There are some burdens we’re meant to carry and some we impose on ourselves without realising what we’re doing. I know because I carry the 56-inch tag. It wasn’t necessary but it seemed like a smart line in that context so long ago. I had to be different, show more weight. And my heavyweight Other insisted on it because it chimed in so well with our campaign then. And my people loved it so I kept it even though, as he told me privately, it was just another jumla. Alas that they should take it so literally. It’s like a dildo masquerading as a fire hose.

I won’t deny that it was a great feeling in a little place. It’s the kind of title that implies not just respect but affection as well. And there really was nothing I couldn’t do. I solved the major social adjustment issue that’s bothered us for so many decades in just one shot. I gave power to those who needed it and took it away from those who had too much. Both, but especially the first one, made me many enemies and they’ve hounded me ever since even though it hasn’t worked for them. But it’s no more than I expected. When you shake up the old order it revives old hatreds and breeds new ones, mostly because I went boldly where they feared to go. So the enemies I made are simply jealous. I’ve done things that they never even dreamed of. Unfortunately, that also makes the 56-inch tag seem so real.

I revived a dead river and for the first time in their lives my people could sit on the banks of a flowing stream and enjoy their vegetarian snacks right in the middle of the city. It was like being on holiday in the office, something my prudent followers appreciated no end. They’ve always loved a bargain and here they got it, and how. A holiday without the expense of hotels and transport, who else could do that, eh? I’m told there’s a premium on pectoral padding these days, thanks to you know who.

I even made farmers pay their electricity bills. This, I think, is my greatest achievement. I doubt Superman could have done that and kept them happy. But it didn’t make the slightest difference to their love for me. In fact, they told me, “Bhai, you are our man for all reasons and all seasons”. So, you see, I don’t just preach equality, I even practise it, unlike those hypocrites. Actually, I’d like to do even more or make things equal but unfortunately the law doesn’t allow it. Don’t quote me but this part of the law is an ass. It’s the only thing that prevents me from being known as The Great Equaliser. It’s better than some of the names I’ve been given. If I had a choice, though, I’d like to be known as The Progress.

I’ve got so many ideas about how to make lives better for people. And it’s a matter of record that I’ve done it successfully. Long ago, when I was still a rookie, I wanted to start a scheme to encourage small business in the boondocks. I came up with this idea to provide a support network for existing products, a sort of service sector. I thought it should be called Local Order of Value Entrepreneurs. But my bucolic friends were uncomfortable, so we changed the name to Laghu Vikas (LaVa). That’s how it’s known even today. 

Then a couple of years later, I was thinking of a short but comprehensive practical education scheme for young people to give them a better idea of the real world. We worked out a course for it and, as I’m good with acronyms I suggested we call Joint Industry History Arts Development Studies. Needless to say, it was shot down by my learned friends. They felt it was too much of a mouthful. Far from being dictatorial, it shows how I’m actually a bit of a pushover. I must mention here that the two acronyms had a role to play later on, but I had nothing to do with any of that. Everyone knows how hard I’ve worked for harmony, so that we sing the same tune. When I learnt how some of my more excitable friends had used it, I was saddened. But what could I do?

I was caught in a real bind. On the one hand I didn’t like what they were doing, on the other my lips were sealed because they were so honest in my interest. The problem is that they were so long in the woodwork that their brains had turned into sawdust. Talk about blockheads. Still, it worked out in the end, so I shouldn’t complain too much. But I’m grateful they haven’t noticed my most famous acronym Make In India (MiA), or they would be complaining about my sympathies. Right now, it seems I can’t open my mouth without someone recording an objection.    

Things have to change but I must be patient. My time will come. These days the only thing I can change without a loud public protest breaking out is my underwear. It’s sparkling clean, if you want to know, the way I’ll make things if I get half a chance. No, that’s wrong, I must make, not get. As my guru told me all those years ago, man is born but to clear obstacles. I believe him because I’ve come across so many in my own life. Needless to say, I’ve removed every one of them from my way, including the Entitled Brat and the
Old Pathfinders Society.

Pathfinders, my foot, they couldn’t find their way out of a parking lot in broad daylight. Don’t get me wrong, no one has more respect for them, they were my mentors for so long and kept us going in the darkest times. But they didn’t take us anywhere, just round and round, like Moses in the Sinai desert. Well, it didn’t last 40 years but for some of us it seemed even longer as they dithered and doddered, blithely taking wrong turns every time. Water and greenery always seemed a step too far. Just look at what I did in contrast. In one year I brought the tribe out of the cold to the warmth of a real fire. If that isn’t an occasion for chest thumping I’d like to know what is.

But are they enjoying it? I suppose they are; who doesn’t like a comfortable chair at their age? Oh, I forgot, they trained under the noble Knights of Khaki. Yes, you were lucky to get hard wooden benches when they allowed you to sit down. Usually it was the floor. I worked there for an age and always preferred to be walking around doing something, which is what our masters liked anyway. But I’ve got over that ever since I won the right to my own chair(s). They’re all soft, well padded and made for one person only (the benches were for five people). I suppose this need to be active is a conditioned reflex with these pathfinders. I wish they wouldn’t, it’s undignified; makes them look like a cat with piles.

