WOULD it be true to say that most Indians in India are patriotic out of pure compulsion, not choice? Imagine this scenario: thousands of Indian cricket fans are cheering Tendulkar's batting at Eden Gardens. Suddenly, the stadium loudspeakers drown the cheering with the voice of the American ambassador. He announces that America's immigration requirements have just changed. America's baseball stadiums are falling empty and they immediately need Indian immigrants to fill these up to cheer baseball heroes. He says that every Indian present at Eden Gardens who forgets about Tendulkar and queues up right away at the American consulate will be given a lifelong Green Card and a permanent job as a baseball cheerleader in the U.S.
Just as the crowd is digesting this incredible news, the Australian ambassador's voice is heard: Australia's immigration policy too has just changed. Australia immediately needs Indians to fill up its cricket stadiums and cheer Ricky Ponting's team. Every Indian who queues up at the Australian consulate right now will get an Australian passport and a permanent job as a cricket fan in Australia.
What would happen next in this scenario? My hunch is that there would be a large stampede towards the nicely named Ho Chi Minh Sarani, where the American consulate in Kolkata has been shown its place, and a marginally smaller exodus in the direction of wherever the Australian consulate is housed. One of the stampeders would stop to advise Tendulkar to switch his cricket bat for a baseball bat "same thing Sachin-da, only deefrent shape, plus sponsor pay you phore-time more because they geeb dollar." Tendulkar might not leave because he's deeply suspicious of bats that look like a bad compromise between the oblong and the cylindrical, but the only people left to admire his batting would be (a) Indians in the high-priced ticket stalls who are already well off in India and for whom becoming a baseball cheerleader would be a step down the social scale; (b) elderly Indians who have old emotional commitments and feel too tired to migrate; (c) the hundreds who died in the stampede trying to get to the American and Australian consulates.
It is deeply discomfiting but probably true that the bulk of Indians now reside in India only because their passports prevent them leaving the country forever. The fact is that an increasingly bigoted Indian state, an alarmingly corrupt Indian political and bureaucratic class, and large groupings of affluent-criminal Indians have combined to make India almost unliveable for the majority of Indians. I can think of very few Indian citizens who, when facing these two options stay in India and cheer patriotically for India, or leave India and get a cheering job in the West would not burn their boats in the land for which their hearts are supposed to throb and hop into the nearest boat heading West. Some years ago, this was not so, things didn't look as bleak. But most Indians would now rather be non-resident Indians because, in terms of just personal security and basic expectations of legal justice, India is widely perceived as an unsafe jungle. It makes complete sense to be patriotic about India from a distance, with dollars in the wallet. I wish this was a sarcasm: actually, most Indians would think of it as nothing more than a truism. If Sunil Khilnani were writing his book today, he might think of titling it The Idea of (Non-Resident) India.
As if to reinforce this wonderful idea of India minus Indians an India made up wholly of absent Indians and NRI Indian-Americans a historian friend told me a joke. Two NRI brothers, called Hindu-ja and Hindu-aa, are separated at birth. (They hated each other anyway, so they are delighted to be separated.) One grows up to become an electronics engineer, the other a genetics engineer. But, being part of the Hindu Undividable Family, one day they both hear the "call" of Mother India on their cellphones, which happens coincidentally on the very day that the RBI declares full dollar convertibility. The brothers now pool their skills to invent a new cellphone exclusively for Indians, a truly "cell-friendly" cellphone which responds to body cells. With this cellphone, immediate telephonic contact can be established free of cost between all Indians whose bodies are made exclusively of Hindu cells, regardless of whether they are alive or dead.
This is the ultimate Brahmanic "gen-cell" With Built-in Genetic-cell Recognition and Detection facility (known in short as "BUGERED"). Using this cellphone, Indians can use "free outgoing" to call up their ancestors, their dead political heroes, their dead cricket heroes provided only that these heroes have been pure Hindus. By paying a small add-on, users of this cellphone can also receive free incomings from all Indians in Disguise (IDs) i.e. people of pure Aryan origin, dead or alive such as Adolf Hitler, Joseph Goebbels, and so on. For outgoing calls to pure Aryans, there is a concessional rate of one paise per minute; outgoing calls to non-Aryan Christians cost one rupee per minute; to Muslims and Others, one hundred rupees per second.
For this invention the BJP gives one Bharat Ratna each to Hindu-aa and Hindu-ja. But, as good Indians, the two brothers advise the BJP that it's bad for the party's international image not to have Mahatma Gandhi as part of the Hindu parivar. If the BJP can show Mahatma Gandhi all that it has achieved, he can be an electoral trump card against his namesake Sonia. Since astrology is now a science, the BJP's astrologer uses the latest "Dial-a-Mantra" facility and rings up Gandhi in heaven.
Gandhi is so impressed with the advance of Hindu technology that he agrees to come down and assess things for himself.
His reception committee consists of Hindu-aa, Hindu-ja, and two non-Brahmin shuddh-Hindi speakers, Mayawati and Narendra Modi, who show him around their states. Gandhi is also given one free handset which comes with a complimentary "Double-length Double-strength Sacred Thread" on which his handset can be hung. Gandhi is wordless as he is garlanded with his very first Sacred Cell-Tel. The reception committee assumes this is one of his non-speaking days. They assure him he can avail of "Next-Day Double-Speak" facility which is available to all mahatmas. Gandhi nods and departs for his heavenly abode.
Gandhi's verdict on the state of India is awaited via the new cellphone day after day. Nothing happens.
Finally, a postman brings a postcard on his cycle to the BJP headquarters. The BJP has no idea what to make of the postcard, the message on it mystifies them completely:
"Dear Sirs, Something wrong with my cells. Phone does not work. Please forward the following message to the Honourable East India Company in London at your earliest convenience: `EAST INDIA COMPANY, ALL IS FORGIVEN. PLEASE COME BACK IMMEDIATELY. GANDHI SERIOUS.'"
Rukun Advani is the author of Beethoven Among the Cows, and runs Permanent Black, a publishing house based in Delhi and Ranikhet.
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