After the wave: When Anthilla was surrounded by a Tsunamo

How has the liberal commentator dealt with the BJP sweep in Uttar Pradesh?

A tsunami drowned the city. A columnist clung to the rotor of the billionaire’s copter atop Anthilla to keep from being washed away. To the fish swimming through her hair at this unusual altitude, she spoke an op-ed.

“Don’t carp about the stupidity that got us here,” she said. “Be humble. Hail Neptune. All of us, lung-bound or be-gilled should salute the sea-god’s might. Acknowledge his awesome power. His trident shall command us for the foreseeable future.”

Swept off her feet by the mountainous tide, she had the poise to speak in complete sentences. Literally not in her element, she had the detachment to praise the waters that a lesser, more partisan mind might have raged against. She was a seer – she always spoke the truth, even to fish, even if it wasn’t the truth.

She didn’t really know how long the city would remain under water. Truth be told, no one did. It could be a year, or 10, or a lifetime. The length of the last would depend on how old you were when she made the prediction. No, the truth was beside the point.

The point was the rhetoric of truth-telling. Did it sound like the truth? Did it sound seer-like? Did it distinguish her from the whingers, the outrage artists, those shrill, wet, sodden bleeding hearts? The speech rules for seers were flexible but they could not speak in the accents of grievance and complaint for that was the dialect of losers. Like that lunatic who thought he could stop the tide by commanding it.

Better to acknowledge this force of nature. In the kingdom of Neptune, no seer worth her salt could court ridicule by ranting like King Canute. Till the tide turned and the waters receded, it was best to adapt to these watery times and become amphibious.

Also ambiguous. The oracles of antiquity specialised in ambiguity. The most famous of them, the Greek one at Delphi, made such cryptic pronouncements that the word delphic became a synonym for double-edged obscurity. Like the time Croesus, King of Lydia, asked Pythia, the oracle, what would happen if he attacked the Persians. A great empire will be destroyed, she said. So he did and the prophecy was borne out. An empire was destroyed – only it was his own.

Triumph foretold

Those were the days. Ambiguity was harder now. Oracles used to be portals for the gods who spoke through them in riddling verse. Contemporary portals weren’t sacred and modern soothsaying had to be done in accessible prose. Besides, she and her kind weren’t oracles. They couldn’t claim that they channelled the gods because a) the modern reader wasn’t ready for it b) Delhic, unlike delphic, sounded drunk not cryptic and c) it wasn’t true.

She was a seer. The classical sort used to read bird signs and animal entrails to foretell the future. Modern seers read other seers online; occasionally a poll if there was an election on the horizon, or Wikipedia, if a prophecy needed eking out.

Truth be told (there’s that word again) modern seers didn’t much deal in the future. They dispensed the other thing, a superior grade of hindsight. Though this time round, as the skies closed and darkened and early warning seismic systems spoke of a weather event, an unusual number had timidly foretold Neptune’s triumph. Not the scale of it, not the tsunami but they had spoken of floods and spreading waters.

Time passed. When the great tide spent itself, the waters receded a little.Our durable seer, still balanced on her priceless non-partisan pivot, but upright now and standing on Anthilla’s parapet, surveyed the wreckage. She saw squelching, muddied wretches lurch to their feet and stagger about looking for familiar saviours.

After the storm

Instead of marvelling at the elemental power of the tsunami and learning from it, they pointed fingers, wrung their hands and went back to rebuilding the decrepit structures, the dykes and defences that the flood had brushed aside. From her eyrie on the billionaire’s nest, they looked like disoriented dwarfs, going round in circles.

Couldn’t they see that this was a time for a purposeful retreat? To finger old rosaries, to make polemical arguments debased by repetition even if they were true, was sterile. The old truths had been disproved by defeat. Why rail against the change in climate when it was inevitable? Why spit into the wind? To blame some evil first transgression for the power of this tsunami was as useful as invoking original sin to explain our drowned and fallen state.

Shaking her head at the moralism of the self-righteous, she took the lift down. Walking up to the masterful sea, she was struck by its power, its roaring, encompassing presence. This might be a good time, she mused, to upgrade from seer to oracle. Now that there was only one true god, what would it be like to be possessed by him?

She raised her arms tentatively and waited, half-embarrassed, for revelation. Neptune’s roar rushed into her, filled her with furious words that poured out of her mouth faster than her tongue could shape them. The sea spoke through her without ambiguity or even meaning, till the words weren’t hers any more, till they weren’t words, till she resonated with their rage like a tuning fork and was shivered into noise.

We welcome your comments at
Sponsored Content  BY 

As India turns 70, London School of Economics asks some provocative questions

Is India ready to become a global superpower?

