From Byword- India Today (January 20)
What precisely is the difference between ridiculous and ludicrous? With their inter-changeable syllables they even sound like each other. Philology is not very helpful. One word has a root, ridicule; but there is no 'ludicre' in English. Why? Since language does not have a Pope whose word is law, we will never get an answer. My own view, that ridiculous is pathos and ludicrous is bathos, is probably no more than a literary conceit dredged up to justify the inexplicable.
Since lists are a congenital part of year-end rituals, one feels obliged to offer some sort of homage to custom. A short list of two will do: the most ridiculous, and the most ludicrous. A rummage through politics poses a problem. There is simply too much to choose from. It doesn't seem worth the effort. The harvest is so much better outside the realm of pomp, power and pretty sordid levels of corruption.
Nothing I have heard in the deathbed year of 2011 was more ridiculous than Sourav Ganguly's command to our cricket team in Australia on the "Agneepath Series": Be Fearless! After which he added a paean to his own fearlessness. That was both cheeky and thick. Long before he retired, Ganguly began to play cricket with his neck: his neck was far more agile than his bat against the rising ball. On more than one occasion Ganguly developed mysterious back aches at the sight of a green pitch on the first morning. Whenever the world's quickies were short of a laugh all they had to do was watch a video of Ganguly trying to get out of the way, and the party could begin.
Ganguly had class, but he lacked courage. No one is perfect. Virender Sehwag has courage by the bucket, and talent by the pail, but when it comes to judgment you need to measure it by a tablespoon. That is him. Take it or leave it, and we take it, happily, for the joy at Sehwag's presence far outweighs the sniffle at his departure. On the other hand if you want an example of the ludicrous, you can watch the rate at which hair is reappearing on Sehwag's head. Since we don't watch Sehwag to study the pace of hair transplants, it doesn't matter. (Incidentally, what do Australians call the Agneepath Series? Probably the XXXXpath Tests; the Xs are of course code for a fourletter word called 'fire'.)
We may have to search elsewhere, however, for the heights of ludicre (what the heck: let's coin a word for the new year) established in 2011. It is well known that Press Council Chairman Justice Markandey Katju's heart is in the right place, and his high intellect worthy of those who have achieved a place on the Supreme Court bench. But his mind does like an occasional walk in space. He has said, in his new avatar as conscience-keeper-cum-godfather of hacks, that journalists can be unread, tasteless and enjoy a bit of opium in the office. In his ideal world, cricket and Dev Anand's death do not constitute frontpage news. By such Olympian standards he has a lot of work ahead, so let us wish him a happy new year.
But his campaign for a Bharat Ratna to Mirza Ghalib and Saratchandra Chattopadhyay is ludicrous. One of my great personal regrets is insufficient knowledge of Urdu, and ignorance of Persian: the two books I would carry to the proverbial desert island are the complete works of Shakespeare and Ghalib. Ghalib's poetry is eternal, but his views did not always belong to the narrative of the modern India. Ghalib lived through 1857. He watched 23 Mughal princes being hanged and fellow Dilliwallahs being massacred by merciless British columns. Ghalib was more interested in a pension from Queen Victoria, as is evident from his diary, Dastambuy, than a war for independence. This does not diminish his poetry, but it does raise questions about his politics.
Justice Katju has read a million more books than any silly journalist, but perhaps he has not come across Joya Chaterji's masterly Bengal Divided (Cambridge University Press, 1996). He would surely have noticed a speech that Saratchandra, an undoubted literary genius, made in 1926. There isn't space for the full text, but a few sentences establish the flavour-and trust me, I am leaving out the more gruesome bits: "The truth is that if Muslims ever say they want to unite with Hindus, there is no greater hoax. The Muslims came to India to plunder it, not to establish a kingdom... Unity can only be realised among equals... 'Hindu-Muslim unity' is a bombastic slogan... Hindustan is the homeland of the Hindus." Et al. Saratchandra's India was not the India that Mahatma Gandhi lived and died for.
The past has its glories. The past has its dilemmas. The past has its mistakes. The past has its rage. Shall we reserve the Bharat Ratna for those who fought for a future in which every Indian is an equal?