At the cinema today, I saw the trailer of a movie that made tears well up in my eyes. It wasn’t the footage of the movie that made me feel upset and weepy; it was merely the provocative title, which was Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. All of a sudden, I felt terribly envious of all the lovely freedoms that are available in the western world. Think about this: if someone in India had the courage to name a movie something like Indira Gandhi: Zombie Slayer or Atal Bihari Vajpayee:Werewolf Stalker, all the folks in Parliament would stop screaming and shouting and throwing flower pots at each other like they usually do to kill time, and direct their rage at the filmmaker, actors, make-up men and spot boys instead. Even worse, an extremely rare thing would happen — there would be consensus across party lines and, inevitably, a ban would follow. Sigh.
In other countries, parliaments usually pass laws. Of late, in our Parliament, however, more bans are passed than laws. Take the current hysteria over an ancient 1949 cartoon of Dr BR Ambedkar and Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru in a textbook: Dalit parties suddenly woke up, warmly wished each other a very good morning, and decided to object to it. Our current crop of highly esteemed, most honourable, living gods on earth, parliamentarians, unanimously agreed to ban it but, of course, it doesn’t end there — all cartoons in textbooks are to be banned as well, for good measure. Now, if only the British had given us their marvellous self-deprecatory sense of humour, perhaps Indian citizens wouldn’t mutter darkly about our beloved Kohinoor diamond in their crown jewels. It would have been fair trade because humour is as precious as gigantic diamonds, after all. Oh, well, if ever I bump into Nobel prizewinner Amartya Sen I’m going to suggest The Humourless Indian as a title for his next book. He has a great sense of humour — I’m sure he’ll agree!
And what on earth do we do about Mamata Banerjee, Chief Minister of West Bengal? Don’t get me wrong, I love her dearly — she’s a living, breathing cartoon character, what with her banshee-like wails, her megalomania, extreme paranoia and her relentless passion for flushing out reds from under beds and from innocuous news channel debates as well! While I can’t draw to save my life, the lovely lady has inspired me to create very many comic sketches of her in my head, like, say, Sigmund Freud on his knees, begging God to send him back to earth just for a day so he can decipher one of the most interesting personalities in the history of mankind. I’m longing to join an art school so that I can put my cartoons of Mamata down on paper but fear of being clapped into jail is what’s holding me back. Heck, she got a professor roughed up and arrested for merely forwarding a cartoon of her on a social networking site. On behalf of the Terribly Frightened and Trembling Cartoon Association of India (TFTCAI), I appeal to scientists across the world to discover the humour gene asap — we desperately need to inject gigantic doses into Mamata and other honourable Indian politicians so they can allow us to create our masterpieces in peace.
While I can’t draw to save my life, the lovely lady has inspired me to create very many comic sketches of her in my head
Till then, I have to content myself with doodling furiously. I cannot suppress the urge to add some life to photographs of almost every Indian politician I catch sight of in newspapers and mags. So far, I have childishly scribbled bushy moustaches on mug shots of all our female politicians, given our prime minister astronomically high stiletto-heeled shoes so he can tower menacingly over his party president, but my pièce de résistance was my touch-up of the Gujarat chief minister’s photograph: I used a thick black marker pen and wiped out Modi’s entire face which not just made him look much better but it made me feel much better too.
Finally, I appeal to all school teachers in India who passionately believe in freedom of speech to organise cartoon contests in schools. The subject will be our beloved netas, of course. After all, if we don’t speak out right now, we may forever have to hold our peace. And Amartya Sen will have yet another title for a book: The Silent Indian.