Arnab Goswami. He is the TV ‘Cocktail’ that the nation guzzles every night at 9 pm to alleviate its existential headaches. Ok, so perhaps this spirited-bong was never meant to really address the underlying reasons for our despondency, but at least a temporary buzz of mellow it does bring. When we see Arnab lash at shiny people, much like how a headmaster smacks a truant student’s ass with a wooden ruler, it gives us hope that we might not be that close to the end of days just yet. That someone still exists who can beat some sense into nonsense. That the nation can still hope to recover from its triple heartbreaks of antipathy, mediocrity and decadence. That simply through the brute cyclonic power emanating from Arnab’s tonsils, we might somehow get torn off the messes of today and tossed into a better tomorrow.
If it is our national pastime to create real problems for ourselves, it is Arnab’s mission to chase after imaginary fixes for them. And, like Superman itching to tight-suit his way into every issue, Arnab wants to fix everything and everyone, too. And he has a bunch of New-Killer Weapons he has perfected that help him do that, having target-practiced with them night-after-night over multiple chat windows, sometimes as many as ten of them open, barely fitting on a measly 32-inch screen. His arsenal, deployed along with his Booming B-52 Bomber Voice includes – The Hand Wave, The Flared Nostrils, The ‘Are-You-Serious?’ Glare Through Coke-bottle Lenses, The Reynold’s Pen Poke, The Repeat-Guest-Name Ad-Nauseam, The Look-away Dismissively Look, among others. The most recent addition to the kitty has been The Purring Prized-Cat Voice – the one in which he talks softly to his prey yet still making it pee its pants. Arnab perfected it while watching the Discovery Channel show about a tigress who licked her cubs and then gobbled them up. And then he deployed it on a poor chap whose last name does not rhyme with Pappu.
Arnab’s Vigilante Justice System, popularly known as The Newshour at 9, has spared no one when it comes to doling out reprimands – Politicians Young, Old and Very Old, Bureaucrats, Jurists, Journalists, Czars of the Sporting World, Social Scientists, Activists, and some Overweight Unknowns with Curly Mops and Loud Voices who duet in complete harmony with Arnab’s own tunes.
Lately, though, this constant aiming at the Stars in order to shoot them down, had started to exact a high price from Arnab, for it slowly began to distance him from the very Aam Aadmi (and Aam Naari) he aimed to protect. After all, when was the last time anyone saw a Mango Fellow on his program? So, off went Arnab’s team, looking hither and tither for the Perfect Common (Wo)Man to be paraded on Newhour, to obtain some answers straight from the featured equus’ snout. Sadly, what sounded like a simple search, seemed to always lead to people in mufflers, the common I-Card of The Common Man.
“No more Muffler Men on my program!” yelled Arnab. “Go find me a Real Aam Aadmi!”
Then, one of his producers suggested they look at Bollywood. After all, the Film Industry is replete with people tall and short, dimpled and bearded, dynastic legacies, old mores, slander and innuendos, questionable morality, an old order that Khan’t seem to give way to the younger lot, etc etc etc. In many ways, Art mimicking Life in India. Once the fertile farm called Bollywood had been zeroed into, it was easy-peasy to find The Representative Face of the Common (Wo)Man in the Film Industry, and haul her ass to his studio. Yes, who could be more Aam than The Quintessential Hindi Film Mother?
And who better than SuperMa Nirupa Roy herself for the interview?
Arnab Goswami : We debated amongst ourselves who to talk to when it came to getting Aam Aadmi’s opinions.
Nirupa Roy : Thank you for having me on the show, Arnab. I am uniquely qualified to answer your questions on behalf of the Aam Aadmi. After all, the Aam Aadmi is the Mother of All P… (pauses)
AG : What were you going to say, Mrs. Roy? Problems?
NR : (cautiously) Errm…no, Possibilities. I was going to say Possibilities. The Aam Aadmi is the Mother of All Possibilities. And I am…well, Aam Aadmi’s Maaji.
