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Saturday, April 25, 2009

Attempts at becoming immortal

I am now seriously contemplating having an inaugural ceremony at my residence, the next time I purchase a Television, Music System, Refrigerator or any costly household appliance. The ceremony will be replete with an inaugural plaque mentioning of-course my name in bold, which will be stuck to the equipment. After all being the boss of the house I shall be doing the honors almost every time. At times I may also invite senior neighbors for the ceremony and their names will also be displayed on the plaque in an appropriate capacity, generally as the Guests of Honor.

Sounds strange, to the extent of being ridiculous. Well a similar scenario is what we indulge in regularly during the course of discharge of our official responsibilities. So what is strange about it if we extend the same to our homes.

Jokes apart, my wife and daughters have just now warned me that my plan is outright foolish and they would go to any extent to prevent me from putting it in action. They are certain that my scheme is going to make me not “amar”, but a laughing stock in the railway colony. If engraving names on foundation/inaugural plaques started conferring “amaratva”, on the person so named, then perhaps I would have been permitted to indulge, but not otherwise. My daughter also sarcastically reminded me that Gandhiji and Pandit Nehru are “amar” not because of their names having been engraved on plaques, but because of their contribution to the society they lived in.

My recent visit to Simla shocked me. Worthy attempts at glorifying heritage bridges by placing granite plaques mentioning the significance of the heritage structures, had fallen terribly short of the professed objective because the plaques also glorified the officials responsible not for building the structure, but for putting the plaque. Again crude attempts at sycophancy and also attaining “amaratva”. Well think of a scenario 100 years hence when it would appear that the names on the plaques are those of the builder. History would then stand rewritten and the engineer who was born 50 years after the bridge was built would come to be identified as the builder of the bridge. I am also reminded of an inaugural ceremony held in Delhi a couple of years back when a minister inaugurated a “dustbin”. I was told that the ceremony itself attracted a lot of sniggers, but what are few sniggers on the road to “amaratva”. But one occasion which was really the cause of great entertainment for the participants was when two ministers jointly inaugurated a toilet block at a public place.

We have become a nation of inaugural and foundation stone ceremonies. Open any newspaper and you find innumerable instances of public figures vying for amaratva. Full page advertisements announcing inaugural or foundation stone ceremonies have become common. The ceremony itself becomes larger than life and the very cause of the ceremony becomes insignificant vis-à-vis the Chief Guest. Omnipresent sycophants contribute in no small measure by leaving no stone unturned during such occasions and well after the event is over, the cause can go to hell. Very often it so happens that first it is decided to “maskofy” a public figure and then the foundation or inaugural ceremony is suitably evolved. Well on a more sombre note, comparing the two, I am supportive more of the inaugurals because they signify completion of an activity even if it is a dustbin, a toilet block or the plaque itself. What really annoys me however are the foundation stone ceremonies, which are a dime a dozen these days and no one really has even the foggiest of idea of the day when the foundation stone would get consummated. You lay a foundation stone with great fanfare, achieve amaratva and then conveniently move on to another ceremony elsewhere. But think of the positive side. Every activity has so much potential for ceremonies and there are so many petty activities to be performed. Everyone who is a somebody can always remain busy either cutting ribbons or marking attendance during these ceremonies. The potential is immense and I am confident that we as a society will leave no stone unturned in lapping it up ad infinitum.

I just am not able to appreciate this great national pastime of laying foundation and inaugural stones for almost about everything under the sun. Is it not the job of Governments to provide roads or say public toilets or say railway lines?. Why the hell do we then lay foundation or inaugural stones for carrying out routine obligatory functions. Or is it that the Indian society has become so bankrupt of achievements that even a toilet block or a new dustbin is considered a national achievement which should be celeberated and whose builders should be immortalised in stone for posterity. I am not deriding these stones totally. Definetely we should lay foundation and inaugural stones for long 8 lane highways or new power stations, fertiliser plants or if I let my imagination run wild, say a new quadrilateral for the railways. These would definetely be achievements of stature and the builders or dreamers of them deserve being immortalised in history, but not those of toilet blocks, dustbins or even boundary walls.

We ape the west in almost every sphere of our life. I once asked a Britisher whether in his nation they have such ceremonies as frequently as in India. He smirked and said that such ceremonies send a signal that the nation is bereft of real achievements. It is sad but it is the truth, a truth which dawns on me every day when I open the morning newspaper. Besides the routine and the sensational stuff, there are news stories about cultural events being held, CD’s being released, exhibitions being inaugurated, petty structures being renovated and many other insignificant events trying to rev up our national pride. What is glaringly missing are significant achievments in any sphere of activity, achievements which would make a positive contribution to the growth of the nation. Does it mean that we have become a nation of non achievers, the conformists or the status quoists. Again sad but true. A very high acceptability of the status quoists by the Indian society is what is ruining the nation. A society which feels uneasy with achievers is what we have become today. And therefore the foundation and inaugural stones, which give a false sense of achievement from mediocre run of the mill accomplishments.

If my point of view were to prevail, I would place an immediate ban on laying of any type of stone other than the tombstone. Let people be known and remembered for what they have achieved in life or contributed to the society, rather than by having their names engraved in granite or marble stones for petty activities.

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