shunned and railed against. The socialist Prime Minister of France, Leon Blum had once told the dramatist Jules Renard that “the free man is he who does not fear to go to the end of his thought.” Rajiv Gandhi dared but dared too little and eventually sacrificed his freedom when he was afraid to go to the end of his thought. The Bofors and other scandals that broke during the later part of his rule completely incapacitated him from providing any kind of effective leadership when Gen. Zia unleashed Operation Gibraltar that would make India bleed through a thousand cuts. The insurgency in Kashmir led to the exodus of nearly 4 lakh Pandits from the valley who became refugees in their own land. The valley today is almost 100% Muslim whereas the presence of the Pandits in Jammu has put additional pressures on the economics of that province. The reaction from the Hindu right saw the demolition of the Babri Masjid followed by the Mumbai riots in 1992-93 that have marked the complete polarization of the two communities.

All the leaders who emerged after Indira Gandhi have, however, abandoned her policy of no appeasement and have whole-heartedly embraced the politics of vote-banks. Indira had seen to it that there would be no challengers to her leadership in the Congress party and she deliberately set about emasculating it in every state. Her son followed her precept and by the time he was also violently removed from the scene the Congress party had vacated the corridors of power in most of the states. This space had now been occupied by regional satraps, who exploited regional sentiments like language and caste, and economic issues like sharing of resources. A veritable forest of regional parties sprung up to claim power in the states and these have by now evolved into personal fiefdoms of the bosses. A new system of patronage and favouritism in contracts has led to immense fortunes being made out of nepotism. Corruption has grown permanent roots in this forest leading to a system that is best described in Harold Macmillan’s words who called English politics as one of “casino capitalism” by the “aristocracy of second class brewers and company promoters.” Borrowing another phrase from him, the Congress front bench today resembles a “disused slug heap.”

The leadership’s preoccupation with the mundane task of building financial war chests have left them with no stomach for a fight and appeasement comes naturally to them. The surrender at Kandahar was the beginning of this phase of Indian capitulation, notwithstanding the heroic recovery in Kargil at a terrible cost in lives. The 2002 Godhra riots and the BJP’s inept response to the crisis were largely responsible for its ouster from the centre in 2004. However, the Congress led by Manmohan Singh in the front and Sonia Gandhi in the background have scaled even higher peaks of ineptitude, corruption and appeasement. Winston Churchill had called Ramsey MacDonald, the first ever Labour Prime Minister of the UK, “a sheep in sheep’s clothing.” He had also referred to Lord Attlee as a very nice modest man, “who had a good deal to be modest about.” I wonder what he would have had to say about our present appointed Prime Minister. Like Leverett Saltonstall, three times the Governor of Massachusetts, Manmohan Singh is “not an Olympian; he will never mimic Prometheus. The blasting fires of creation do not rage in his lean belly.” Future historians will recall this period of Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi in the same words as were used to describe the legacy of the Italian Dictator, Mussolini: “he left nothing, his career was not nutritious!”

Generalissimo Chiang Kai-Shek once said: “If we perspire more in times of peace, we will bleed less in times of war.” Perhaps, as Leon Trotsky wrote, “the whole extremely diseased process can be ended only by a change in the entire social system.” The public reaction to the horrible gang rape that happened aboard a bus in Delhi on the 41st anniversary of the Pakistani army’s surrender in East Pakistan, may have finally tipped the balance against this “diseased process” and we may be witnessing the first stirrings of a nation whose soul had become dead in the blind pursuit of material wealth led by “sheep in sheep’s clothing” and had completely forgotten the tremendous legacy of the early Indians whose imagination dared to traverse and map the entire cosmos and who gave expression to such profound thoughts as sarva khalva idam brahma.

If, after all this, we still continue to elect leaders like these to high office, then we must believe like Albert Schweitzer that “all thinking men must renounce the attempt to explain the universe.”