Meaningful changes have always been driven by the right, but inconvenient questions. As India completes 70 years of its sovereign journey, we could do two things – celebrate, pay our token tributes and move on, or take the time to reflect and assess if our course needs correction. The ‘India @ 70: LSE India Summit’, the annual flagship summit of the LSE (London School of Economics) South Asia Centre, is posing some fundamental but complex questions that define our future direction as a nation. Through an honest debate – built on new research, applied knowledge and ground realities – with an eclectic mix of thought leaders and industry stalwarts, this summit hopes to create a thought-provoking discourse.

From how relevant (or irrelevant) is our constitutional framework, to how we can beat the global one-upmanship games, from how sincere are business houses in their social responsibility endeavours to why water is so crucial to our very existence as a strong nation, these are some crucial questions that the event will throw up and face head-on, even as it commemorates the 70th anniversary of India’s independence.

Is it time to re-look at constitution and citizenship in India?

The Constitution of India is fundamental to the country’s identity as a democratic power. But notwithstanding its historical authority, is it perhaps time to examine its relevance? The Constitution was drafted at a time when independent India was still a young entity. So granting overwhelming powers to the government may have helped during the early years. But in the current times, they may prove to be more discriminatory than egalitarian. Our constitution borrowed laws from other countries and continues to retain them, while the origin countries have updated them since then. So, do we need a complete overhaul of the constitution? An expert panel led by Dr Mukulika Banerjee of LSE, including political and economic commentator S Gurumurthy, Madhav Khosla of Columbia University, Niraja Gopal Jayal of JNU, Chintan Chandrachud the author of the book Balanced Constitutionalism and sociologist, legal researcher and Director of Council for Social Development Kalpana Kannabiran will seek answers to this.

Is CSR simply forced philanthropy?

While India pioneered the mandatory minimum CSR spend, has it succeeded in driving impact? Corporate social responsibility has many dynamics at play. Are CSR initiatives mere tokenism for compliance? Despite government guidelines and directives, are CSR activities well-thought out initiatives, which are monitored and measured for impact? The CSR stipulations have also spawned the proliferation of ambiguous NGOs. The session, ‘Does forced philanthropy work – CSR in India?” will raise these questions of intent, ethics and integrity. It will be moderated by Professor Harry Barkema and have industry veterans such as Mukund Rajan (Chairman, Tata Council for Community Initiatives), Onkar S Kanwar (Chairman and CEO, Apollo Tyres), Anu Aga (former Chairman, Thermax) and Rahul Bajaj (Chairman, Bajaj Group) on the panel.

Can India punch above its weight to be considered on par with other super-powers?

At 70, can India mobilize its strengths and galvanize into the role of a serious power player on the global stage? The question is related to the whole new perception of India as a dominant power in South Asia rather than as a Third World country, enabled by our foreign policies, defense strategies and a buoyant economy. The country’s status abroad is key in its emergence as a heavyweight but the foreign service officers’ cadre no longer draws top talent. Is India equipped right for its aspirations? The ‘India Abroad: From Third World to Regional Power’ panel will explore India’s foreign policy with Ashley Tellis, Meera Shankar (Former Foreign Secretary), Kanwal Sibal (Former Foreign Secretary), Jayant Prasad and Rakesh Sood.

Are we under-estimating how critical water is in India’s race ahead?

At no other time has water as a natural resource assumed such a big significance. Studies estimate that by 2025 the country will become ‘water–stressed’. While water has been the bone of contention between states and controlling access to water, a source for political power, has water security received the due attention in economic policies and development plans? Relevant to the central issue of water security is also the issue of ‘virtual water’. Virtual water corresponds to the water content (used) in goods and services, bulk of which is in food grains. Through food grain exports, India is a large virtual net exporter of water. In 2014-15, just through export of rice, India exported 10 trillion litres of virtual water. With India’s water security looking grim, are we making the right economic choices? Acclaimed author and academic from the Institute of Economic Growth, Delhi, Amita Bavisar will moderate the session ‘Does India need virtual water?’

Delve into this rich confluence of ideas and more at the ‘India @ 70: LSE India Summit’, presented by Apollo Tyres in association with the British Council and organized by Teamworks Arts during March 29-31, 2017 at the India Habitat Centre, New Delhi. To catch ‘India @ 70’ live online, register here.

At the venue, you could also visit the Partition Museum. Dedicated to the memory of one of the most conflict-ridden chapters in our country’s history, the museum will exhibit a unique archive of rare photographs, letters, press reports and audio recordings from The Partition Museum, Amritsar.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Teamwork Arts and not by the Scroll editorial team.