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Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Child prodigy, birthday, and brilliant policies

A ten-year old girl came to see me with her dad and elder brother, having heard a lot about me from the latter. For a space of fifteen minutes or so, she bombarded me with questions – ‘How did magic originate? Do you believe in the curse of Tutankhamen? Does the universe have a beginning or end? Do you think Antonio in The Merchant of Venice was really a good Christian? Did the Red Sea really part? Do swans really sing before they die?’... I hope you get the drift. I cannot say when I last met a child of this kind of mental calibre, and how much I am looking forward to having her in my class. It goes without saying that she, unlike 90% of Indian children, is a voracious reader, and that most of her teachers regard her as a dangerous pest. I was reminded of Sigmund Freud’s aphorism that I myself have fixtured at the bottom of this blog, and I blessed her by saying, ‘Ma, grow up into a human being, not a mere female’.

My daughter became nineteen today. We celebrated with lunch at a fancy restaurant, and the crème brûlée for dessert was especially good. The waiters were superbly trained: they brought the customer feedback slip for my daughter to fill in, and the bill to me. Which is just as it should be in a world where girls were not stupidly dying to be treated as ‘equals’. The day I start treating women as equals, I shall not look back to see whether they are having trouble with heavy luggage, flat tyres, roaches, shortage of money or perverts harassing them on the road. And I shall expect them to talk politics, economics, psychology, history and philosophy with me. That will be the day.

Our leaders have finally woken up to the deadly threat of pollution, it seems. So one genius of a chief minister has ordered only odd- and even numbered cars to come out on the roads on alternate days, and another district magistrate of similarly sharp intellect has ordered that one block in his district will be closed to all private vehicles every day. It seems only our rulers cannot figure out the either disastrous or ludicrous consequences of the decisions they take. In the 1980s I was already writing that the way things were going in this country, lack of land for any kind of developmental activity and overwhelming pollution of the soil, air and water would eventually spell our doom. I quote myself: ‘By the time China and India catch up with the American standard of living, there won’t be enough oxygen left in the air to breathe’. Woe to this country that a few years after I wrote those lines in a national newspaper, our government embarked on a policy of wholesale Americanization of – if possible – every walk of life. Whereas if sanity had prevailed, we should have gone with the European/Japanese model as far as we could. In the sphere of transportation, for instance, a poor, overpopulated, resource-scarce country should have made an all-out effort to develop public transport, not indulged the latent craze for private cars. And now that today the floodtide of cars is threatening to overwhelm us, we are trying absolutely crazy ideas to control it. God help us.

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