Monday, July 18, 2011

Luna Inter Minores

I have had the privilege of being taught by a score of stalwarts in my sojourns across the length and breadth of my country. I remember many of them and try to remember some of the things they taught me.

One person who I found myself reminiscing about very recently is a teacher who I never had the privilege of meeting in a class but who nonetheless has left an indelible mark on my perceptions of his subject. It was many years back that I had sought admission for his course but since I had arrived a little late, was denied entrance. I could have taken admission elsewhere but he commanded such an inviolable stature that I chose to tutor myself with borrowed notes of his class rather than opting for another teacher.

I remember vividly those winter afternoons when I would sit by myself and eagerly peruse another set of photocopied notes. The genius of his pedagogy was such that even in that solitude, the words would spring forth from the paper as if he himself was guiding me through the nuances of the subject. They were always concise, simple and unimpeachably well-structured.

It was during one such lesson that I came upon his elucidation of the Constitutional position of the Prime Minister of India. We all know that considered in a purely theoretical form, the PM is a part of the Council of Ministers who aid and advise the President of India in running the affairs of the country. Yet, the PM is also the Head of this Council, the “Prime” minister. Various authors have described him as the “chief of the government”, the “leader of the majority party in Parliament”, the “executive head of the govt.” etc. etc. All of them are correct, but none puts it across in a manner that is not just perfect but also unforgettable.

All, that is, except Sir. He described it in three simple words, “Luna Inter Minores”. The Little Moon among the Stars. Affirming the fact that while the PM is an equal amongst his contemporaries in the Council of Ministers, he is a little more equal than the others. A first among equals.

It’s been years since I first read this description but never has it faded from my memory. And with each recollection, it establishes anew the power a teacher holds in our lives.

An anecdote I remember in this connection relates to Alexander The Great and his tutor Aristotle. They were out hunting and had gotten separated from the main party. While trying to find their way back, they came across a river in spate, with no bridge in sight. Aristotle was of the opinion that he should cross over first and then secure Alexander’s safe passage with the help of a rope. But even before he could move, Alexander had waded into the river, struggled across to the other bank and thrown a rope back to help Aristotle cross.

When Aristotle reached the other bank, he was livid for he saw Alexander’s action as rash and a needless risk for the King to take with his own life. Alexander, however, not only placated him but paid him a genuine homage when he humbly said that had a misfortune befallen him, the world would have lost but one Alexander; had the same misfortune befallen the teacher, the world would have lost countless Alexanders.

Thank you Sir, not just for teaching us but for giving us an education.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011


She is but a little girl, for the moment pretending to be a woman. She is pretty, the wheatish complexion of her oval face framed in a cascade of raven-dark tresses. She wears a white shirt with little yellow hearts on it and an ochre-coloured skirt to match. The belle’s on her feet are golden, as are the tiny bows on their tongue. She is pretty, for sure. And she knows it, as her proud smile can barely conceal.

He sits across the table from her, older in years but visibly enraptured by her effervescence. His awe at her charms does not go unnoticed by the bystanders. He regains his composure and in a voice befitting his stature, gently commands her to remove her spectacles.

She seems amused, perhaps amazed at his bidding. With the practised air of a lady, she pulls the eyepiece off her face and lays it on the table between them, only too aware of how enchanting she must look now. Yet, her face betrays no emotion, no conceit. Merely acquiescence in this game of maturity.

He knows that despite her pretended pride, she is unsure as to what happens next. So he plays his part, careful not to tread upon her esteem in the process. He leans across the table, cradles her cheeks in his hands and gently pulls her closer. Her eyes never leave his face as she yields to his directives and allows him to draw her further across the table.

When he senses that she is at the perfect spot, he reaches out and pulls the apparatus along the table till her chin nestles snugly on it. Within moments, her retina scan is complete, followed by a quick digital impression of her fingerprints. The mandatory paperwork takes another few minutes and with its completion, this little girl of ten joins the ranks of the teeming millions who have become part of India’s most ambitious demographic exercise till date.

Welcome to AADHAAR, the Multipurpose National Identity Card project of the Govt. Of India.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011


Let’s try a rhetorical question-what is more random, the hapless ranting of a battered heart or the methodical, mannered machinations of an administration? Surprisingly, it would seem that the latter is the answer, trumping the former by an uncomfortably healthy margin. Perhaps Nietzsche was correct in saying that a casual stroll through a lunatic asylum is sufficient to learn that faith does not prove anything.

National Highway 1 of India is currently in the throes of an expansion spree. It is not just the oldest National Highway and an arterial lifeline but also a source of pride, given its antecedent history. Yet, the manner in which it is being treated and the consequent treatment it metes out to those who ply its span is appalling to say the least.

I have driven across it very regularly over the past few months. The expansion of the existing 4 lanes started over a year back but is far from being complete. China completed the 41 km long Jiaozhou Bay Bridge in four years but our highway is nowhere in the vicinity of completion. Forget nearing completion, it is not even past the threshold that might be said to be the beginning of the end. Save a few intermittent stretches which bestow you the grace of an unhindered drive, the predominant span of the road is pockmarked with diversions. And here I do not mean the sedate form of diversions that beseech you to kindly opt for an alternate path. I am referring to the mind-numbingly annoying yellow boards, hand-painted with a scraggly black line, that appear before just as you have finally gained some momentum. Bad enough as they are during daylight, they are potentially lethal at night.

But let’s play the devil’s advocate and treat these diversions as a functional imperative. Let us also don the mantle of punctilious, law-abiding citizens who heed the law in letter and spirit. This then exposes to us the true intellect of the gems who man our administration. I am not, admittedly, so conscientious as to not succumb to the temptation of tweaking a few rules every now and then to suit my convenience. And thankfully so, for if I was one such, these wizards who make the rules would have me drive at a speed not exceeding 20 kilometres per hour for almost 100 kilometres in a 250 km journey! Sure, these people are the experts but has any of these geniuses ever even tried to drive a car at the speed of 20 kmph-I did and trust me, even those obscenely over-loaded tractor trolleys rumble past you effortlessly while its occupants shoot quizzical looks at you.

Speaking of obscenity, one wonders who runs the Censor Board these days. This is the same august body that once had a problem with showing smoking onscreen lest it corrupt the impressionable minds of our future generations. How then did they overlook the inherent vulgarity of the abomination called “Delhi Belly”? Forget the movie, it is impossible to resist a spate of uncomfortable cringing should you be unfortunate enough to have any of its songs play on the radio as you drive across your city with even your domestic help in the car. Or is it possible that the members of the Board are so ingenuous and have lived a life so much more sheltered than the one Gautam Buddha’s father envisaged for him that they do not know what successive enunciations of the name “DK Bose” allude to?

Any fool can make things worse and more complex. It takes a touch of genius, however, to continue to move in the same direction. And the government seems hell bent upon proving its brilliance.

But then, as the ancient Chinese said,

Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me”.