Barely a week into 2019 I am still trying to figure out what exactly is so ‘new’ about this New Year that is upon us. The balance in my bank account has not changed for the better, nor has my weight, nor the cost of living, while the future all around looks depressingly same as a smog-struck Delhi winter day.
Ideally, a really New Year should have meant I had enough money to retire forever and as a bonus all the hair I lost in fifty years on this planet – mysteriously returned – black and shining. No such bloody luck – instead it is the same fading grey mop every time I stare into the mirror.
Making things worse, in the news every day are the usual cast of vile characters telling us the same old lies. Concocted issues like Sabarimala, cow shelters, test tube babies in ancient India, building temples for fictional characters – but nothing about what matters to me the most – how do I pay my bills at the end of each month?
Talking about lies and paying bills, I got an idea the other day when my father, a retired professor in his mid-eighties, suddenly popped the question, ‘Do you have a pension plan?’.
‘No’ I said, burying my face further into my laptop. ‘Do you have any fixed deposits?’ he persisted. ‘Nope!’ I said, thinking he had perhaps noticed my thinning hairline and was worried about his son becoming both bald and bankrupt not far into the future.
A few minutes later, I have no clue what came over me, I said to him, ‘I don’t have any money stored away but I have located a nice, big tree’. He did not look very impressed so I continued, ‘I will put a statue of Lord Ganesha, under that tree and that’s my pension plan. I look after Ganesha and he looks after me!’
I understand, in a caste-driven society like India, this is a ‘start up’ route accessible only to certain privileged communities- but what I am trying to highlight is that the Lord Ganesha Pension Plan (LGPP) is a tried and tested method for financial success. In fact, set up a house for any God and soon you will also have a roof over your head. And if you can get your Ganesha to drink milk in public you are in really serious business!
In a nutshell here is a good formula for making a reasonably good livelihood. Think of a wild story – the wilder the better, polish its twists and turns well, test it out on a few people and then launch it with fanfare amidst the unsuspecting public. If you gather a sufficient number of ‘likes’ you are in business – why you could even become the Prime Minister of India someday failing which you could be at least the vice-chancellor of a prestigious Indian university.
Am I being sarcastic? No, seriously I am not. What I am trying to really do is to figure out is how the world works or at least how the resources on it are carved up – and I am convinced, those who have the most compelling stories to tell are usually the winners. Most people grow up with stories in their heads that help them cope with and navigate past the details of the complex reality all around. If you can replace their stories with your own crazy tale then you are the new king!
Of course, there is a catch to all this because there is no such thing as a story that is cleanly told or anything purely voluntary about the willingness of those hearing it. People need to be coerced into becoming a ‘target audience’. Historically and up to our own times the most effective way of helping otherwise disinterested folks concentrate on the message has been to get them really worried and fearful.
Conjure up images of evil demons that threaten their survival, paint visions of a bleak future – even better – start a war. It is a technique as old as human societies themselves -herd them like stricken cattle and you will be finally heard. Nothing works to change people’s minds than repeatedly hitting them on the head or putting them in the slaughterhouse to do all the ugly work on their own.
Once fear takes over you can get them to worship any fancy deity you deck up or unreasonable tale you cook up and present before them. The ancient Egyptians had over 2000 gods and ran an empire for three millennia while the Hindu priests – being better mathematicians- conjured even larger numbers to keep their vast and diverse population under control. The more unreasonable the story the better – flying primates, gigantic snakes under the sea, mangoes as IVF substitutes, whatever your mind – fertilized by Himalayan narcotics – can bring up.
The LGPP of course needs some spadework initially but in the long run it does seem to deliver – at least going by evidence from Indian history – the priests are still hanging on to power. And it is not a coincidence at all that in the early part of the 21st century the ‘big idea’ for the pandas of Uttar Pradesh and their assorted allies still revolves around the construction of yet another temple. They are indeed one-trick ponies and why not – for in their experience this one trick has worked for centuries– providing an endless supply of free fodder paid for by the devout.
In fact, not just in India, but globally, mythology – a fancy term for wild stories- is so important and still plays such a big role in determining social, political and ultimately economic outcomes. And not just in ‘backward’ societies but even in the western ‘developed’ world, where for all their pretense of engaging in logical or rational discourse, there are enough grand fictions –enabling them to keep their privileges alive. These are myths that allow them to take whatever they want from everyone else – while the suckers sit engrossed you simply pick their pockets.
For example, one of the tallest tales ever pushed on the global population in modern times is that the world is divided into the rich and poor because the former were the ones who developed science and technology, carried out the industrial revolution besides being far more hard working than the latter. The terms ‘colonialism’ or ‘imperialism’ never enters the discourse – despite the obvious fact that if not for the massive resource grabs carried out by European invaders in the Americas, Africa and Asia for the last five hundred years– science would have remained a mere curiosity. (Many a scientist has remained poor– simply because stealing from neighbours while pretending to solve a differential equation was never part of their syllabus).
An even bigger piece of global fiction, in the post-second world war period, is that colonialism ‘disappeared’. Yes, the trappings of the Raj did go away somewhat but the milking of former colonies in myriad ways never stopped – a favourite strategy being the sale of expensive war weapons by the rich nations to poor countries where large sections of the populace do not even have the BMI to throw stones at their enemies.
For example, the real scam about the purchase of Rafael fighter jets by India, at Rs.16 billion a pop, is not just about the commissions paid – but the very idea that it should be buying such expensive gadgets at all when its people die like flies for want of sufficient nutrition, shelter or medicine. (The only French import India desperately needs, in my view, is perhaps the guillotine, though there are some local substitutes that would do as well!)
The biggest lie of them all is of course the claim that the former colonial powers are the ‘developed’ nations while the rest should continue ‘developing’ – to become like their erstwhile masters. This is the old donkey and carrot routine – the ‘developing’ donkey never really gets the ‘developed’ carrot hanging in front of it despite working like a donkey all of its life. And now the donkey and its master are both headed towards ecological apocalypse too!
There are many more such myths that are meant to prop up the global power architecture but getting back to India – where are our own political and economic elites in all this? Well, they too are spinning the usual outlandish stories – about high economic growth rates, growing scientific manpower, great market potential and so on to impress their masters in the West.
But what they really want to do, I suspect, (being the freeloaders they are) is to simply continue tightening the grip of the Vedic kleptocracy that has been running Indian society from ancient times. A kleptocracy that was shaken up briefly by the coming of first Muslim, then British colonial rule and even by the Indian freedom movement, but one that never disappeared from the ground or diminished in ambition (it kept burning on and on in the hearths of Nagpur).
In the last two decades in particular this bunch of savarna kleptos have only gotten bolder – violating the Indian Constitution openly, indulging in both public violence and secret assassinations, organizing newer and newer constituencies of the willingly gullible. And now in 2019, with their man Narendra Modi looking like a losing proposition – they are bound to do something even more desperate and dangerous to keep the kleptocracy going. It could be anything – war, riots, countrywide chaos – the Indian Republic be damned.
So, what is one supposed to do about all this? I don’t have any clever answers or even dumb ones but my own resolution for 2019 is quite simple. It is to not just tell lies but also help everyone else do the same.
In India’s Season of Unreason,the time to fight fibs with facts is long over. The only effective weapon of the weak, to deal with the lies of those in power, is to tell even more outrageous, colourful and beautiful lies. If you want you can join me – all of 2019 lies ahead.