The Wow FactorT. SHER SINGH
Monday, June 18, 2012
I remember how I once asked a friend who it was singing on the radio, and she instantly said: “Phil Collins, of course!“
A few days later, I was again intrigued by a singing voice and asked again. Again, she said “This is Phil Collins too!”
When this happened the third time, she said: “Remember, every time you’re dazzled by a voice on the radio, enough to ask who it is, chances are it is Phil Collins!”
I’ve often thought of that part-advice, part-admonishment since then, long after that extraordinary voice has disappeared from the pop-hit charts.
But particularly, I think of that rule of “if you feel the need to ask … then, it must be …!” when I am with a bunch of people and the image of the world’s head of states appears before us - on the TV screen, or in a newspaper or a magazine - and someone asks, “Wow! Who’s that goof-ball … that one in the second row … fourth from right …?”
Chances are, if you feel compelled to ask such a question, that it is the President of India you are talking about.
Also, if you happen to turn on your TV and see and hear someone on a world podium mangling and mauling the English language like you’ve never heard before, chances are you are listening to the President of India giving a speech in English.
Phil Collins had what you call the “Wow Factor”.
And I believe each successive President of India has had the “Wow Factor”.
Though the two come from different directions, I’m afraid.
There was a time when the office of the President of India was filled with people of integrity; people with class and dignity; people with all the qualities that are pre-requisite for being a nation’s “Head of State”.
I recall Dr. Rajendra Parshad, the first President.
Followed by another wonderful man, Dr. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan.
In turn, succeeded by a gentle and classy soul: Dr. Zakir Hussain.
And then, as the 60s came to a close, things started going downhill.
Hindutava had begun to rear its ugly head … “Nothing but Hindi”, was the slogan, and learning, speaking or using English in any manner in the country was branded a taboo! The “Gau Raksha Andolan” - the Cow Protection Movement - also became the national preoccupation. All other projects were put on the back-burner.
More significantly, the quality of the President of India thereon took a nose-dive too.
New criteria, it appears, were put in place.
Gravitas of any kind, to any degree, was a no-no.
The person filling the post from that point on - and things moved in large, incremental steps henceforth - was required, it appeared, to meet new tests.
Being uncouth in appearance was a definite plus.
If you had the misfortune of looking half decent, then, at the very least, you had to be a sycophant. You could demonstrate that easily with a lengthy record of corruption.
But the absolute minimum requirement was that you should appear to be a total idiot when appearing in any international setting. Which meant, at the very least, a total inability to speak the English language … properly.
No explanation was offered as to why it was necessary for the President of India to speak in English if he couldn’t do so properly. Many world leaders - GOOD world leaders - chose to speak in their own tongues and let the world translate what they are saying for their own edification. Nobody has ever complained over this practice.
Before someone vehla jumps on me for this, let me make one thing perfectly clear: I don’t believe that, a) it is absolutely necessary to speak in English, and b) there is anything wrong in having an accent, no matter how thick. Some accents are even sexy. True, those coming from the Hindi and Hindu belt in India aren’t … but that’s beside the point.
The point of any public communication is to convey to the listener what you are saying. If your accent comes in the way, stick to your own tongue and let the translator/interpreter do the hard work.
Or, better still, if you really think it is important that the person who represents your country single-handedly on the world stage should speak in the lingua franca of the world, then, for heaven’s sake, chose a person who can speak the bloody lingo properly!
Remember, the President of India doesn’t have a very long job description.
All it requires, one would think, is to look pretty.
There is no other requirement, it appears. Nothing.
Then, why choose someone who DOESN’T look pretty?
Why choose someone who, every time he or she opens the mouth, it is not a pretty or intelligible sound that emanates from within?
Let me approach it from another angle.
Have you ever … EVER! … stumbled across a volume of “Great and Inspiring Speeches by Indian Presidents”? Eh? Ever?
For good reason.
So, let’s not beat around the bush.
The job qualification today to be selected the President of India is one, and it’s a simple, straight-forward one.
The person must have the “Wow Factor!”
He or she must be capable of looking stupid - or sounding stupid - to the nth degree. So that heads will swing around the moment he or she walks in, or when he or she opens her mouth and emanates language-sounds.
Take the current President of India.
Let’s not even get into the fact that she was involved in encouraging murdering mobs in her own constituency during the 1984 anti-Sikh pogroms.
Let’s not even get into the fact that she used her office deftly to get massive grants of land at throw-away prices to herself, WHILE holding the office of the President of India.
Let’s not even, for a moment, get into the fact that she claims to communicate with dead people who guide her across the Great Divide in order to help her run her worldly affairs.
All of these facts, one would think, merely qualify her for the job. It's India, after all.
But the sari?
True, a woman is allowed to mangle her sari anyway she wants.
But, as President of India, don't you need to meet a higher standard? Do you have to turn it into a shroud, so that every time you enter a room, you waft in like a zombie.
Sorry, but I do love saris - they can be the sexiest thing a woman can wear.
But the words to describe how this woman wears hers - as President of India! - fail me. Doesn’t she owe the country some class, some gravitas, some …
Or do we merely want the Wow Factor in India‘s Presidents?
Of people exclaiming: “Wow! What in hell is that?”
Ever heard her give a speech on the world stage?
She certainly has the Wow Factor, I tell ya.
Just like her predecessor.
Remember his funky hair-style?
That was his Wow Factor, the sole reason why they made him President of India.