AG : How many children do you have, Maaji, I mean, Madam?
NR : (pontificating) My children have grown up to become Model, Upright Citizens of Society. In fact, most have grown up to become successful Police Inspectors…
AG : Madam, I have just started by asking you a very simple question, and you are avoiding it already.
NR : (presses on unheedingly) …and not just any silly, old, Police Inspectors, mind you…
AG : (persisting) Madam…
NR : (and on) …I am saying, very successful Police Inspectors…
AG : Mrs. Roy…
NR : …the kind who are allotted no less than Type-VIII quarters by the government…
AG : (slowly losing patience) Mrs. Roy…
NR : …with a spiral staircase to the upstairs bedrooms, and a giant piano in the drawing room…
AG : Mrs. Roy, you are avoiding my…
NR : …and a Puja Room made just for me…
AG : (shaking his head, patience ready to snap any minute) Mrs. Roy…Mrs. Roy…Mrs. Roy…
NR : Oh, and they get their own official vehicles too. They all have Willy’s open-roof Jeeps.
AG : (angrily) Mrs. Roy, my simple question to you, which you have avoided for the past ten minutes, is this – how many children do you have?
NR : (as if suddenly snapping back to attention) I have several, Arnab. The exact count no one knows because I have lost a few over the years.
AG : (immediately chastised) Oh, lost? That is awful, I am so sorry, Mrs. Roy! Were they very young when they passed away?
NR : (mortified) Good Heavens, no, they are not dead, Arnab!
AG : Then?
NR : Arnab, you see, I have never failed to visit the Kumbh Melas and other Vishal Bhagwati Jagarans that millions of people in the Hindi belt attend on a regular basis. You know, the kind where stampedes are as common as trains running late in India.
AG : So?
NR : (surprised) What, so? Isn’t it a given that a mother would lose a few of her children at such large gatherings? After all, what are Kumbh Melas famous for? Other than the Naga Sadhus, that is?
AG : Let me tell you, Mrs. Roy, that what you are saying is not normal. People don’t just ‘lose a few of their children’ while they are laundering their sins in the Ganges!
NR : (unapologetic) Frankly, I blame the arrangements made by the State Governments of Uttar Pradesh for my losses. No matter who has been in charge of managing the Kumbh Mela, for example, I have lost kids there. Under the Congress, the BJP, BSP, SP, you name it.
AG : (angrily) You are looking for a scapegoat for your own follies, Mrs. Roy. Why can people never accept their own fault!
NR : (taking offence) That’s not true, Arnab. Sometimes I have lost children because of other reasons, too.
AG : Like what? Maaji, I mean, Madam, please don’t give cryptic answers now. Remember, the nation wants straight answers.
NR : Arnab, there were times when I was physically incapacitated to mind my brood. Like, that one time when I fell on a stone and had amnesia.
AG : (concerned) Oh dear!
NR : Yes, it took me many years to regain my memory. I didn’t even have any partial memory left. At least Aamir Khan recalled some of his every few minutes in Ghajini. No such luck in my case. I recovered mine only when I hit the same stone at the same spot again years later. I mean, had I known…
AG : I see.
NR : And, that other time, I fell on a stone and became blind.
AG : (exasperated) What’s with all this frequent ‘fell on a stone’ business, Madam? This points to some other kind of malaise within you. Why can’t you walk straight? Why should you lose your balance so often? And to such catastrophic results! Have you gone for a full medical check-up?
NR : (helplessly) How can I? I am just a poor widow. Look at my simple white cotton saree! You think I can afford health care in this country? These hospitals are so expensive! In fact, the last time I had to go to one, I needed a blood transfusion but had no money to pay for it.
AG : Then?
