October 30, 2020
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Conspicuous Austerity

“They are travelling by third class instead of first class on air,” he warmed up. “What a joke! Let them travel by bus and get rid of their gunmen! Then we’ll see!”

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Conspicuous Austerity
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The headline on the TV channel blared: “Sonia leads by example!” The anchor woman gushed: “Sonia Gandhi will travel by economy class, Rahul will travel by train!” Each VIP is outdoing the other to declare his or her support for austerity and the resolve to air travel by economy class. Rival TV channels are breathlessly competing against each other to propagate this revolutionary, radical step. The Left leaders and Pranab Mukherjee remind the public that they have always been revolutionary. They were travelling economy class earlier.

One TV channel sought a sound byte from eminent sociologist Ashish Nandy on this revolution. He said almost apologetically that the step had a measure of dishonesty by being mere display. However, to soften the blow perhaps, he added: “It will certainly have a political impact!” Will it? What do people at large think of this austerity drive? Nobody knows.

The other day I gave my car for servicing. I had to travel by auto rickshaw. There were two rickshaws at the auto stand. A fat Sikh straddled one and a thin Sikh sat on the other. The fat man was slotted first. I got into his rickshaw. The thin man walked up and put a hand on the fat man’s shoulder. He said earnestly: “Bauji, he suffers from epilepsy! Don’t get alarmed if he drops from his perch and rolls on the ground frothing foam from his mouth! After a while he will recover and carry on!”

I gave him a startled look. The fat man looked up at the thin man and shook with silent laughter. “Your sister,” he spluttered through tears of laughter dancing in his eyes. “Your sister!” he gasped. The thin man gave a broad toothy grin and retreated satisfied to his perch.

My bewilderment vanished as I realized they were pals sharing a joke. I wonder how many VIPs would be tickled by this robust display of rustic humour. The fat man kick started the machine and we were on our way. After a few crossings we entered a traffic jam. The auto hiccupped to a stop behind a long line of traffic. There was VIP movement at work.

As we waited interminably the fat man turned to me and said: “Every small fry is a VIP now. By law only the President, the PM and a foreign dignitary can stop traffic. But look at them. Now every racketeer with gunmen all around him holds up traffic!”

“It’s very frustrating,” I said.

“They are travelling by third class instead of first class on air,” he warmed up. “What a joke! Let them travel by bus and get rid of their gunmen! Then we’ll see!”

“Do many people feel the same way?” I asked.

“Bauji,” he said earnestly. “If people had their way they would drag these rogues by their hair through the streets. What can people do? They are helpless!” He sighed and lapsed into silence.

I wonder when Ashish Nandy last traveled by auto…


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