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THEATRE OF THE ABSURD
- Saddam’s hanging and other anomalies in human behaviour

The Irish poet, William Butler Yeats, had once urged the human child to come away to the waters and the wild for the world was more full of weeping than it could understand. Leaving out that part about the waters and the wild, Yeats of course had a point: the world is full not just of weeping, but of absurdities and anomalies as well. Admittedly, such absurdities often lead to sorrow and weeping. That weeping can, in certain circumstances, turn into anger. Absurdities and anomalies in human behaviour that pass understanding provide ample ground for raging fury.

Take, for instance, the most recent absurdity. Saddam Hussein has been hanged, but, if an opinion poll were taken across the six continents, it should have been George W. Bush and Tony Blair who would have made it to the gallows and the occasion rendered a public spectacle. What should have happened does not happen, something contrary takes place. This evokes both sorrow and anger. But if such unhappiness induces one to urge the world to stop so that he or she could get off it, that would be both escapism and cowardice too. Presumably Stephen Hawking’s wish to fly out into the unknown does not belong to an altogether different genre of demeanour.

Let us not get distracted though, we are talking of absurdities. Another example of what we have in mind is the American establishment’s concern with the issue of nuclear non-proliferation. The United States of America is the only country to use nuclear weaponry for annihilating and mutilating the population of another country. That horrifying act does not seem to bother the conscience of its perpetrators, and the American administration has actually the cheek to try to impose a law of nuclear non-proliferation on the rest of the world. It is at the moment threatening punitive action against Iran, which is determined to go nuclear. Therein lies an absurdity inside another one. Iran is heavily populated by members of the Shia sect of Muslims and the Americans want to coalesce with the same Shias in neighbouring Iraq to crush the resistance of the Sunni minority there who are loyal to Saddam Hussein.

This behavioural anomaly on the part of the US plutocracy permeates the manner ordinary citizens go about. Visiting Ground Zero is now a holy ritual with the Americans; it keeps reminding them how a batch of air bandits had seized passenger planes and crashed them into New York’s World Trade Center thereby killing thousands of innocent men, women and children. Few Americans bother to think of the causality which led to 9/11. In case the US force did not, for years on end, bomb systematically scores and scores of civilian buildings in Baghdad and other Iraqi towns, destroying schools and hospitals, and massacre thousands of men, women and children, conceivably no retributive strike of the scale organized by the al Qaida would have taken place. There lies the absurdity: we see only our side of the picture.

Consider this other absurdity nearer home. Saudi Arabia is the world’s richest nation in per capita terms. We Indians, on the other hand, are among the twenty poorest, if the United Nations listing is to be taken credence of. So what, this year, we have emerged as the world’s largest importers of armaments, pushing down Saudi Arabia to the second place. First things first; a country which cannot feed properly one-third of its people still assigns priority to assuaging its hunger for arms.

Once we reach home base, there is in fact a carnival of absurdities. A political formation fought for decades for land reforms, more equitable distribution of cultivating holdings, grant of legal rights to share-croppers and providing land for the landless. It came to capture the administration in a certain state and put into effect the reforms it had in mind. The next item on its agenda, one would have thought, should be to mobilize the small and middle peasantry and induce them to blend improved cultivating practices with cooperative farming, thereby raising farm productivity to breathtaking levels. Instead its current absurd endeavour is in a totally reverse direction; it is determined to take away the land that it had itself once arranged to distribute among the poor peasantry and make a gift of such land to fly-by-night capitalists and land sharks parading in other names.

Take another, somewhat amusing, somewhat infuriating, instance of absurdity. A leading Indian industrial corporate entity is bidding to acquire in the international market the controlling share of a major global steel-producing unit, and, for that purpose, it is prepared to invest up to £5.4 billion, or roughly Rs 45,000 crore. It is, however, reportedly not prepared to cough up even a few paltry crore of rupees to take possession of close to one thousand acres of land a state government has acquired for it at around Rs 150 crore so that it could set up a car-manufacturing plant; it insists that it should be made a free gift of the land.

Never a dull moment. The prime minister was talking the other day to a group of industrialists and lamenting their unending habit of asking for tax concessions from the government. His sincerity was beyond question. It is, however, the same prime minister who is such a great enthusiast for Special Economic Zones, which are quintessential tax heavens. It is fantastically Whitmanesque; the prime minister is contradicting himself. And while talking of taxes, why not mention the curious case of a political party swearing by the principle of democratic centralism: while one state government it heads argues fiercely against the value-added tax, another state government, which too is headed by it, champions the cause of VAT. This is absurd, but is the glaring reality.

Little point in picking on political parties and governments alone and leaving out the media. One section of the media in the country has been developing an extraordinary theory: a particular political party reigning in a particular state is bad, bad, very bad, but its chief minister is the paragon of all virtues; all efforts must be made to destroy the party; the chief minister, however, deserves to be assisted in his ascent from one pinnacle of glory to the next. Left unanswered is the query how the chief minister could function in a limbo if his party disappeared.

Let us also take a peep into happenings next door, in Bangladesh. The Grameen Bank and its boss are of late much in the news. They have been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize because of what they have supposedly done for the poor. According to reports, the Grameen Bank chief and his entourage flew to Oslo, the capital of Norway, for the Nobel award ceremony in a luxury plane chartered for him by CNN; the tab for his stay in luxury hotels in Europe has been picked up by Microsoft. High living apparently does not stand in the way of serving the poor.

To end on a lighter note. The Indian cricket team had an inglorious record of performance in South Africa. It lost all the one-day matches as well as the test series. The only test match it managed to win was mainly on account of the grit of two players who were in the list of discards and joined the team at the very last moment: notwithstanding the scepticism of the cricket pundits, they played absurdly well.

The sum of such absurdities constitutes human existence.

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