SAARC AFFAIRS INDIA STYLE

Starting this issue, we bring you a guest column that chooses to be irreverent and satirical at best, and takes a dig at powers that be, just for the sake of some healthy humour. Lampooning personalities and leaders is a genre that is part and parcel of evocative journalism, and we at NRI Achievers too have made an attempt to include some political humour, and do hope you will like this light hearted banter that is presented in this column…

That’s the trouble with press briefings by the foreign ministry. They never tell you the truth about what Prime Ministers and Presidents really talk about when they meet face to face behind closed doors. On the morning after the swearing-in of Narendra Damodardas Modi, four Prime Ministers, two Presidents and one Speaker called on India’s new Prime Minister in sequence. According to the official version, they discussed “bilateral issues” in a “warm, friendly, and cordial” atmosphere and “pledged to ‘strengthen ties’ and promote ‘regional peace and harmony’.”

But it seems they did nothing of that sort. The foreign guests had come to India on the specific understanding that no bilateral issues would be discussed. Words like war, terror, genocide, infiltration, etcetera, were strictly taboo. Even proper nouns like Mumbai, Jaffna, Teesta, Kargil, Kashmir, Herat, etal., were not to be mentioned in the passing. So what on earth did they talk about, then? Well, they talked about many things. Not really about Cabbages and Kings, since Modi was the only vegetarian around and any allusion to monarchy would have been diplomatically incorrect.

The truth is that the Heads of Government basically exchanged notes and exclamations about clothes and fashion. The main focus of the high-level conversations was on NaMo kurtas. SAARC leader after SAARC leader congratulated Narendra Modi on impeccable dress sense during the entire nine-phase election campaign season.

At each of his 437 public rallies that were covered live and in full by Indian television channels (without a single commercial break), Modi wore a brand new, crisp, halfsleeved kurta. Sometimes silk, sometimes linen, most times plain old khadi. But always in bright, eye-catching colours – all the colours of the rainbow plus 256 shades in between. With stand-up collars, all buttons buttoned up to the neck. And, depending on weather conditions, smart ‘Nehru’ jackets in matching or contrasting hues.

Here are some excerpts from the conversation.(Based on unauthorized access to unverified transcripts of unofficial tape recordings by nameless intelligence agencies). Abdulla Yameen (Maldives): After seeing your colourful kurtas, I think I should also experiment. After all, I am younger than you. Modi: You may be younger than Narendra Modi. But you do not have a 56-inch chest. Stick to suit and tie.

Sushil Koirala (Nepal): You look good in your fancy kurtas. But I am too old to spend too much money on clothes. Modi: Narendra Modi’s kurtas cost only Rs. 600 each. Modi always buys from Sargam Tailors in Dahod. If you want, I can gift you a multi-coloured set of 12 khadi kurtas. Koirala: I come from a poor country. But I can only accept the gift if you agree to settle the Kalapani dispute.

Unidentified Official: No bargaining please. This is only a courtesy call. Navin Ramgoolam (Mauritius): If you make Mauritius a full-fledged member of SAARC, I will make NaMo kurtas the compulsory school uniform. Each school, different colour.

Modi: That will be wonderful. I have justtaken over India. Give me time to capture SAARC. Then I will do the needful. Sushmaji,what an idea! Why can’t we make NaMO uniforms compulsory in Indian schools also? My adopted sister Smriti Irani can draft the new Ordinance.

Unidentified Official: Sir, no domestic policy matters should be discussed in front of foreign guests. Don’t forget the oath that you took just yesterday not to reveal national secrets. Tshering Tobgay (Bhutan): One thing is interests. Shirin Sharmin Chaudhury (Bangladesh): As a woman I prefer sarees. My leader Sheikh Hasina also wears only Dhakai and Tangail sarees. But our men folk can wear NaMo kurtas, although they don’t have 56 inch chests. We can sign a trade deal, but it has to be balanced in our favour. Satire Modi: Why not? My adopted sister Smriti Irani will look beautiful in lovely silks from Bangladesh. Also, Narendra Modi will become famous all over Bengal. I can even contest elections from East Bengal and put an end to illegal immigration forever. Sushma Swaraj: What about me? I also look gorgeous in a Dhakai. Why only Smriti ? She is not even a graduate.

Unidentified Official: Please, your excellencies, let us not wash dirty linen in front of our neighbours. Mahinda Rajapaksha (Sri Lanka): What’s allthis about your dress sense? What’s wrong with the long sleeved shirts we wear in Sri Lanka? Don’t you feel uncomfortable in your crumpled churidars. There’s no zip in front. I prefer our saramas and sarongs. Very practical. Anyway, you and I are the same, whatever we wear. We are both compared to a World War II German leader.

Modi: But my churidars do have zips. My favourite tailor Kanahiya-ji makes them perfectly, with half-belt, no loop and front zip. Stop wearing sarongs. It does not fit in with your H-man image. You should grow a toothbrush moustache.

Unidentified Official: Gentlemen, please be careful. Zips and toothbrushes are no-no words at informal, peaceful, bilateral interactions. Also, there are ladies present. Hamid Karzai (Afghanistan): Look, we are brothers and comrades forever. I need you to save my country. But that does not mean I have to listen to all this nonsense about your dress sense. Do you not know that I have been described as the world’s most stylish man ? The western fashion pundits are raving about my resplendent robes of many colours. My swirling piran-tunban is all the rage from Milan to Memphis. And women swoon when they see my elegant Astrakhan hat that is so soft that it can be folded like a handkerchief and kept in the pocket when not needed. My well-groomed salt-and-pepper beard and moustache have been written about even in Gentlemen’s Quarterly.

Modi: One hundred and twenty five crore people have voted for Narendra Modi because of the NaMo kurtas. Also the Jawahar jacket and Lotus symbol badge. Have you not seen my selfie ? It was re-tweeted 16,000 times within five hours, breaking all previous social media records. I can also wear an Astrakhan hat. It will go well with my 56 inch chest. Unidentified Official: Sir, do not quarrel with your guest. His Astrakhan hat is made from Karakul wool. Manekaji will never allow you to wear it.

Nawaz Sharif (Pakistan): I believe in being formally dressed on all ceremonial occasions. Dark lounge suit with light pink tie is the best. Although I admit it was uncomfortable in the humidity.

I should have worn my national dress like all the others. But tell me, my moles in Vadnagar tell me your chest is 44 inches, waist line 41 inch and belly 45 inches and shoulder 8.5 inch. I’ve actually brought some specially tailored Lahori pathan suits for you. Should I take them back for alteration?

Modi: Never mind. You’ve got agents in my home town? I also have someone in your residence. I was told your first reaction when you received my invitation was… Unidentified Official: Sir, this is not the right time to exchange official secrets.

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