Operation Chup-Chop, and some smelly red herrings

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9 am My sister has come down from Delhi for Diwali. Less out of love for me and more out of necessity since it’s that time of the year when my nephew’s lungs begin coughing out loud protests. Sipping on some green tea, I tell her, ‘Soon my home will stop being your refuge, as our air may just go the Delhi way with all the tree-felling. The worst bit is that the minute you say something, the Ministry of Red Herrings gets into action.’

My sister seems confused, ‘Ministry of whaaat?’

I reply, ‘I mean the folks who use rhetorical arguments as a weapon to distract people from relevant questions.’

She immediately chirps in, ‘You do know that your foreign herring is nothing else but hilsa right? Bengalis love to douse it in mustard and probably worship it as much as they do Tagore.’ I laugh, ‘Really? Well, now instead of steaming or frying, it’s easier to chuck some odoriferous hilsa into the middle of discussions. Even our kids do it to us all the time. Like if you tell your daughter, ‘Look at your grades, you have to do better!” and she retorts, “Payal
Aunty has a double masters from Columbia but you keep saying that she is such a loser, so how does studying help?”

“When did I say that Payal is a loser?”

“You did Mom!’ and so on and so forth.”

The same tactic was used on me when I said that though everyone believes in development, the metro shed should be located on barren land. Immediately the Red Herring ministry began its campaign, “Stop using your SUV!” “Stop reading paperbacks!” “Why don’t you turn film city into a forest?”’

She interjects, ‘Why do you even read these comments. Say what you have to about the metro, then shut your ears so you don’t lose your train of thought!’
She pauses and then gleefully asks, ‘You got my pun? Metro and train of thought? You can use it in your next book. I give you permission!’

I put my cup down and sigh, ‘Thank you for your generosity sister but I must decline. A bad pun is like a teabag, best used once and then tossed away.’

2 pm Lunch break consist of chomping on some, thankfully odourless, fried pomfret at my desk. Just as I discover that Ex is a measurement and doesn’t indicate the pothole that you had briefly mistaken for a boyfriend, my phone rings. ‘Congratulations dikra your name has become more famous,’ Biren Bhai informs me. My uncle then proceeds to tell me about two Gujarati women who have run backward for 53 kilometres and now want to set some sort of Guinness record.

Biren bhai adds, ‘The two women are sisters-in-law, one is called Swati and the other one has your sweet name, Twinkle!’

I do want to congratulate my namesake for her fortitude and particularly her foresight. Bhaag Twinkle Bhaag! Keep running backward. Soon everyone will end up running in the same direction as you, they just don’t know it yet.

3 pm The girls in the office are swooning over young climate activist Greta Thunberg. The 16-year-old also makes certain people — best referred to as Uncles — froth at the mouth. From being called “freakishly influential with many mental disorders” by a Herald Sun columnist to a “hysterical teenager” by a Sky News commentator, she has also been likened to genocidal Pol Pot recently by an Indian columnist.

Why a teenager asking political leaders to reduce CO2 emissions outrages people is an absolute mystery. But red herrings are now being thrown into the Greta gravy as well.

Pictures have suddenly appeared of Greta with a few plastic food containers in front of her with captions that accuse her of hypocrisy. Another allegation centres around Greta’s parents — both being performers — and that her rousing speeches are deemed well-crafted histrionics. Err… I would be the first one to tell you that acting, unlike high cheekbones and brown eyes, is clearly not an inheritable quality. Uncles around the world, do leave the teenager alone, and go find some bigger fish to fry.

9 pm Dinner at my grandmother’s is a sombre affair. My cousin tells me that before the Supreme Court could stay the felling of 2,700 trees at Aarey, the Mumbai Metro Rail Corp Ltd went ahead and chopped 2,141 trees. They were also ready with a nonchalant statement which roughly translated to — ‘Too bad, Milord, we have already cut what we needed overnight. Now we are just waiting for four times our usual Diwali bonus, so thank you and goodbye’.

Forty years of living in this city, and I am well versed with the fact that government officials usually work at a speed as slow as the brains of people who refuse to accept the reality of climate change. From that perspective, the alacrity with which this Chup-Chop operation has been conducted seems a little fishy. The minute anyone brings up this point though, they will be instantly smothered by the Red Herring ministry. The irony also lies in the fact that like many of our natural resources, the poor hilsa also faces extinction. This is only in the real world. In the virtual one, it is clearly thriving.

DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author’s own.

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