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The lord, the serf and the garland (Photo courtesy: http://www.globalpost.com)

Indian schools are trying to issue revised text books with the new Indian PM, Narendra Modi’s biography in them. This is not sycophancy laced with blind devotion. This is much worse. It is so bad that even Modi himself is disgusted. And he should be. I am certain if he hadn’t struck the atrocious idea down himself, it wouldn’t have made even the classifieds page in the papers and children would be learning how wonderful a guy he is, by now.

India is perhaps the only place where blind devotion remains ingrained in our DNA. In most Indian workplaces, superior officers still like to be addressed as ‘Sir’. It is definitely the case in the Indian public sector and the bureaucracy at large. On Facebook, some of my bureaucrat and ex-bureaucrat FB friends get fawning comments with liberal doses of ‘Sir’ and ‘Sirji’ accompanying them.

If I were to call my boss ‘Sir’ here in Canada, he would throw up all over my shirt front. India is perhaps the only joint in the world where employees wait till the boss leaves, to go home. Over here, my boss himself leaves sharp at 4pm. Weekends you won’t find him anywhere near office. You try to stay back and catch up on your memos to impress him and he will think you have finally gone out of your mind.

The last time I was in Kolkata, I found myself at the corner of Dharmatala St and Chouringhee, waiting to cross over toward Metro Cinema (I wanted to see if that dingy Madras Café was still around).

All of a sudden, the traffic, which in Kolkata is like this dense goo, came to a grinding halt. Motorcycle cops and at least six of those Jeeps suddenly descended on us from all directions. In a few minutes, Dharmatala was swept clean of all traffic. Those little hand-pulled rickshaws were shoved unceremoniously out of the way. Buses and cars were forced aside with their left side tires on the sidewalk. If you stepped onto the Chouringhee asphalt and looked toward the south-east, you might have been able to see all the way to the Tollygunge Studios, I swear.

A pregnant silence fell over the busiest nastiest traffic junction in the world. And then something happened that made me feel like I was Richard Dreyfuss in that scene in ‘Close encounters of the third kind’ where Dreyfuss and the others cower behind a rise in the ground while little round glowing spaceships whiz past and finally the porcupine-like mother ship sweeps overhead, making a sound like a heavy-duty marine diesel engine – ‘rappatappa-wooppatappa-rappatappa-wooppatappa-shoobadee-doo’. (I lied. The shoobadee-doo wasn’t there. I made it up. I couldn’t resist myself). The mother ship drones on and disappears over the hillock, quickly followed by more of those whizzing tiny spaceships.

What actually happened was that ‘Didi’ (Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Bannerjee) passed by with 10 cars and revolving light-fitted vans in front and another 10 cars and jeeps with more revolving lights behind. Folk around me stood and gaped in awe after the motorcade and spoke up all at once, in hoarse reverent whispers, “Look! That was Didi and she’s on her way to Howrah! God bless our Didi! Sigh!”

And then, there was complete pin-drop silence. It seemed as if Dharmatala was frozen in time. It was as if the Almighty Lord was playing ‘statue statue’ with all of us. A minute passed and the cops unfroze and got on their vehicles and drove off without a second glance. Multitudes of miserable Kolkatans, who were jammed inside those mini-buses and trams, stewing in the 40-degree, 80%-humidity heat, heaved a sigh of relief as the junction gradually came back to life.

A month back, I was on my daily bike ride, waiting for the lights to turn green at the Blvd Grand – Bord de l’Eau crossing when the Premier of Quebec, Phillip Couillard, came to a halt in his official Dodge Challenger. There was no police escort, no sirens or revolving lights, no entourage, no onlookers, no crowds and no fuss. Besides him and the driver, there was just one other person in the car, a little girl.

The Quebec Premier’s car waited at the traffic lights just like the rest of us. A man in a Volvo convertible right next, leaned over and chatted with Couillard till the lights turned green and the Premier drove off with a wave.

If you are watching network news in developed nations and happen to watch a senior politician visiting some town-hall gathering or pizza or burger event or even in a drive-by situation, you will see only a reserved deference shown by the onlookers toward him, maybe even a tight smile and a hand-shake, nothing more. You won’t find anyone going overboard and there won’t be anyone garlanding anybody.

The garlanding crap-a-thon happens only in India and is hilarious. First some hapless citizen garlands the prick…I’m sorry, I meant the politico, who does not even let the garland rest on his shoulders before he removes it with an irritated wave of dismissal and hands it over to a sidekick, who in turn hands it over to his sidekick and on and on it goes, far into the back. I have never waited to see where the garland finally ends up. Maybe there is a GCP vault inside the Reserve Bank of India, who knows?  (GCP : Garlands for Crappy Politicians). Maybe, the earth being round, the garland eventually ends up back in the hands of the idiot who began the chain reaction by presenting it to the rat in the first place.

Be a serf long enough and you will develop a serf-like mindset.