WATCHING THE CWG opening ceremony this week reminds you of the purpose of pageantry — to dim your mind with noise.
One cannot ascribe to it any turn-of-the-century suspicion, the kind of narrow-eyed glare of philosophers that equated massive sports events with totalitarian rallies. That kind of tingle we can still reserve for the machine-tooled beauty of Chinese ceremonies. In Delhi, one can only smile at the slightly off-key kitsch — the Bollywood tadka, the child tabla artiste picked for his Zakir resemblance, the glow-in-the-dark yagna. You can only wince at the commentators who ran out of superlatives within the first five minutes of the ceremony. One hoarse reporter, until only the previous day chasing the CWG scams, now ejaculating with hysterical delight, was advised by his colleague in the studio to drink water. Another falling over himself while praising the PM, segued in a high pitch straight into his excitement over Prince Charles’ arrival. (You try talking non-stop for two hours). Like a wedding video guy, the media knows as long as the cameras roll, all banality will be forgiven. In the dead silence of culture commentary, we can talk about number of spot lights, the height of the stadium, the size of the balloon. We can talk about yoga as if we are describing it to Martians. The weight of our 5,000-year-old culture is weighing down on our unathletic shoulders.
But during the ceremony, the mood was that of undiluted gratitude that at last the games are on and you didn’t feel like you were in a recurring dream. One in which you are unexpectedly naked on the street. Those prone to feel shame about the nation’s status must have been feeling exposed for the last few weeks. Could anything more go wrong? In this mood, the ceremony has been congratulated warmly like a spectacular screw-up of a child hugged for not trying to kill its sibling for one evening.
This mood of gratitude excused the grand embarrassing segment called the Great Indian Journey. This was a massive tableau organised by the Indian Railways. If you ever been in a Class II Annual Day production, you have seen it. If you have ever tried to kick someone when they are down, you have seen it. Because, this was the CWG’s tribute to the common Indian. Adivasis, Northeastern women, cycle repairwalas, coolies, beggars, bangle-sellers, sugarcane juice vendors and also politicians. Leaving aside this last contingent, every other population represented in this hokey parade has been driven out of Delhi lately. They have also been banished from Jantar Mantar where they might have futilely protested their condition. If they escaped by a thin crust of gentility, then they were made invisible on 3 October.
Because as the CWG began, the Delhi government exercised its first sign of control. It could not prevent scams, epidemics, fraud, doping scandals or even bad taste. The state government decided it’s easier to erase the unpleasing spectacle of its people. The day the games began, no vehicles plied. Even in the outermost suburbs, shops had downed shutters and people hid at home. The billion-dollar curfew had arrived.
Must we be enraged by the Great Indian Journey? By the clown fluttering his Shah Rukh imitation to a tired Chaiya Chaiya? By the Rs. 5 crore amnesia-inducement of AR Rahman’s anthem? Perhaps not. The Games and the government is floating balloon-high, too high to get their cruel irony. Perhaps this was Bansi Kaul’s spectacular revenge against those who hired him to choreograph this monstrosity. Perhaps it was his reminder that this is why we need patriotism. To dull our minds from shame.