The Emperors who love their new clothes

CWG: As I see(saw?) it

As the brickbats metamorphose into bouquets, Rising India heaves a collective sigh of relief. For weeks, its women and men got force fed with exactly the kind of ugly news that they had started believing was on its way to becoming a thing of the past. Every morning, television and newspapers nudged another bit of flimsy cover off organizers’ incompetence and rapacity, leaving a foul taste in our mouths, bringing us face-to-face with the truth regarding our sheer lack of moral fiber. How painful it was for clean, well-to-do and tech savvy India to know that the taxes it coughed up so that poor India looked a little less embarrassingly so, were being used to pay the car/petrol/foreign trip/house renovation bill of some remorseless babu, or whoever his favorite private vendor was! The ballooning Commonwealth bill made us groan in bitter agony. The final nail in the coffin was the unclean lavatories that greeted the visiting gora inspectors. Why in the name of buckling bridges, we asked, could we not flush the stinking mess before the world saw it? And why did the overzealous video journalists have to make sure that the incriminating evidence was preserved for posterity, rendering generations of smart, hygienically conscious urban Indians vulnerable to jokes that began with, “What do the Indian, the Pakistani, and the one-year old have in common”?

The embarrassment melted away like a wad of butter left under the post floods bright Delhi sun with the grand opening. The opening was not just any other opening. Heck, it was the mother of all openings. Those who caught the razzmatazz on air declared that it shone brighter than Beijing. Its awesomeness was hailed by the western media that withdrew its earlier criticism and showered praise on the quintessential Indian ability of putting together impressive shows without foolishly bothering to work on it for too long or too dedicatedly. It was an inauguration that looked so gorgeous it did exactly what Kalmadi’s overpriced legal doctor must have ordered: dazzle the country into collective blindness. The television screen had so far offered nausea, heartache, and reasons to stay out of the capital till the ignominious hilarity was over. The opening made many of us cancel that ticket to Simla/Singapore/Saharsa and reassert ourselves as the proud residents of the prettified Delhi.

The average Dehliite, particularly the facebooking variety, could not be prouder of the miraculous turn of events. The ones who managed the arbitrarily priced passes could not wait to ‘update’ the rest of the virtual world on the fact that they are indeed THERE AT THE JLN STADIUM WATCHING IT ALL FROM AS CLOSE AS ONE CAN GET TO WHERE ALL THE ACTION IS (You could almost hear them clap their hands and chirp, “Yaye me!” at the end). Those who sat at home made sure they splashed extra long shot images of fireworks at the stadium, close up shots of food stalls, and mid shots of sparkling clean CWG rooms and even more sparkling clean and now excrement free CWG toilets on their profile pages. Surely, they knew that the pictures were only one google search away from all internet users, let alone the ones on their ‘friend list’, and did not need to be ‘shared’ in the first place. The intention was entirely different, loud, and clear: to let the unpatriotic ones know that they had been wrong all along. True, the bid was won only because a handful of megalomaniacal Indian leaders promised more money to train the visiting athletes than other smarter bidders did. True, the Games came to India in a manner best described as clandestine, with no effort at forming a consensus, or even initiating a broad based discussion on it. True, equipments were hired at many times the price the most expensive of their kind are sold anywhere in the world. True, money was sucked in by a bottomless pit of rapaciousness and depravity that the unholy trinity of the Indian politician, the bureaucrat, and the opportunist private player form. But, at the end of it all, we got magic mehndi, magic tabla (both by kids who neither got nor desired a single tainted rupee), and a shiny, shiny opening ceremony—one blessed by the Prince and the Parker, or the kind of people we like to pretend to be indifferent to and even laugh at, but whose approval we seek anxiously, even if unconsciously.

Isn’t this high level of comfort with misappropriation of our own money something that warrants closer scrutiny? There is a simple test to find the answer. All one needs to do is imagine everything happening in a more personal context. Suppose a burglar comes to your house and tells you, “Look. Give me all your money. I will keep half of it with me. The rest I will spend on throwing a party. I will pay my relatives to be the caterers. Since I am as incompetent as my buffoon caterer relatives, I will take forever to arrange the party. Obviously, the tent decoration DJ wallahs will be arranged at the last minute, so they won’t have a choice but to charge an obscene amount. So, I will come back to you to demand more. We will keep paying more and more till we pay enough to pull the party. And, you will be happy at the end of it all because the guests will be very fussy and sophisticated and if impressed, will pat you on your back and say, “Good job, li’l fella!” Also, we will tell everybody that it was you (cough*moron*cough) who threw the party!”

With the already cleaner parts of Delhi scrubbed further clean, fixed and face-lifted, we can all get ready for the cultural evenings at Connaught Place, smoother traffic for some time and of course, the closing ceremony, the last among which we hope and pray will be glorious enough for future generations to weave poems around. The events (the sporting contests, the matches, the G-a-m-e-s in Commonwealth Games, remember?) will undoubtedly be badly organized; however, that will be okay because as a country that’s still developing poor hungry malnourished, it has created enough shine already. The government, overpaid and underworked as it may be, will have been criticized enough already, thanks to the masters of journalistic overkill, so we will have to cut it some slack. And of course, the success of the real heroes, the truly unsullied, hard working, devoted and highly un-Kalmadi-ish Nehwals, Bindras and Devvarmans will thoughtlessly be associated with the OC, and the memory of the humble and smiling Indian sportsperson at the podium will erase all traces of moral degeneration (governmental, private, individual and collective) that was flung into our unwilling faces for far too long. Nobody will pause to realize that the winners did not win because of the sarkari effort; they won in spite of it. And the culprits, the utterly shameless, who participated in the multi thousand crore scam will get away with a little jeering and booing and no serious punishment, because cases against them will drag till the day editorials will declare the scam too old and inconsequential compared to fresh and bigger ones.

