City City Bang Bang, Columns

Same ambition but two different roads

The can is rattling and the worms can barely conceal their glee. Slithering out one at a time on a daily basis, they give us fresh insight into the phenomenon called the IPL. By all accounts, the IPL seems like a compendium of morality plays compressed into a single event. The IPL, like all things truly wondrous and modern, manages to simultaneously magnify and compress reality. Money, sex, celebrities, a once pure sport, media apologists and slavish hangers-on, orgiastic parties, wheeling-dealing, envy and hate, this saga packs this all in while making each element larger than life. It is a commentary on our times that no one is really surprised with all the new discoveries- it is something we seem to have known all along. This is particularly true of the media, which through unblinking 24X7 coverage helped create a canopy of willful blindness by refusing to see what it saw. That the IPL was a cosy club, that it was a gravy train for the chosen few, that it was run along the lines of a banana republic was thus always known but never shown or spoken about. The coverage lingered on the celebrities, the moneybag-owners, the MRF blimp and Lalit Modi when not blathering on about Karbon Kamaal catches and Citi moments of success.

What has broken up the party is not the entry of an antagonist but that of another kindred soul trying to hitch a ride. On the face of it, of course, there can be no two people more dissimilar than Shashi Tharoor and Lalit Modi . Tharoor’s dexterity with words borders on the sleight-of-the tongue; words slide out of his mouth gracefully and perform parlour tricks worthy of a gifted illusionist. He uses his words as he does his hair; his locks dance and glide sinuously at every camera lens, the charm of hair just that wee bit out of place. Like a too-skilled driver, his words often take him to the wrong places, so fond he is of his own driving. For someone the glib assurance of someone to whom things always came easily, he has got it wrong astonishingly often. Tharoor represents the power of education that resolutely stays skin-deep; if it went any deeper, the words would cease to flow so fluidly for they would be tempered with some self-doubt. As it stands there is no stemming the flow, and he continues to flounder in the labyrinth of his own vocabulary.

In this particular case, his defence however articulate is laughable. No consultant, however exalted gets equity worth Rs 70 crores for services to be rendered in the future. The credentials of the lady in question are ordinary; no amount of spin and adjectival embellishments can alter that fact. As others have pointed out, this has nothing to do with sexism, and attempts to play such a blatantly exploitative card is a dead give-away to the dodginess of the deal. Tharoor’s ability to make anything sound plausible, particularly to himself is his undoing for in this case for there can be no meaningful defense of this equity award, no matter how eloquent the argument.

If Tharoor hides his hunger for attention in a silky veil of language, Modi advertises it in a blare of self-importance. If Tharoor is silver-tongued, Modi splutters like a faucet in a LIG flat. If the former saw success as inevitable, the latter wrestled it down and rode it till it capitulated. There is nothing charming about Lalit Modi and that doesn’t seem to have come in his way. He has seduced everyone- sponsors, the media and the paying public not by charm but by making them co-passengers on a gravy train. Modi represents a new face of India, one that thinks on a huge scale and acts swiftly, purposefully and without any thought about the eventual consequences of one’s actions. His immunity has come from knowing that too much money rides on him and that no one really wants to rock this boat just yet. He is the Pied Piper who no one has so far made the mistake of not paying.

Tharoor and Modi are two Indias converging around the same narrow ambition- to be rich and perpetually famous, every 15 minutes of your life. One road is through education, language and hair style while the other is through the raw energy of enterprise, rough power of money and the canny ability to appeal to the unenlightened self-interest of others. The constituency of the former is the educated Indian, a large section of which has always harbored a deep desire to be ruled by people who look presentable and speak good English. To them Tharoor was and in spite of all that is transpiring, will continue to be a source of deliverance from the fearful spectres of Mayawati and co. In a country where education is, for some peculiar reason equated with higher moral standards, Tharoor need not fear about his following on Twitter- his political future is another issue. For Modi, the options are more brutishly capitalistic- he will either survive for some more time or be consigned to the sorry status of being a once-celebrity, unless of course he conjures up another IPL-esque masterstroke.

There are at least two ways to view all that is happening. One way is to gloat freely and frankly, for after all two of India’s biggest egos face the prospect of being cut down to size. The other is to marvel, bemoan or rail at the spectacle of the naked hunger of those who have everything in the world. Of course there is always the possibility of some sort of compromise that ensures that no one loses. In which case, the gravy train might just pick up speed.