Apathy was just another word for me until recently. And then three leaders, two of them at the helm of the sled-team drawing our nation through these cold, unfeeling times, broke the silence – and expanded my vocabulary. Apathy is no mere word; it is not just the gloomy, all-consuming emptiness in place of an emotion. It is in fact a god for our politicians – a worshipful, omnipotent deity that must be propitiated and appropriated to win those much-coveted keys to the nation’s governance -- and, I say this contentiously, for its coffers. And just as the rest of us may worship Ganapathy or Venkatachalapathy or Umapathy, our netas worship Apathy.
And just as some of us believe that God made Man in his image, Apathy, too, manifests in a face. Witness, hereunder, the three faces of Apathy that we have seen in the week that was in these Grim Fairy Tales for Troubled Times.
Grim Fairy Tale # 1 – Nero’s Fiddling Lesson
Grim Fairy Tales - Nero's Fiddling Lesson - Bijoy Venugopal
Great Nero was in the midst of his fiddling lessons administered by his stern and demanding Roman tutor.
And then he heard The Noise.
For several days The Noise had been brewing, bubbling, seething and lapping in great waves at the palace gates but the excellent soundproofing of the palace kept the interiors tranquil and quiet. All you could hear were the rasping notes of a bow tugging at a string, a hushed yawn from the palace guards as they changed ear-plugs, and Nero muttering under his breath as he tried to get that pizzicato right.
And then, Nero heard The Noise.
It carried to his ears, feebly, above the din of sycophantic chanting from the courtiers and nobles. Slightly dissonant, wasn’t it?
“What was that?” Nero asked.
“Maybe the sound of a policeman’s lathi cracking someone’s shin,” the Tutor said. “Fiddle on, Great Nero!”
"Theek hai," he said, obedient as ever.
Grim Fairy Tale # 2 – The Om Minister
Protestors. Maoists. Terrorists. Idealists. Rapists. Communists. Therapists…
What’s the blessed difference?
None at all, intoned the Om Minister, unshaken in his trance. “Tackle them all with one weapon of choice: The Iron-willed Brahmastra of the State.”
The Cat shrugged.
The Om Minister was, quite literally, above persuasion.
“And what about us Miaowists,” asked the Cat. “Who will bell us?”
The Om Minister drew a deep breath and floated a few places higher.
We’re still waiting for him to exhale.
Grim Fairy Tale #3 - The Dented, the Painted and the Demented
The Happy Prince wiped the last morsel of shorshe ilish from his pouty bhadralok lips and tore his bhadralok eyes off the television where he was watching dented and painted women protesting.
Dazzled as he was by their beauty, he couldn't fathom why they would be out there in the Delhi winter baiting water cannons.
And then someone asked a Question.
Questions, Questions, he muttered under a sputter of fish breath. Ever since Papa was crowned Emperor, someone or the other was bothering him with Questions.
He furrowed his bhadralok brow, scratched his bhadralok temple, and wiggled his bhadralok chin.
And then he delivered the demented answer that has since dented his ego and painted him black, that has tainted and daunted and haunted and tormented him. It just wasn't what he had wanted.
Papa was livid, we hear. And ever since, he has been an Unhappy Prince, though he continues to live happily ever after.