The question that needs asking now is, will we always be okay with this elaborate structure of deceit, procrastination, ineptitude, opacity, high handedness and sheer greed that the smallest to the biggest players with power have created for themselves? Will we ever get rid of our complacency that tells us to ‘relax and adjust’ to the whims and manic fancies of the class of people that was supposed to serve the society and not gorge on it? Will we always be comfortable with the systematic exploitation of the youngest to the oldest among the poor, who are paid peanut shells to create pretty, shiny things for us to feed our enormously inflated egos and visual appetites with? Will our love for shiny always keep us indifferent towards the fate of the atrociously poor living in plastic tents, defecating in the open, drinking water unfit for dogs, and watching their salt and starch-fed kids mutate into stunted half women and men because well, they are just too many and hence, deserve animal existence?

The answer is a frightening yes. We could have boycotted the Games but we did not. We could have taken out marches against the desi plunderers but we did not. The protests ended at sending smart anagram-ish smses and letters to the editors, many of who realized they ought to anger their consumers only to the extent that they do not bid goodbye to the telly/paper subscription permanently. In fact, we ended up endorsing every single act of pilferage that the Old and the Shameless indulged in with brazen callousness. Teary eyed, we saw, celebrated and got choked with pride at the farce of a fantastic opening followed by eleven days of organizational goof ups that could not be hidden by bright fireworks.

One final (and admittedly rhetorical) question: Aren’t we all sick and tired of the insatiably corrupt who have made permanent the wide chasm between the rich and the rotting, something that could have been bridged to a reasonable extent? We are. But perhaps, we are sicker and more tired of the unpalatable truth that dims India’s shine a bit. It is precisely this London Tipton-like weakness for shiny that the cannibal-like powerful in India continue to exploit. Each time death, decay and destruction start grossing out the living and thriving among us, the modern day maharajas put up a show-the party that we pay for unwittingly and grow to enjoy, grudgingly at first, and enthusiastically towards the brainwashed end.

7 thoughts on “The Emperors who love their new clothes

  1. First I must appreciate for such a lovely write-up and diligent efforts that you have put in. Above it, title is very amusing. Blog also helped to add some new words to my lexicon. As a Indian and an ex-government employee I can co-relate with the problems and difficulties faced in organizing such an event. Indians including me have a habit of completing their task at last moment. Some manage to finish it on time and others drag it even after the deadline. Real problem in an govt sector is no one wants to take pain unless forced upon them. And people who take pain to do something receive excess of it. All the problems of corruption, lousiness and inefficiency in govt. sector are prevalent since a long time and these are not new to us. Only thing Common Wealth Games has done is put a magnifying lens over it through media and world attention. I am not a critic but I still disagree to the extreme criticism and comparing them to burglars. And in case of CWG corruption was not the major factor. To understand their situation suppose you are assigned a job of running a very big factory comprising of different departments with no or very less coordination among them but they some how manage to complete their task with some delay. And suddenly you got a order which requires you to triple your production. To keep the reputation of the company, you try your best to achieve the target in spite of obvious inefficiencies. Results would be more or less same as we have seen in CWG. In first place you are not an expert to run a company and with no prior experience of handling such an situation. Above all when the company was hardly able to complete their past targets on time, it is not realistic to expect miracles from them. So where does the fault lies. Does it means that Govt. should not have contested for organizing the event in first place before setting its house right? But government saw it as an opportunity to add oil to rusting bureaucratic system as heads start rolling when you put pressure on them. We can say it has worked too a bit in this context. And not all the money they have invested will go waste. We will find the benefits of money invested in developing the infrastructure in times to come.

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  2. @virendra Thanks for the compliment, Virendra! I must say, you write pretty well yourself. Ever thought of blogging?🙂 The issue is one that I feel very, very strongly about. I wrote a reply to what you wrote but decided against posting it because it was long enough to be an article in itself. :(So let me just write the most positive bit of my mostly negative, never to be published wordy comment on your comment:…you said not all the money invested will go waste. Trust me, I desperately hope what you are saying turns out to be right! I want my criticism to be proved foolish and my fears, misplaced. I will be glad if you could share with me any convincing cost benefit analysis (that’s the term, right? :)) that clearly tells us we haven’t ended up spending more than what we should have, and that CWG 2010 was indeed an economy-friendly exercise.🙂

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  3. Wow..written with so much anger I could almost feel it here miles away and days later.Harshest criticism of CWG I have ever read (& I have read a lot)..I can't even fathom the courage to contradict you right now but I would try someday

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  4. Okay let me just say this..a democratic government can only be as good as its citizens..We have chosen it to run the country and if we have a problem with its functioning we have to take things in our hands..Unless people like you(yes you..) take charge of this country things are not going to change overnight

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