(Published on October 3, 2015 in Business Standard)
I’ve been having this vision problem lately. I’ll be out in the world, among civilised smiling people, well-dressed, well-educated, well-spoken, going about their business sipping cocktails, or working diligently, or buying soap or whatever. Suddenly it’s as if the skin of the world slips a bit and all I see, underneath the pleasant smiles, is a bunch of savages with bloodstained lips and murderous intent. Then they’ll say something very normal, like ‘I just got promoted, so I’m donating lots of money for the welfare of the girl child,’ and the skin realigns.
Ha ha! Just kidding. Nobody says that.
Anyway, this is why I love watching toddlers at play. There’s no deceptive civilisational veneer in the way: what you see is what you get. They’re just nodes of primal emotion and instinct, nakedly violent and power-hungry. They gang up two against one to snatch a toy, then fight each other for the toy, then regroup in an entirely new configuration to repossess the toy. They howl, kiss, kick each other, and break stuff. They waddle off to tattle on each other with a highly doctored history of what happened. Then they make up by collaborating sweetly on pulling the wings off a fly or torturing a puppy.
Objectively speaking, we’re looking at instinctively manipulative, double-crossing opportunists with no principles. While they can be tender, they show almost exalted imagination and creativity when it comes to inflicting pain. The exalted part is that they don’t need a reason, let alone a good one. If kids weren’t designed to look unbearably cute, adults would exercise rationality and snuff them out. Rationality is moot, however: it turns out that adults are just taller toddlers in more expensive clothes. William Golding told us so, but who’s got time to read Lord of the Flies when you’re busy spreading lies about your neighbours and sticking knives into your friends’ backs?
Under the cologne and the small talk, we’re savages. There’s no better time to remember that than while savouring the creamy pink flesh of a medium-rare beefsteak. I ordered it for Mohammed Akhlaq, who was murdered by a mob because someone said there was beef in his fridge. But mostly I ordered it because I like beef. You are entitled to be upset by this, and I’m free to not give a flying cow’s carcass. That is how the Constitution works. (I regret that my steak was not actually cow, but then neither was the meat in Akhlaq’s fridge.)
So I chomped on my juicy and delicious steak, drank a few drinks, and listened to some music, and felt, well, tired. I hope very much that when the rest of the world looks at us, they too will see the skin of India slip a bit. We can brag all we like about our youth, our economy, and our rightful place on the Security Council, but when the digitally forward, commercially vibrant, Bollywood-obsessed, philosophically sophisticated, ancient, charming skin of India slips, it is a truly nasty sight.
So, world, come Make in India. You will make hills of money. The only thing is, you might actually have to live here. You should know that present-day India is the sort of ancient, proud, powerhouse society that could also decide to break down your door and kill you because it doesn’t like the sound of your dinner. Then the police and the politicians will say tut-tut, your mistake. That’s how they think the Constitution works.
While you’re deciding whether or not to come, please re-read Lord of the Flies, and evaluate your appetite for risk. But if you do come, I’ll take us both out to a fabulous steak dinner. It would be my absolute pleasure.