The Radialogue Wound
By M.J. Akbar
Third Eye in India Today
3rd January 2011
New words are an annual media byproduct without a balance sheet. The profit is not immediately visible, and loss not worth the count. The New York Times has produced a thirty-plus list that seems more obligatory than essential. Most words show the strains of artifice. Fortunately, terms like “sofalize” [socializing from home, through the net] will die a natural death after their fifteen seconds of fame. The hideous “mansplainer” just might get fifteen minutes of life, since it denotes a compulsive male opinion-giver and is therefore perfectly suited for TV pundits, but it is really too weak to survive.
Some deserve the immediate sentence of capital punishment. Put “Porno scanner” [synonym for the full-body security search at American airports] down for quick execution. Others are so tortured they seem to have spent time at Guantanamo. “Poutrage” [false anger] has clearly been put through a sadistic lexicographer’s tweezer. The accidental genius of Sarah Palin, which gave us “refudiate”, will survive as a joke as long as Sarah Palin survives as a joke.
But I do hope two words acquire momentum. “Coffice” comes from South Korea, a busy little country where the diligent can turn an internet café into an office for the price of a cup of coffee. In India, of course, we would need to rearrange the word a bit, since our specialty is turning an office into a café. Ficecof, anyone? Perhaps not. Any word that sounds like an interrupted gurgle can’t be good for conversation.
“Halfalogue” also has the feel of a strangled academic’s last wish, so all optimism about its future must be guarded. It means half an overheard conversation; and that makes it interesting. It first appeared in a semi-obscure research paper, published in the journal Psychological Science, titled “Overheard Cell-Phone Conversations: When Less Speech is More Distracting”, which multiplies its interest level. What a natural for Delhi’s chatterati: “The Niira halfalogue was just too much, wasn’t it? Do you think Manmohan carries a mobile phone?”
In fact, the Prime Minister doesn’t. Niira Radia, apparently, had at least eight mobile phones, only one of which was tapped. If one phone could inflict so much havoc, we can only wonder, enrapt in awe, at the destruction that a tap on all eight mobiles would have caused. Once upon a time, not very long ago, a mobile phone was at best an instrument of need and at worst a symbol of self-importance. Niira Radia has turned it into an instrument of caution for the large majority whose imagination is restrained by limits, and a weapon of duplicity for the few blessed with Machiavellian wile. If you are confident that your phone is tapped, you can always plant any story you want about anyone you dislike.
Even the most extravagant astrologer could never have predicted that Dr Manmohan Singh would be fatally wounded by a mobile phone. He has withstood, with great calm and fortitude, six years of Opposition artillery without a scratch on his reputation. Suddenly, he has become victim of friendly fire. A remarkable aspect of a scandal that has weakened the government to the point of fragility is that conversations which revealed part of the truth were between politicians, lobbyists, businessmen and journalists on the same side. This is collusive detail, not accusatory condemnation, from lobbyists and journalists who were friends of those in power. An investigative arm of government exposed a Cabinet minister. The lethal icing came from the anonymous sources who leaked the Radia tapes. Their names may not be public knowledge, although they are privately known, but this much is certain: officers of this government were intent on the destruction of its credibility.
“An old Chinese saying” is a tautology, for all Chinese sayings are old. The new ones are trapped in artificial ideology; the old ones were nurtured in the crucible of observation. Do not judge a man, goes one, until the coffin is closed, for he still has time to make a mistake. The Prime Minister made one mistake. He did not stop the DMK loot when he should have and could have. He permitted daylight loot from the nation’s treasury in order to survive. The true tenor of the Congress-DMK equation is revealed in a letter written by former telecom minister A. Raja, in which he virtually orders the Prime Minister not to interfere on telecom pricing. The moment Dr Singh meekly conceded, his credibility cracked. The Radia tapes reveal the hemorrhage of a self-inflicted wound.
Dr Singh came to office in 2004, but took a while to come to power. He may remain in office, but his power has begun to ebb.