NR : It was the kindness of the doctor there who caught hold of three young men named Akbar, Amar and Anthony and made them donate their blood for free, thus saving my life. The kind doctor just hooked all four of us to the same intravenous line and sucked out all the blood from them that I needed. I wish all our medical facilities worked this way!
AG : Holy Maaji! You do realize that was unsafe medical practice, don’t you? In fact, the doctor should probably be in jail for such gross medical incompetence!
NR : (surprised) Unsafe? Why? The boys looked healthy and seemed to be from decent families – one was a cop even. The Muslim fellow looked like a tailor, and the third was a Padre, I think.
AG : (a 1:3 mix of concerned and angry) But, Madam, it is illegal to donate blood without testing! HIV, Hepatitis A, B-12, C, D, E, K, do you really have no worries? What if you had fallen sick? Or worse, died? Who would have taken care of your children?
NR : Oh, my children, yes, though sometimes, I feel that I am losing control over them anyway.
AG : Why do you say that, Mrs. Roy?
NR : What else should one make if it? You know, one of my sons just ran away from home after I scolded him?
AG : Young boys do have a rebellious streak…
NR : This one, I think his name was Vijay or Jai, went and got a tattoo without seeking my permission. I was so livid!
AG : (offering helpfully) Maybe the tattoo parlor had a discount scheme?
NR : No, he got into a tiff with his dad who wouldn’t take him to the T-20 game between Delhi Daredevils and Mumbai Indians.
AG : So?
NR : So, he went to the tattoo parlor and asked the fellow to engrave “Mera Baap Bore Hai” on his arm.
AG : That sounds like a harmless little thing, Mrs. Roy.
NR : Arnab, but that was not even the half of it! The foolish tattoo fellow made a spelling mistake and tattooed “Mera Baap Chor Hai” instead.
AG : (nods his head) Ok, I do see why that might be a problem, yes.
NR : Doesn’t it? That’s why I yelled at the boy. And he ran away. Not only that, my husband left me and disappeared, too.
AG : (with a furrowed forehead) I am confused. Is your husband missing? Or dead? What about this white, cotton saree you are wearing? You can’t don the National Costume of Widowhood on just a suspicion, you know!
NR : (points to the saree, there is even a hole in it at the palloo) Oh, this? This is just to claim benefits from the government under the Rajiv Gandhi Muft ke Kapde Yojna. Frankly, I am positive that my husband is alive. See? I have full faith in my Mangalsutra. Meri woh zaroor aayenge (tears instantly)
AG : Mrs. Roy…
NR : (wipes tears away) And I keep Karwa Chauth fasts also, but without telling anyone (triumphantly).
AG : (glaring angrily) Mrs. Roy, I am appalled, APPALLED at such devious trickery. YOU are the Mother of Aam Aadmi. At a time when India’s growth rate has hit catastrophic lows, Foreign Institutional Investments have dried up, job growth is an 2.2% and The Times of India print edition is surviving only because it replaced news with ads, it is people like you who are bleeding our nation dry. I say, despite such successful Police Inspector sons, you are pretending to live in penury? Why, Mrs. Roy? The nation wants to know!
NR : But I am like this only, Arnab! My sons seem think I have very high morals. In fact, just the other day, my rich son in “Import-Export” business (goes winky-wink at Arnab), got into an argument with one of my Police Inspector sons whom I live with, you know, the one who got me my own Puja Room? The boy kept throwing his blazing success at my poorer son’s face – “I have DLF bungalows, Audi cars, servants, Husain’s artwork, Apple products, bank balance with HSBC! What do you have?” – he screamed!
AG : Well said! We all know there is more money to be made in the private sector!
NR : I know! But do you know what my Police boy said?
AG : What?
NR : He replied – “But I have Mother by my side”.
AG : (unimpressed) What shit does that mean?
NR : (excited) That’s exactly what I thought, too! I mean, what shit? So I took my Krishna and Radha idols from my Puja Room and moved into my rich son’s bungalow.
