Friday, April 22, 2011

Vive la Suckers

Here is an experimental short story addressing a very important but neglected issue in Human sociology or psychology. Story got us an ‘A’ in our IGNOU Short Story Course, and earned the following comment from our guide : “original, effervescent and bright piece of ‘creative writing’. You see things differently and know what you aim at. Excellent command over content and form. Bravo!” Not that it took us places, alas! And yes, as a discerning friend remarked once, modesty is not one of our strong points.

The issue is about the embarrassment caused to a person on being termed ‘seedha’- a simpleton, or a ‘sucker’ in popular English. ‘C..something’ was the un-parliamentary equivalent our ex-GM used for himself in despair. For obvious reasons, we were constrained to apply our mind to the topic off and on, considering the profession we had chosen, or to be accurate, which had chosen us. In plain words, we were surrounded by hoodlums a.k.a. Union Leaders, and crooked clients, a.k.a. businessmen. “Razia phas gayi gundon me”, as they used to say.

Dad was categorised a ‘seedha-saadha Madrasi’ by the Punjabis of good old Delhi. With his exceptional mental aplomb and sense of humour, he got over the whole thing by confessing upfront. One recalls what he used to say in Marathi “ amuk-amuk, so-and-so, mala faar aawadte kinwa aawadto karan ti kinwa to majhya sarkhach baavlat aahe.” The key-word is baavlat, which unfortunately brooks no exact equivalent in any other human language. In a thesaurus, its entry should be something like;

Baavlat: n, adj, simpleton, sucker, seedha-saadha, simple-minded, bechara, good-man, opposite of ‘smart’, etc., etc.

It was Gopal who always said: “bechara is a very dangerous word..”

We recall an instructive conversation we overheard, between two secretaries at IDBI, Cuffe Parade, while cooling our heels outside a GM’s chamber. A is telling B, “aamche saaheb faar Royal Manus aahet, bichhare..” –i.e., “our boss in a Royal Man, poor chap”. When cross-examined, the lady said something like “siiiirrrr, in today’s world, a simple man has no option but to be a ‘Royal Person’ ”. Office goers will recognise the word ‘Royal’ to be the equivalent of ‘Liberal’, the boss who never says ‘no’ to a leave application or to a petty cash bill.

Of course people realise it’s not a black and white issue. People cannot be just classified into the two exhaustive and exclusive categories ‘smart’ and ‘suckers’. This is evident from the life and times of Mrs. Indira Gandhi. Mrs. G apart, as they always say , a ruffian is the greatest coward, for he becomes one only to live down his cowardice. Moreover, the simpleton doesn’t always end up at the bottom, witness Sai Paranjpe’s ‘Katha’

No one can accuse Mrs. Indira Gandhi of being a ‘seedhi’. But that is what Ram Manohar Lohia, who had lost out to Feroze Gandhi in the Quest for Indira (1), believed when the Empress ascended the throne. “She is a ‘gungi gudiya’ (a dumb doll), the self-proclaimed Great Man used to say, presumably rubbing his hands with glee. How ‘seedha’ of Lohia, he, he, he! He was not screwed by her, beg your pardon, simply because the opportunity did not present itself. His followers got that end of the bargain. We believe Mrs. Gandhi developed exactly on the lines of the nameless protagonist, the anti-hero of our story which forms the body of today’s blog.


It is about fifteen days since I was lynched to death by a mob after I was caught picking the pocket of a gentleman on the tram. The fourth day’s rites, the thirteenth day’s rites, and what not- they are all over, accomplished by my affectionate family. And this post-mortem autobiographical tract is being written by me from...curse! (I bite my tongue)- under Divine Bye-laws, we are not to reveal our whereabouts (a la the army) –i.e. whether one has entered the heavenly abode or the other one.

I might however, reveal to you another momentous Divine Arrangement, to whet your appetite. One who dies with a song in one’s heart goes to heaven-and vice-versa. Considering the circumstances of my death, especially the tragic fact that I was caught, perspicacious readers would tend to conclude that I would be penning these line in a most uncomfortable ambience-hot, humid and acrid, etc.etc. But, Sir, to pronounce upon the outcome of a life of a score and half years is no facile task.

All this erudition coming from a humble pick-pocket might sound incongruous. But then, if I may enlighten you further, upon his or her death, the entire body of human wisdom becomes available to the departed soul , for the tapping. And then, even before my death, I was no lumpen as you shall soon realise. it heaven or hell??

Let me reminisce a bit.

Well, I am no socio-economic case in my role as a pick-pocket. My father was a head-clerk in the Divisional Court. As a child I was adorable, and adored. At the age of ten, my favourite sport was catching butterflies and at thirteen, spotting birds. Of course I was bright mentally. I hardly ever missed a mark at maths. Some changes in my mental make up starting precipitating around then. I had been branded a ‘seedha’ – a ‘sucker’ in popular conception. It would be a most mortifying and traumatic experience, to hear myself referred to as a ‘seedha’ by my near and dear ones.

When I once lied inadvertently, and was caught subsequently, mother remarked, with sneaking admiration, I suspected, given the tone and tenor of her voice, “he’s not as ‘seedha’ as he seems !“ And boyyy..did that warm the cockles of my heart! And coming from mom, at that! Over the years I became a kleptomaniac, and took delight when people around became wary of me, and made statements of the type my mother had made, as above. The psychology became my obsession and remarks of the type would give me a greater psychological pay-off than even academic excellence, earlier my forte. Ultimately, as a happy marriage of skill, remuneration and job-satisfaction, I took to this profession as a pick-pocket.

In my Divine Omniscience today, I perceive that the same psychology is 90% responsible for the bad old human behaviour- conformism to malpractices, if one were to use a general term for the sake of brevity, for fear of being branded a ‘seedha’. Thus, I was a kleptomaniac basically, and not a pick-pocket-er.

Thus, when these bhadralok, essentially same-to-same as you and me, yanked my limbs, when I was caught on the tram with hands in another man’s pocket, breaching the eighth and the eleventh commandment, I was naturally feeling foolish at being caught, pained physically at being lynched, and elated at the thought of my being branded a crook before the eyes of the whole world, in tomorrow’s newspapers. A kind of martyrdom that would be !

So, readers, call no man happy or unhappy with certainty, though he be dead .(2)
Is there an antithesis? Be besharam: A newly appointed Medical Representative is asked by the Area Manager how he likes the job. Its lousy, says he, I keep on getting insulted, to no end. Well- that’s serious the Area Manager says, let me think, I also started off as an MR. I had my bag thrown out of the clinic on a couple of occasions, thrown out physically by the compounder once, was called an idiot now and then, but insulted-never! I take it seriously, man.

Picture from tumblr called "The day after I died"

Preface rides Content
When in confusion over grammar or spelling, side-step: A ‘smart’ man is placing an order for two mongooses. Not knowing whether the plural is mongooses or mongeese he writes:

Dear Sir,

“Please send one mongoose”

Yours faithfully,

PS: Please send one more.

1. What lends credence to this story is that Mrs. Gandhi retorted, calling Lohia a ‘frustrated bachelor’. The Willingdon Hospital, behind Rashtrapati Bhawan was renamed Ram Manohar Lohia hospital by the Janata Regime in 1978. The Willingdon Crescent was proposed to be named “Indira Crescent” after she was killed in 1984, a move that was hastily dropped when Rajiv realised that one tip of the Willingdon Crescent ends in the Lohia Hospital, and that the two will stand united in death, which will embarrass Mrs. Gandhi and please Lohia to no end..

2. “Call no man happy until he is dead” was said by Solon, Greek Saint.

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