“My servant hasn’t come today”, Mira mashi wailed on the phone.
“Domestic help.” I could see Asha mashi’s eyebrows twitch as she mentally corrected her sister.
“I will have to cook, clean all on my own, that too on a Sunday…”
Asha mashi rolled her eyes, then looked apologetically at me. I pretended I hadn’t seen her disinterest, getting up to drink water from the bottle kept at her bedside table.
Mashi , my mother’s first cousin, was my local guardian in Delhi. To my misfortune, she was also a senior Professor in the Department I had chosen to do my PhD. Luckily though, I had avoided her being my Supervisor as well (though I did not realise the lucky part until I spoke to Sourav, her graduate student/personal indentured labourer).
As a kid, I loved her. She had a large, pretty home, and had the fanciest delicacies served, when we visited her. That would usually be enough as a mark of character. But I also loved the way she dressed-cotton kurtas and lots of big, ethnic jewellery. Her salt and pepper hair, cut extremely short gave her gravity, as well as warmth. Also as little as I like to admit my absolute lack of depth, I loved the way she spoke English. It was fluent, but most importantly free of the embarrassingly heavy Bengali accent that saddled my parents’ diction.
What led to my grown up self not particularly liking her, was what has historically been responsible for drawing a wedge in even the most tightly knit of families: close contact.
It is difficult to avoid that, given that we spend the better part of the day in the same building. But I make sure that every visit I make to her place is punctuated by a gap of at least three months. This time it hadn’t been so bad. She had just discovered blogging. So we talked about that.
“It’s really lovely, isn’t it?, she said.
“ It really allows me to interact with people from all walks of life -other academics, enlightened journalists, social workers. No other forum provides such a democratic space for free discussions and debate. And it’s becoming quite a necessity in the increasingly censored non-virtual world, no?”
I agreed absent-mindedly as I stared at her blog counter. The number of hits she had gotten in two weeks had exceeded the number I had managed in over ten months.
Her first post had been an impassioned argument against a rabid communal leader, emerging as the Prime Ministerial candidate of a right-wing party. That had received a rousing reception from the readers. Her latest post was a chilling account of how the film industry and a best-selling author were conspiring to turn popular opinion in the leader’s favour. The first few comments awaiting moderation, showed that there were others who agreed with the view.
“The dumbed down easy version of history that the film offered will be lapped up by the ignorant and consumerist masses of the country”, a journalist from an Eminent Newspaper wrote.
I didn’t take kindly to being called ignorant. And my stipend didn’t allow me to be consumerist. So I felt happy seeing an Indian Warrior, defending my ilk. Unfortunately, his argument, that I speed-read while Asha mashi was busy tuning her sister out, was less than convincing.
“how can you pseudos ignore 59 innocents killed in the train…your arguments are not only dishonest, but downright treacherous. You people should just go to China. They will shoot you in the head there if you write such things and you would bloody well deserve that…”, he had written.
It never got published.
Monday morning, a mail from mashi sat in my inbox. It had her recent academic paper in the attachment. She invited everyone from the Department to give feedback. Apparently an anonymous referee had said the paper made sweeping generalisations, and that certain sections were devoid of research. The same day, Sourav had his research methodology torn apart. I deleted the mail in solidarity with him. Plus I was already being compelled to do the same kind of work for my Supervisor, Prof Abhimanyu. I was certainly not going to voluntarily do more.
Actually I don’t know what I hate more. The pointless vacillations that Mashi’s papers are, or the equally useless, complicated mathematical edifices that my professor constructs. Of course, he gets more respect in the Department, as in the profession in general. Some of the older professors practically dote on him, their star ex-student, who went on to get a PhD from Harvard, but returned after years of teaching there, to give back to his alma-mater.
“It’s an exciting time for India, isn’t it?, he said when I asked him what made him come back.
I would like him more, I think were it not for his budding friendship with Asha mashi. More sources of close contact, I rued, when I saw them having tea from the coffee-house. Apparently, they had bonded since the last Departmental meeting (which Sourav had attended by virtue of being a TA).
Some of the professors had wanted to drop Mashi’s subject. In a department dominated by Game theorists and Econometricians, it was seen as soft. The matronly Head of the Department had offered her the chance to teach economic history instead. Mashi had been shocked. Nobel prize winning economists had been in the vanguard of her subject. Economic history was the preserve of historians, she had argued. Abhimanyu had backed her up then. He and Prof Qureshi. The three of them had been inseparable since. And not just on campus. I once spotted them at Habitat, where I had gone to meet a friend. I deduced they were there for a Sufi Music Recital. Prof Qureshi was nowhere around though.
In the afternoon, Prof Abhimanyu called me to his office to discuss my dissertation. I had asked for an appointment two weeks back and he could finally accommodate me. He looked busy when I entered, evidently going through the document I had sent him. He found a fault in my work, and tilted the computer screen in my direction, so that I could explain myself. My stuttering was interrupted by his intercom ringing. The HOD wanted to see him. He told me to think while I waited for him to come back. I obediently decided to google my way through the problem. Apparently the Professor was going through a blog before I had entered. The post was by an Indian Warrior. The post revealed how the mainstream media’s coverage was biased towards the ruling pseudo secular party. How it was mechanically spreading canards about the only alternative, a dynamic leader, slowly emerging as the most viable candidate to lead the country into a new, bright future. A half written, yet-unsubmitted comment by a TruePatriot47 sat in the comment form.
“You have nailed it! The youth want development. Which he CAN deliver. And which these sickular commies refuse to acknowledge”, the message said.