AG : Hey, wait, wasn’t your “Import-Export” son the one who died after a car accident at the Mata ka Mandir? The Police had arrested you for yelling at the temple idols and throwing your slippers at them like a demented person. India-TV did some exclusive breaking news coverage of that.
NR : (shakes her head) Much of what the media says is exaggerated. They will concoct anything for TRPs! It was just a simple protest, nothing more! But, yes, I was on psychotic meds, so…Thankfully, my son did leave me his estate in his well before he died.
AG : Ok, Mrs. Roy, now that we have established how strangely the Common Man of India lives these days, I wanted to know – What are your thoughts on the party that represents you?
NR : (happily) I am very glad that the Aam Aadmi Party is doing so well. I say, more power to the Common Man! They will finally bring down the Zamindaari system with the Jan Lokpal Bill! I have seen enough troubles with these Thakurs.
AG : (in a quiet, but seething voice) Madam, this is national television so I will refrain from using harsher language than this, but you are a fool. Why the bloody hell are you talking about Thakurs? In 2014?
NR : But Arnab…
AG : In the era of computers and CNG low-floor buses, you are talking about something from the 1950s?
NR : But Arnab…
AG : It is because of people like you that progress in this country is difficult…
NR : Arnab…
AG : (relentlessly)…because you keep bringing up demons of the past! Have you not heard of all these government schemes that can save you from the Thakurs?
NR : Arnab…I…
AG : (mouth : frothing) MNREGA? Or Jawahar Jai-Jawan-Jai-Kisan Yogna? Or Indira Daridra, Dukhiya, Lachaar yet Jeevit Yojna, popularly known as DDLJ?
NR : Listen, Arnab…
AG : What do you have to say to explain yourself, Mrs. Roy?
NR : If you would only let me…
AG : (angrily) Speak? The nation wants straight answers, Mrs. Roy! For much too long, the people of the country have been taken for a ride by the likes of you.
NR : (offended) The likes of me? But I AM Aam Aadmi…or at least Aam Dharampatni and Maa.
AG : Then behave like one, Mrs. Roy!
NR : I wish I had access to all these schemes after my husband supposedly died! But the Thakur stole my farm plot in Gurgaon. And then my buffaloes also ran away. The police wouldn’t help me because I am not a VIP. I had no place to go! I was on the street!
AG : But your own sons are Police Inspectors!
NR : But they are busy fighting Smugglers after Chidambaram changed gold import policies! They have no time for me now.
AG : Smugglers? You mean they work for Indian Customs Service?
NR : What’s that?
AG : (shaking his head) I am very concerned about your sanity, Madam. I think the Aam Aadmi of the country has a serious mental condition. Ok, let’s change track. I’d like to know more about your family.
NR : (enthusiastically) Most of my sons are married and settled now.
AG : Oh, that’s good. So, there is at least something that is not completely demented in your life then.
NR : My Bahus are indeed very nice. They are reed slim, astonishingly fair and movie-star beautiful. They touch my feet every day and call me Maaji.
AG : That’s nice, Mrs. Roy. In this day and age, it is hard to expect well-educated youngsters to still be so rooted to our old conservative customs.
NR : Err…
AG : Did you choose working wives for your sons? Since most of them are Police Inspectors?
NR : (sheepishly) I didn’t choose the girls. The boys chose their own.
AG : (impressed) Very progressive! Have they continued working their old jobs after marriage?
NR : (horrified) Oh, heaven forbid, no! That would be disastrous!
AG : Why?
NR : Well, all my Police Inspector sons married Tawaifs and Cabaret Dancers, you see.
AG : (suddenly much contrite) Mrs. Roy. Can I say something?
NR : Yes, Arnab, it is your show.
AG : I think this will be my last Aam Aadmi interview.
NR : (surprised) Oh, why so, Arnab? Abhi toh picture baki hai, mere dost!
AG : (shakes his head) I am afraid to stay on until the end of this film.