Those of you who read me regularly and fantasise about the day I become a wealthy editor-CEO adept at parlaying his journalism into political influence would know that I harbour no such ambitions. This is why you’ll never catch me taking selfies with the Prime Minister or with any of the clueless, powerless ministerial panjandrums who every day set a new benchmark for jobless girth.
This is also why I try and stay away from high-profile weddings. Alert readers will remember that the last celebrity wedding I attended was the Virushka one in Italy, and as I explained in this column exactly a year ago, I only went because they wouldn’t stop weeping on the phone. But this year I made it clear to both Priyanjonas and Deepiran that Mahalingam must go to the mountain if he wants the mountain’s blessings because the mountain will not go to Mahalingam.
Rename in moderation
For the benefit of readers who are non-native speakers of English, I will explain the above rhetorical flourish: it is a reference to the famous British saying, “If the mountain will not come to Muhammad, then Muhammad must go to the mountain.” The origin of this phrase is the retelling of the story of Muhammad by the iconic English essayist Sir Francis Pakoda. You would have deduced by now that I am the mountain in this idiomatic analogy. Pakoda and Mahalingam are the literary equivalents of Deen Dayal Upadhyay Junction. I had to do the renaming keeping in mind the religio-nationalistic sentiment prevailing in the country, a sentiment hostile to non-veg references and partial to devout Hindu names such as Mahalingam.
On the subject of renaming, a word of advice: do it in moderation. According to media reports, we renamed 25 places in the last one year. This is too many too fast. I agree that we need to rename our cities, roads and railway stations in order to eliminate farmer distress, create two crore jobs, and make India’s GDP grow faster than the wealth of our crony capitalists and their elected serfs in Delhi. But it should be done slowly so that people have time to memorise the new names.
Just the other day I was reading about a white donkey that fell in love with a black buffalo in Prayagraj. The first thing that nine out of ten people want to know when they read such a news item is: did the donkey and buffalo get married and live happily ever after? But the question that rose in my head was, where is Prayagraj?
I knew that Prayagraj was the name of a city that had been recently renamed. But I could not remember which city had been renamed: was it Ahmedabad, Faizabad, Hyderabad or Muradabad? Eventually a friend who works in the IT cell told me that it was Ghaziabad. Later I came to know that it wasn’t even Ghaziabad but Aurangabad.
You see what I’m talking about? What happens when all the cities with misleading names have been renamed? For instance, I can no longer remember what the real name of Deen Dayal Upadhyay Junction is — was it Faridabad or Tughlaqabad? How does one remember which one is which once Secunderabad, Shahjahanabad, Jahangirpuri, Nizamabad, Abbottabad and Islamabad have all been renamed as Ayodhya?
A decent wedding
Anyway, coming back to the wedding situation, both Priyanjonas and Deepiran deferred to my wishes and came home to collect their blessings. But I could not skip the Ambani wedding. Of course, I too was put off by their vulgar display of parsimony. The family’s net worth, estimated at ₹3.3 trillion, is slightly more than India’s defence budget. If they wanted to, they could buy 800 Rafales and still have change left over to build a Statue of Cupidity in every one of India’s 597,464 villages. This is why their hyper-thriftiness in their own daughter’s wedding is so shameful.
Poor Indians spend 100-150% of their net worth on a wedding. For middle-class Indians, the figure is a respectable 7-12% of net worth. But the Ambanis? They spent a measly ₹700 crore, or just 0.03% of their net worth, on their daughter’s wedding. Isn’t this an indecent slap on the face of millions of Indians who not only exhaust their life savings but take on debt to afford a decent wedding for their progeny?
So I had almost made up my mind not to go when I got a call saying that if I felt uncomfortable gracing the occasion as an honoured guest, I could attend as an unpaid labourer instead. As someone who believes that unpaid labour, or something close to it, is the patriotic obligation that every working class Indian owes to business tycoons and foreign investors, I could not refuse this opportunity. You may have seen some of the wedding videos where eminent journalists are seen doing the dishes and filmstars are operating as waiters. One clip shows Amitabh and Aamir serving dhoklas. Guess who made those dhoklas?