Villain of villains!

The rich are unhappy with MSingh because they are unable to enrich themselves further thanks to the policy paralysis. The poor, who are beyond the economist-PM’s statistical growth horizon are simmering like never before, what with poverty stalking them all through but the overhanging mirage of prosperity tantalisingly teasing them even while being out of reach of their outstretched hands. But it is the middle class anger over corruption, inflation, recession, civic disarray etc that is the primary cause of MSingh’s troubles in recent times. Well, I seem to have, in a small way and in this corner of the country, relieved MSingh inadvertantly by deflecting some of that wrath on myself through last week’s column titled ‘We are villains too’.

And what a villain I have turned out to be by touching some raw nerves at a time when they were most tense! Let me leave out the bouquets, some of which came with thorns that stung. It was the ferocious flow of brickbats in terms of both volume and vitriol that scared the wits out of me. Of course, I recovered at the heart-warming thought that my ‘ranting’ was actually read and also at learning a journalistic trick: Provoke, if you want to be talked about. But the irony also struck me. Many ‘critics’ have always accused this column of reflecting a ‘pedestrian’ middle-class mentality characterised by self-righteous rage, vague rhetoric and a judgemental tone. But just when a spontaneous self-look comes about and defies those tags, there is this barrage of backlash to reckon with.

Indeed, the temptation to assuage the core constituency, namely, the urban middle class, is tempting. But then, can any writer, particularly one fancying himself as a social and political commentator, have a consistent constituency at all vis-a-vis views? Will not the itch for being acceptable across the readers’ spectrum render him a politico’s clone, and a bad, half-baked one at that owing to the moral hangups? Really, a writer will only fall between stools in his quest for political correctness or public applause. Also, a writer should never write for an audience which can only be abstract, but for his own satisfaction and if possible, conviction, which is real, at least to him/her. The idea is not to belittle the role of readers in the writer’s scheme of things but to warn him/her of the pitfall of having his literary latitude restricted by outside agencies. Any restraint should come from within, since writing is an inner urge, not an external infusion. Predictability is a vice here. Again, there is no dearth of punditry and specialised writing today and in any case, I lay no claim to scholarship of whatever kind. But while the words may not elicit consensus or radiate erudition, they are well-meant and commonly felt and so are naturally the stuff of ‘pedestrian’ middle-class, my ilk, that is currently at my throat.

That brings me to the accusation of hypocrisy. Those who have taken personal offence have missed the obvious grammatical tenor of the article, which is all about ‘us’ and ‘me too’ and not ‘you’ and ‘only you’. In fact, it is the suicidal indulgence of many, me included, that is the launching pad for the outburst. At a collective level, the pique stems from the common pool of legitimate anger, anguish or hurt, that all of us wallow in. And when we are made to pay a steep price for the villainous acts of those whom we voted to power, the rage rises. But as it does, its impotence also shows up sharply. That’s when we get tempered and tend to look within; otherwise we will be no different from our parasitical tormentors. And any inverted gaze is unlikely to be flattering. From grassroot grease to the civic mess to conspicuous consumption to influence peddling to jumping signals to skipping queues to spitting in public to what not, the contribution of our natural individual proclivities is quite high and certainly diminishes the worth of our wrath. Therein lies the vile politico’s vindication and eventual victory.

And there is no sweeping condemnation as alleged by many. The ones who are non-indulgent and restrained, by choice or by economic compulsion, need take no offence. Also middle class, as many have pointed out, is a loose term. It defies definition. It could be income specific as the economist would prefer, but in reality it is a case of mental identification as also a matter of outlook. Savings, though meagre, can make a man feel rich while no amount of dough is enough for a shopaholic. The middle’’s woes are because they are unable to match incomes with consumption, particularly with the line beween essentials and luxuries vanishing. Middle class is also precariously perched on shifting sands, either the quicksand of financial doom or the fortuitous mounds built by favourable winds of fate, but loose sand all the same. But whatever the semantics or subtelities of expression, the blunt truth is middle India is living beyond its means and must tighten belts.

Now, will I think twice before meddling with the middle class? This amorphous mass forms the bulk of India’s humanity and it is difficult not to tread on its touchy toes. But for the moment, all of ‘us’ can get back to some MSingh bashing.

Now, those valuable coal blocks which he gave away at throwaway prices…

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Jawahar T R