Queen and commissioner

A history of our times in first and last lines

By Mukul Kesavan
  • Published 29.06.15

Many years later, as she faced a hectoring god, Rani Basundhara Lajé would mis-remember the distant affidavit that an old friend leaked to uncover vice. Asked by men in shorts to explain the document, she was defiant: the world is what it is; women who are nothing, who allow half-pants to make them nothing, have no place in it. Pressed by prime time's Thor to explain her conduct in 2011, she warned of the folly of judging past behaviour by the standards of contemporary morality: the past is a foreign country, she said, we do things differently there.

Journalists puzzled over the metaphor in the Press Club bar: wasn't England the foreign country in the Commissioner's case? Disoriented, they rushed off in search of the Past's consular office in Chanakyapuri, hoping for a tatkal visa.

Meanwhile a distinguished columnist, renowned for his political neutrality, his equidistance from the Congress and the BJP, from secularism and communalism, from right and left, and right and wrong, was pressed by television anchors desperate for the long view, for relief from the small horizons of their news cycles, for perspective. Tell us, sage, they begged, how does this scandal, how do these scandals, how do these alleged scandals impact (yes, they knew, every one of them, that impact was a verb) the promise of achhé din, of good times?

Not missing a beat, the great man improvised in the way that only original minds can, without notice or premeditation. It is the best of times, he said, it is the worst of times, it is the age of wisdom, it is the age of foolishness, it is the epoch of belief, it is the epoch of incredulity, it is the season of Light, it is the season of Darkness, it is the spring of hope, it is the winter of despair, we have everything before us, we have nothing before us, we are all going direct to Heaven, we are all going direct the other way...

This was triangulation worthy of a great geometer, even-handedness above and beyond the call of duty, but too long-winded for the nine o'clock news so by the time he finished, the OB vans had left, making for Chanakyapuri where the print journalists and possibly the action was.

When these reporters, anchors and political tourists finally got to London (or the Past), they found their way to the family friend and object-of-compassion who was the epicentre of this political earthquake. One of the ministers caught up in the scandal had been pictured in St Trinian's Hotel, laughing and fraternizing with the fugitive bon vivant. She didn't know how the picture had come about: it was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they persecuted the Commissioner and I didn't know what I was doing in London.

This horde of journalists and their cameramen descended on the hotel, persuaded that the Commissioner would hide from them but it was the Commissioner who leapt off the hotel roof wearing a hot air balloon and descended on them. When he announced that he would shortly be celebrating his eleventy-first birthday with a party of special magnificence, there was much talk and excitement in Mayfair. The night of the party dusked, the desi hacks in London turned up in their rented tuxes and deep into the celebrations, the Commissioner invited them to charge their champagne flutes the better to hear him speak. It was a dark, damp night in June and the clocks were striking thirteen.

For a long time, said the Commissioner, I went to bed early. Then I awoke one morning from an uneasy dream and found myself transformed in my bed into a gigantic insect. He paused to giggle. Only for an hour or so but after that I began to party through the night. I learnt that I was born with a gift for laughter and a sense that the world was mad. People thought I was mad but I didn't care; if I'm out of my mind, I decided, it's all right with me.

No one believed, he said, in the first years of the twenty-first century, that cricket was being watched keenly and closely by an intelligence greater than man's, that as cricketers busied themselves with their footling formats, they were being scrutinized and studied, perhaps almost as narrowly as a man with a microscope might scrutinize the transient creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water. And so, in the beginning God created the heaven and earth and I created the Indian Premium League.

I herded our masters and our film stars and our cricketers and our tycoons and our journalists to my trough and after they had fed long enough you couldn't tell one from the other. Spectators looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which. I saw all that I had made and it was good.

He paused to pour champagne down his throat from a height but instead of making him fizz, it made him sorry for himself. His eyes glistened, his face crumpled, his voice shook with self-pity.

Yet, he quavered, they will trample me underfoot, the numbers marching one two three, four hundred million five hundred six, reducing me to specks of stateless dust, just as, in all good time, they will trample my chamcha who is not my chamcha, and his chamcha who will not be his, and his who will not be his, until the thousand and first generation, until a thousand and one Premium Leagues have bestowed their terrible gifts and a thousand and one chamchas have died, because it is the privilege and the curse of IPL's chamchas to be both masters and victims of their times, to forsake privacy and be sucked into the annihilating whirlpool of Sidhu's fattas, and to be unable to laugh or cry in peace.

One of the assembled hacks had read the last page of Midnight's Children. You're a fraud, he yelled. Even your lines aren't paid for. Who do you think you are?

The Commissioner stopped crying. Call me Ishmael, he said, eagerly. And drink up. After all, tomorrow is another day.

All this happened, more or less.