It is very rare to find someone with a sense of humour in the corridors of power; clearly pomposity and the lal-batti mentality take precedence over wit and repartee. Which is why it was very refreshing to see our Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj’s witty response to the rocket scientist who tweeted that he was stuck on Mars, with food sent via Mangalyaan running out. Ms Swaraj replied with some sauce, “that the Indian embassy on Mars would help. Space no bar.”
Clearly our FM has come a long way from the days when she took umbrage at the Close-up ad featuring kissing or fumed at the sultans of smut on FTV who poisoned the minds of our youth (and several senior citizens) with their perverted version of the Emperor's new clothes. These brazen bimbettes had the nerve to sashay down the ramp clad in nothing more than a pair of filmy chuddies, with maybe a token handkerchief around their chests. The last straw — the kind of thing that makes a lady abandon her Talibanic correspondence course in moral rectitude — was that vile advertisement for Close Up.
Kissing, and not a chaste, brotherly peck on the cheek, but a vulgar, lip-smacking, orgiastic, sinful display of lust. No wonder Sushmaji was upset. ‘This is obscene and I will see to it that this ad is banned,’ she declared in tones of righteous moral indignation, at that time. It's become rampant, this odious Western import: kissing when you meet and then as if that weren't enough, kissing when you leave. Enter MTV… exit Indian culture. What is wrong with Marc Robinson and that Sophiya Haque? Can't they say hello like decent, respectable Indians? No, they have to slobber all over each other. Back in the good old days of AIR, we were never such a depraved bunch. We greeted each other in polite society with a formal namaskar accompanied by a graceful folding of the hands.
Tamilians annoyed at the imposition of Hindi did the hand-folding bit but took care to say, ‘Vannakam.’ This practice was discontinued when an irreverent Punjabi, Vicky Talwar, created havoc at the Brahma Gana Sabha in Chennai by extending a hairy hand to Kanjeevaram-clad matrons saying, ‘Wanna come?’ His ‘invitation’ accompanied as it was by a smirk and a leer left none of its recipients in any doubt as to what precisely he had in mind.
To get back to kissing, today everyone from Amar Singh to Salman Khurshid puckers up and does the nasty at parties. The dictionary definition of kissing skirts delicately around the issue: touch with the lips, especially as a sign of love, affection, greeting or reverence. Tchah, I can almost hear Ms. Swaraj expostulate, totally inaccurate. An obscene, vulgar display is what it is. In fact I have little doubt that had the venerable editor of the Concise Oxford Dictionary been present, Sushma Aunty would have boxed his ears soundly for his timidity of definition.
You may dismiss her as a prude but I am convinced of her bona fides in this whole kissing imbroglio: she is a true patriot who has the nation's interests at heart. You see kissing by itself is a harmless Western aberration but left unchecked, it leads on to the collateral damage of overcrowding. It took a fair amount of what my late friend, Brig Texeira, used to call “argie-bargy” before we caught up with the Chinese in terms of population, and kissing is the root cause. If any unenlightened specimen is small-minded enough to point out that Close Up is beyond the reach of our masses, I'll give him such a pasting he won't need toothpaste anymore.
The best part about Sushmaji's moral code is that it absolved us from any blame. All eve-teasers, rapists and molesters had a tailor-made excuse for their behaviour. Where once people wore t-shirts inscribed with the legend, ‘The Devil made me do it’ they now had Close Up to take the rap. My local shrink suggests her aversion to kissing stems from some childhood trauma: maybe she went to school with Georgy Porgie. But that was then and clearly some milestone event has taken place giving her a fresh outlook on life. I would like to give Theresa May the credit: perhaps she gifted a book of poetry to Sushmaji during her recent state visit. I am assuming this included Browning’s immortal work, “A Toccata of Galuppi”: ‘What of soul was left, I wonder, when the kissing had to stop?’