I know what this is all about. They hate the thought that I showed the way, led it in fact, and that I’m the chief of the tribe now, anointed by our most sacred secular ritual. It makes them look as if they were leading us up the garden path all this time. So they let off a broadside after our recent minor embarrassment. I mean, let’s get this in perspective. For years on end, we felt continuously embarrassed as they took us from dead-end to dead-end. Did I say anything?  I wanted to and I could have, but I showed respect. That’s all I ask in return, never mind love, I get enough of that from my people.

Speaking of that, have you ever faced a stadium full of devotees who’ve travelled long distances to see you, and held them in the palm of your hand? I have, frequently, most recently in London. It gives you new life, and I needed it after our recent setback. It washed away the pain and disappointment of someone trampling all over your face. But it’s hard to describe that unbearable lightness of feeling. I’m sure our sainted pathfinders will agree because they are unfamiliar with it. 



hoever said “success has many friends” should come and see me some time. I’m quite alone these days. But that’s okay, I can carry this burden, I was born to toil, after all. Besides, I do have one friend. But I will confess to one thing; sometimes when I look at myself, especially in the mirror, I thump my chest the way Lord Hanuman must have done when he faced Ravana in Lanka.    

That’s not too often these days, though. London was great if gloomy and it’s nice to meet bhagats anywhere but right now I’m trying to find out why I caught an ebb tide at home. It felt a bit like a surfer launching himself on a wave, only to see it move away suddenly at the last moment and dropping him on the sand with a sickening thud. For me, the question of questions is, how could someone reject me for a convicted criminal on perpetual parole? Even my only friend has no answer, except that he feels we didn’t go far enough. Others on the other hand, including our Pathfinders, feel we went too far and got sucked in by a retreating tide.

I’m not convinced by their argument. They are the same people who had doubts about everything I’ve done over the years. I proved them wrong every time. There’s no mystery here. One thing they never got was that everyone doesn’t have to like you; if enough of them do the rest don’t matter. I call it a calculated division and my friend calls it the power of 56. I believe I’ve refined it to a fine art with the help of my friends. Or maybe not…

It happens, I guess, and it’s their time to chuckle now, but I don’t like the tone. One particularly mean-spirited person even said we rode the Wave to Nowhere. It’s a sad day when people can’t take success gracefully.

But you know what hurts me most? It’s this business of people returning awards because they don’t like our faces. That’s the outside of enough. I can’t help the way I look, can I? This thing takes me back to my childhood. The fellow who brought the gilli danda that we played with always did whatever he liked. If one of us didn’t like it and dared to say so he just walked off with his danda and his gilli.

These people are grown-ups and they’re behaving in the same way. We didn’t change the rules, we didn’t change the playing conditions but they’re walking off all the same. Yes, we did change the personnel so I can only conclude that they don’t like our faces, or our homespun attire, or maybe our plain speech. Is that a reasonable attitude? Sounds a bit elitist and even racist to me.

What’s more, they’re blaming us for their walkout. I mean, where’s the justice in that? If you have any objection come and talk to us, give us a chance to explain. Haven’t they heard of evolution? Everything changes, for heaven’s sake.  No, give us our bat and ball because we’re going home. Talk about intolerance. And these are the people who subject us to unending lectures on the virtues of tolerance.  I’m sure they miss the irony altogether.

Success and (temporary) failure is part of the game and the ire and peevishness of my opponents is also understandable. I pay no attention to any of this but when ordinary people indicate they don’t like me I feel sad. They don’t do it publicly either, so that I may try and persuade them otherwise. I pride myself on my skills and some of my friends are even better at this particular task. Not only do they fail to express dissent, at public meetings everyone waves me on. Then they sneak off and press the wrong button on the machine. That is underhand behaviour, but do I complain? No, I tolerate their desertion. How can you stop people from doing what they want to do? That’s the problem with having a big heart.

Now I’ve said that I’m the First Servant of this nation and I say it again. The other day some smart aleck said I started out as a tea boy, I was one even now and would always be one. To that I say I would be honoured to serve my real masters tea any number of times all day. So what happens? The rumour then goes around that the tea is poisoned and so people quietly edge away. I can see in their eyes that they don’t trust me. The first time it happened, long ago, I found it hard to keep the tears from showing. Now I’m getting used to it, sadly enough. Is there no decency left? Not much, I think, given the way so many comrades have treated me down the years.

I’m beginning to think this power of 56 works both ways. It can be something of a curse if you have it too strongly. If the people against actually believe you have it they’ll get even nastier than usual to bring you down. They’re bound to try that much harder to  weaken you. But if your followers feel you’ve got it they’ll believe you can do anything. It’s what I call a real wedgie and even steel balls are not proof. On the one hand, too much hate, on the other, too many expectations, can any man carry it off? Obviously, 56 can; but that was supposed to be just a jumla.

I think I’m one of those unfortunate people who got what they wished for. Now I’m stuck with it. Can I say I was just joking then? Forget it, my corpulent friend tells me, unless you want to end up as a joke. So I guess I square my shoulders and stand up straight. I can carry this burden, great though it is. That’s what the titans do.

After all, Atlas never shrugged, did he?