No, please don’t tell me how brilliant a man he was, or that he was a nuclear scientist, etc., etc. So? Give him a Rajya Sabha seat, let him sit with the other topi-, dhoti-, chappal-clad souls that are running the country into the ground.
But did they have to make him President?
Or was it his ability to maul the English language that impressed the good people of India?
* * * * *
That brings me to the horror, the horror, of the present. [I can hear Marlon Brando whispering those words in my ear, a la Apocalypse Now!]
They say, nothing in India changes … unless it is for the worse. [Proof: look at each and every index that measures world progress. India, dutifully, has been slipping, step by step, from the day of its creation 65 years ago. Today, the experts tell us, it is worse than EVER before.]
Today, the country is in the thick of choosing a successor to the Walking Shroud as the next President of India.
And they’ve found one, says the ruling coalition.
He has the Wow Factor like no one before!
No, I’m not referring to the fact that he has personally guided the finances of the country through the greatest period of plunder of the country’s exchequer in its history.
No, I’m not referring to the fact that he has, teflon-like, prevented any personal accounting over the umpteen personal scandals he has been involved in, each involving billions of dollars (yes, dollars, not Rupees).
Shri Pranab Mukerjee is being touted as the next President of India because not only does he insist on speaking in English in every international forum that is willing to have him, but he has the unique ability to speak it in such a unique manner that no one can understand a word.
Now, if that doesn’t give him the WOW Factor, I don’t know what else can!
He’ll indeed reflect India perfectly.
Conversation about this article
1: Sulakshna Powar (New Delhi, India), June 18, 2012, 7:26 AM.
So true, I'm embarrassed to admit ... so very true!
2: Kiran Kaur (Florida, U.S.A.), June 18, 2012, 8:06 AM.
This is hilarious. Particularly because it is so accurate. I've often wondered why India's Presidents are always so goofy. Well, now you've told us why.
3: J.J. Singh (London, United Kingdom), June 18, 2012, 8:10 AM.
It's so sad. Indian Presidents are selected, nominated, hand-picked - not elected by the plebians. So, one would've thought they had all the leeway they needed to put their country's best foot forward. Alas, there's never a good foot put forward. Maybe they don't have any!
4: Narinder (Jaipur, Rajasthan, India), June 18, 2012, 8:12 AM.
Andher nagri ... andher raja ...
5: Baleshwar Dubey (Kanpur, Uttar Pradesh, India), June 18, 2012, 8:24 AM.
I don't know how much the world is aware of all that goes on in our country. But here we see it as the enactment of the 'Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves' story. The forty thieves get to select their Ali Baba ... it's all to facilitate the thieving, the ongoing 'Open Sesame' of our country's vaults, and the plunder.
6: Labh Singh (Chandigarh, Punjab), June 18, 2012, 8:29 AM.
The presence of the most honest politician India has ever had as Prime Minister doesn't make an iota of difference. In fact, it has given our thieves an air of legitimacy. These last few years have been the worst in terms of corruption - not because of Manmohan Singh, but inspite of him. Wait till Pranab Mukerjee becomes President. Manbmohan Singh is due to retire soon ... then the whole-sale rape of this country will take over. The people? They have no say. They've never had any say. They want no say. They ask for no say. They are all busy with their own petty thefts.
7: Basant K. Bhasin (New Delhi, India), June 18, 2012, 8:48 AM.
Think about it, just for a moment: think about all the goodies our Finance Minister can dole out - rather, is doling out - as he gathers support from the usual suspects around him, for his own presidency. Conflict of interest? The concept is unheard of in this so-called democracy! Billions will change hands, licenses will be given, tarriffs will be fine-tuned, taxes will be 'adjusted' ... to the very last minute before the final vote.
8: Sangat Singh (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia), June 18, 2012, 9:48 AM.
In 1947 when India became an independent country, it was touted as the largest democracy. The journalists especially from West were clamouring to see it function. Naturally they made a bee-line to the Lok Sabha to see it in action. They sat passively and could hardly make out a word what was being said. Suddenly Pandit Nehru got up to answer a question on Kashmir, since he was also the foreign minister. Suddenly the sleeping journalist woke up and said, but, your Prime Minister is speaking in English. His local escort said: "My dear fellow, everyone else was speaking in English too, only it didn't register as such". Years later, I was attending a conference in Bangalore, and when I returned my colleagues wanted to know what I had learnt. My lament: "I could understand just one word ... when the speaker called out "Change the next slide". No wonder J. K. Galbraith, the erstwhile American Ambassador, declared that India was but a 'functioning anarchy'
9: Manjit Singh (Hamilton, Ontario, Canada), June 18, 2012, 1:40 PM.
A lack of civic pride and an absence of any sense of civic responsibility can only lead to this.
10: Harinder (Uttar Pradesh, India), June 18, 2012, 2:04 PM.
Sher ji, come and claim your country back.
11: M.K.S. (New York City, U.S.A.), June 18, 2012, 4:37 PM.
@ Labh Singh ji, Basant Kaur ji - i completely agree. My question - and I really would like to know the reason, this is not for being a smart alec - Why does India need the position of the President? Also, I've heard there are other political offices like the mayor and sheriff, etc. What really is their role? Are they simply vestiges of the colonial hierarchy that the Indians did not get around to abolishing yet?
12: Manpreet Singh (Hyderabad, India), June 26, 2012, 11:51 AM.
@ M.K.S - The fact is that people are not ready to accept the reality of the Indian constitution which is simply a copy-and-paste work. Oddly, all the so called secular leaders will boast about the constitution and the spurious democracy.