(Published in the Business Standard, July 19, 2016)
As a pilot project, the Culture ministry has already graded 185 artistes into three categories — O (Outstanding), P (Promising), W (Waiting).”
Dear Diary, some progress. Met the under secretary to the deputy secretary to the Minister’s personal private secretary today. She assured me that my file was doing the rounds.
“We are well aware that you were added to the Waiting list by mistake,” she said, adding that the error would soon be corrected. “I hope so!” said the W-grade Writer. “After all the hard work I did mugging up Kalidasa and Abhinavagupta, and practising adho mukha svanasana every time I met mantriji, I should be on the O list!”
Dear Diary: Worried. Called the junior under secretary to the under secretary to the deputy secretary to the Minister’s personal private secretary this morning, to check that they were going to put me on the Outstanding list and not the Promising list.
“But Promising is an excellent category,” he said.
“It’s a terrible category,” said the W-grade Writer, swallowing two gomutra haritaki tablets to handle the stress. “All the useless fellows who didn’t get museum director posts or plum cultural council jobs or IIC membership have been lumped together by the Culture Ministry under ‘promising’. Where do you send P writers on junkets, anyway, Kyrgyzstan?”
He heard the junior under secretary draw in his breath sharply.
“You have a problem with Kyrgyzstan?”
“Wonderful country,” the writer said. “Love their Black Stallion dances. But between us, I was thinking that really, the Swiss could do with a dose of education about our ancient Indian culture and Sanskritic trad—”
He realised that the junior under secretary was still speaking. “… deeply suspicious for a writer to express levity about a country visited by the Beloved Leader.”
Of course the Beloved Leader had visited Kyrgyzstan, the writer thought, was there any part of the globe that he hadn’t graced with his presence. Time for pressure tactics. “Look,” he said, cutting the junior deputy secretary short, “words cannot do justice to the love I have for Kyrgyzstan. The mix of cultures, the melting pot traditions – Uzbeks, Russians, Uighurs, Tajiks, Chinese all living in peace with the Kyrgyz – great choice for the Beloved Leader.”
The junior under secretary said, almost inaudibly, to the junior personal assistant shared by all the junior under secretaries: “Make a note on his file – writer approves of mingling of different cultures, melting pot traditions.”
“Wait!” said the writer. “You say that like it’s a bad thing.”
“No, no,” said the junior under secretary. There was a long pause. “Not at all, not in the least. It’s just standard procedure, part of our KYW (Know Your Writer) scheme.”
The writer sensed danger. “May I remind you that the under secretary to the deputy secretary to the Minister’s personal private secretary said that I was added to the Waiting list by mistake?”
“Of course,” said the junior under secretary. “Call me back tomorrow. We’ll make the appropriate notation on your file.”
Dear Diary: Confusing day. I think I’m doing all right – two Promising poets nodded at me near North Block, but then one Outstanding artist cut me dead at the Textbook Revamp meeting near the Teen Murti Bhavan. But good news: my rival, that sycophant of a poet, Om Prakashji, has been sent to Kyrgyzstan to understudy with a Black Stallion dancer, because he wore Nike shorts instead of khaki shorts to the meeting. Let’s see what the junior under secretary says.
“We have done the needful,” said the junior under secretary. “You’re no longer on the W list.”
“That’s such a relief!” said the writer. “So am I on the O list or the P list?”
“Let me check,” said the junior under secretary. “The O list – sorry, the O list is full up with our Anti-Sepoy brothers, and also with Proud Nationalists.”
“But I’m a Proud Nationalist too!” said the writer, sending the junior under secretary a Snapchat photograph of his giant-sized polyester flag with acrylic base and plastic pole.
“That’s not good enough—we have 1 crore writers and artistes to screen,” said the junior under secretary regretfully. “You have to have authenticated booing credentials, or you should have publicly rejected corrupt Western narratives that have contaminated Indian education, or had anti-Hindu books banned – anything like that on your CV?”
“I once trolled a liberal on Twitter!” said the writer defensively.
The junior under secretary let a long, contemptuous silence fill the gap, before he took pity on the writer. “Never mind,” he said, “I’m shifting you from the W list to the Waiting list.”
“What? But that’s the same thing!” the writer wailed.
“No, no. This is the POW Waiting list: the special Waiting list for Writers not on the Waiting list who are on the Waiting list to become Promising or Outstanding Writers. It’s a completely different sub-category.”
“Oh. Right. Thank you,” said the writer glumly.
“Bharat Mata ki jai!” the junior under secretary said.
“Jai Hind!” the writer said, absent-mindedly.
“Memo: …” the junior under secretary began.
“Not that!” said the writer. “Look, we’ve spent so much time chatting, I feel like we’re almost friends, or co-anti-sickulars, or something. Give me a chance to join a Shiksha Samooh and prove that I’m a Outstanding at heart. Or even a Promising. Not that bloody W list again.”
“Well,” said the junior under secretary cautiously, “I may be able to shift you into a special sub-category. Not P, but off the W to P list, onto the queue for P list, or Q4P for short.”
“Thank you, and Bharat Mata ki jai,” said the writer gratefully, adding “hind” from force of habit before he could stop himself.
“You have to stop doing that,” said the junior under secretary crossly.
Dear Diary: In Mongolia, learning throat-singing for six months. Very pleasant. Certainly better than Om Prakashji, who is now in Siberia, studying the sewage system…