For the past few days, family, friends and journalists from India have been sending me news and political cartoons about a man named Ajit Pawar. I have never met him. I have met his uncle, Sharad Pawar, many years ago, as corrupt a politician then as he is now. I nod at the outrage that my friends are feeling about something the younger Pawar said, about droughts and dams and urinating into dams. I am not surprised at his sickening remark, but I am not incensed, either. Too many Indian politicians have said too many painful things lately.
But this one should hit me harder, right? After all, I have just written a novel about a matter that I care deeply about - the mounting suicides of farmers in Maharashtra, the state in which I grew up. This thing with Ajit Pawar should be especially hard to take, given that things have only worsened since I started to write this book and that Maharashtra is facing, right now, its worst drought in four decades. But I am not appalled. I don't expect much from these men, even though, in my novel, the chief minister actually does one good thing. But, what do I know? Clearly, I have written fiction.
In an idle moment, though, I go to YouTube and type in his name. I watch the clip and roll my eyes. And then, my heart sinks. It's not what Ajit Pawar says. It's the laughter in the audience. Again and again, the laughter. Live laughter, not canned. People in the audience, collectively laughing, uncontrollably, heartily, as if they were at a comedy club and the man before them was not the Deputy Chief Minister of Maharashtra who has been accused pocketing huge sums of money meant to save dying farmers but a comedian trying to make a living. As if the jokes were slapstick and as if the butt of the jokes was not a man named "Something-or-the-other Deshmukh," a farmer who was on hunger strike to beg for water for his village. "How to give them water from the dam? Shall I urinate in the dam?" Pawar asks, and, cue...laughter. See for yourself --
I stare at the ceiling for a few minutes. I am reminded of something chilling that my former teacher, journalist P. Sainath, says toward the end of his talks on the farmers' suicides. He asks people to think of Emperor Nero, who illuminated his parties by burning live prisoners and the poor. Then, Sainath asks us to think not of Nero but of the guests who go along with Nero's frightening atrocities.
So, I will continue to care little about Ajit Pawar. This isn't about Ajit Pawar. I will always wonder why the journalists didn't turn the cameras swiftly around on the audience. If I could do an interview today, I would find each and every one of those people who laughed in the audience and ask them to go with me to meet that farmer Pawar was referring to, Bhaiyya Deshmukh, who, it was reported just a few hours before I wrote this, has just tried to kill himself in desperation.
I will ask these people to laugh in this man's face.