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Thursday, September 17

Between cattle and the holy cows

Oh no, my favourite politician has found himself in hot waters again!

Shashi Tharoor is turning out to be the darling of Indian press. Be cautious! When you become the toast of the media you naturally find yourself staring at a big ugly canon because our mediafolks have never a good word to say about anybody or anything, unless you are a bollywood superstar. And the Trivandrum MP has had a fairly rough induction into his new career as an Indian Parliamentarian, pretty rough.

Dr.Tharoor's trackrecord in India exhibits one clear prominent feature. His ability to rake up controversies. It started the very day his name was announced as the contestant to New Delhi from Trivandrum. From the burning of his effigy by his own partymates to the National anthem controversy, he emerged all flags flying, amidst personal attacks pertaining to his American Connection, Israel soft-corner, literary works, Canadian wife and affluent lifestyle, one accusation outdoing the next in absurdity and stupidity.

His life as an MP and Minister kick started with questions raised about his  'strange'  hobby of Tweeting. This came from people who didn't know if Twitter was an animal or a bird. Tharoor's clarification was nodded to by everybody. The mooncalf journo who tried acting the smartass had his ass kicked and the matter was laid to rest. Then came the tiff with the losers at Trivandrum DCC and also a poke- poke back with the NSS. Nevertheless Tharoor won Round One 21-0.

The recent Five Star Hotel issue (or rather should I call it the non-issue?) brought the man again back in frame. It all began with a laughable Austerity Drive by the Congress head honchos by gimmicks like travelling in the Economy Class on flights, cutting down needless expenditures and so on. Laughable, because crores are spent on managing these palatial ministerial bunglows at the taxpayer's expense and Highway Minister Kamal Nath was on a glob-trot for no reason with accomodation in Five-Diamond rated Hotels..I don't know on whose bright head this austerity bulb flashed first but I can tell you where this is headed. Are all our politicians going to travel in the Economy Class forever? Haaaaaah, I'd bet my house on them moving on to the posh upper zones in a hurry, by citing security reasons and whatever crap they could think of. But Tharoor lost a few personal points in this political ploy when he was asked to vacate the Hotel suite where he was staying by paying from his own pocket!

The waves of this Hotel nonsense were just retaliating when the next one has crashed down on all of us, this time with the effect of a Tsunami! And this one seems bad enough, with Tharoor's trendy aide, Twitter, letting him down this time.

It all started when Tharror responded to a friendly light-sided tweet from Mr.Kanchan Gupta, Associate Editor of the Pioneer. His tweet was as follows: (Sept 14, 11:27am)

@ShashiTharoor Tell us Minister, next time you travel to Kerala, will it be cattle class?

Tharoor, as whimsical as he is responded in a so-so manner.

@ Kanchan Gupta, absolutely, in cattle class out of solidarity with all our holy cows!

And Kanchan Gupta followed it up with the safe-journey wish. (note the emoction) (Sept 15, 10:11pm)

@ Shashi Tharoor, Have a nice journey. And since there is no austerity out there, have fun.. :)

Now, I first heard about this issue when a friend of mine pinged me about this in Gtalk. He asked me if I had heard what Dr. Tharoor had just said. On briefing me, I just asked "What! Did he really say something like that!?"  My initial stress was on the 'holy cow' part of it becuase it, in all probability, was meant to aim the Congress think tanks and it wouldn't be digested well.

The indigestion would be for a few good reasons. First it would be interpreted as a poke at the "Austerity campaign" undertaken by his party bosses. Secondly the humour element in a harmless off-topic conversation between two individuals would be dissociated when the Press and public interpret his words. Lastly and most obviously,  English is not the first, or even the second language of a mammoth chunk of our countrymen and Tharoor's colloquial Oxford English usage won't be taken in the exact sense a Scottish teenager would've seen it.

That's exactly what happened here. Lost in translation, lost in context...

In all fairness to Tharoor, Cattle Class is an accepted and widely frequented synonym for Economy Class travel. Tharoor used it as a run-of-the-mill response, remember, but this is where the words and phrases find new and out of context meanings when in translation.

Remind you of something? The now infamous 'dog remarks'  by Kerala CM Comrade Achutanandan. Same settings, same ploy, same error.. Now if Achumama was wrong there, Tharoor is wrong here. You take out the 'if' from the previous sentence, it still holds its fact, sadly.

What I understand from this is that you needn't be wrong to be deemed wrong. The omnipresent television folks are ready to spring upon anything, and under the present Indian circumstances the media verdict is kinda interpreted as the people's opinion. Doesn't matter if you're right or wrong, what the media vomits and excretes are sacred offerings... Our billion-strong population can very well be taken for a ride, like the ongoing China-India war! I don't know whats going on there, do you?

A high profile personality like Shashi Tharoor is always under the microscope. It is news if he says something, its news even if he doesn't say anything. So when he rather speak, he may well weigh his words before letting it out. His tweets are for me, you and the whole world to see. So as a man of high honour it may well be prudent if Dr. Tharoor pays a little more attention to his words and deeds. Sadly, humour sense and common sense is not something very common in our set-up, as he has learned the hard way.

I hope senses prevail among the leaders and Tharoor not be reprimanded for being witty. He is a league ahead of some of the mainstream leaders we got up there and perhaps that's his main fault: being ahead of the curve.  And as for Dr. Tharoor, he may better learn this lesson well, and quick!

Update 18/09/2009 0330 hrs IST
What began in Twitter hopefully will end in Twitter. Shashi Tharoor has expressed his regret and apologies for the inattentive(!) and insensitive(?) use of jargons. From Twitter:

learned belatedly of fuss over my tweet replying to journo's query whether i wld travel to Kerala in "cattle class". His phrase which i rptd

it's a silly expression but means no disrespect to economy travellers, only to airlines for herding us in like cattle. Many have misunderstd

i'm told it sounds worse in Malayalam, esp out of context. To those hurt by the belief that my repeating the phrase showed contempt: sorry

i now realize i shldnt assume people will appreciate humour. &u shouldn't give those who wld wilfully distort yr words an opportnty to do so

And as an explanation to his "holy cow"  usage, Tharoor replies to the querry of a fellow tweeter.

@dilnawazpasha holy cows are NOT individuals but sacrosanct issues or principles that no one dares challenge. Wish critics wld look it up

So Dr. Tharoor, hope the ones crying for your blood will be satiated by this. And appreciate the courage shown to accept the tactical or political error you've commited. You said it, ours is not a funny country and we have to live with it.

Suggested reads on the same issue.

Its a joke, you stupid cretins!
Congress's sense of humour is pathetic
Austerity 09: Random thoughts
A Cattle-class country?

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