Demonocracy

Having sleepless nights over Trump’s victory? Sleeping badly ever since the Brexit fiasco? Your faith in democracy shaken, you are beginning to see demonocracy everywhere? Relax, stop worrying, you’re just suffering from a mild form of (political) anxiety neurosis. In your imagination, the Greek demos – for ‘common people’ – has coupled itself with the Latin Hydra – that’s the hydra-headed monster – to lay an egg on which is written either ‘Donald’ or ‘Hillary’, depending on your confession. ‘Hillary’ failed to hatch, but ‘Donald’ has squirmed his way into the White House while America’s first black President is still in it. For shame.

America is divided, the United States are no longer united – they’re shooting anyone who dares to make that stupidest of all puns from California to New York and from Maine to Mexico, I hear. Otherwise I’d say that for the first time, America is as united as the United Nations, which it hosts. Which brings me to an idea! What Britain’s and America’s democracy needs is a kind of veto – naturally for the educated, liberal, progressive classes. In which case, anytime the folk is stupid enough to vote for Trump, say, we just trump it with our veto, looking as inscrutable or as bland as the Russian or the Chinese representative on the Security Council.

But there’s a problem. All the other groups such as the non-college whites, the blacks from Bernie Sanders enthusiasts to gangsta rappers, Latinos legal or illegal, won’t they be calling for their own veto powers as well? In which case, won’t they be shooting down all our president-elects? Will it not end the way they choose the Secretary-General of the United Nations or the heads of the IMF and the World Bank and so on? Everybody a compromise candidate and no winners or losers and no competition, in effect? But isn’t that exactly what we’re doing, what we’ve always done? Isn’t that the quintessence of democracy, choosing the lesser evil – at times even the least evil! – and hoping for the best?

Funny that everybody’s looking at the White House and sparing hardly a glance for the House of Representatives or the Senate – because that’s where they all sit, the power dealers and the power brokers, though Trump spat in their soup too, as the Germans would have put it. It stinks, as the Germans would say, the whole political structure, and not just in America. I remember asking my father as an adolescent – I was the adolescent, not my father! – why it was so difficult to find five hundred honest and upright men – feminism was still a far cry in India – I was asking my father, why can’t we find five hundred honest men to sit in the parliament and choose the government and pass the legislation and so on. Aren’t there five hundred honest men in India? I asked like a teenage Seneca. ‘Yes,’ father said, ‘but how are you going to get them into the parliament?’ Ah, democracy and elections and what-have-you would get in the way, would they? I saw my father’s logic. Not that it helped.

With almost medieval simplicity, German anchors have been asking their American talk show guests: ‘Trump or Clinton, isn’t that like choosing between the plague and the cholera?’ Perhaps that is what is wrong with democracy, that one has a choice at all. Look at the Germans: they have no other choice than Merkel at the next elections and everyone is happy. Now Merkel will be getting her sixteen years in office like her mentor Helmut Kohl – that’s long enough for two American presidents with extension. But the Americans like having their political Super Bowl every four years, I suspect, whereas the Germans do not. With typical European pragmatism and equanimity, they hold on to a good thing when they’ve found one, never change a winning team and all that. That’s why the Germans have already cast their vote – mentally – more-or-less, and gone about their business, the Kanzlerfrage, the chancellor question, having been solved, so far as they are concerned. The political parties – and they have more than two in Germany, friends in America please note – well, the political parties always have their own ball – to the exclusion of the general public, except by way of popularity polls – when it comes to choosing the Federal President, they’ve just chosen a new one btw, again by common consent, while America was having its presidential High Noon. Which brings me to my second idea! German media and polling institutes have been regularly asking the Germans whom they’d choose as the next US president: 94% of the Germans were for Clinton and 4% for Trump, I think. All of which goes to show that the Americans should leave the choosing of their President in German hands – whereas the Americans could choose the German President, say, in return. What I’m suggesting is a kind of outsourcing of elections and suchlike democratic processes to countries which are less involved and therefore less hysterical. In exchange, the outsourcing country gets to choose the incumbents for less crucial posts in the country of the second instance. This way, both countries – and both folks – can have just as much fun & games with none of the hangover if things go wrong.

Just as Robbie Williams is more popular in Germany than in the UK, Barack Obama is naturally more popular in Germany than in the US, I suspect. And Obama is now passing into History real Hollywood style, strolling around the Parthenon and lecturing the Greeks about democracy at President Pavlopoulos’ dinner – the Greeks, of all people, who invented demokratia by putting together demos (common people) and kratos (rule, strength), as the Wikipedia would have told Obama. He should have remembered that an American president cannot ride into history as into the sunset here in good old Europe, which always devises a system and a way of cheating it, both at the same time. In Europe and its eastern extension, every revolution eats its own children, in the end. Obama should have looked around him from the Ritz-Carlton in Berlin and realised that the European masters of manipulation have been chipping away at democracy too: Hungary has Orban, Poland has Kaczynski, Spain has Rajoy all over again and Britain even has a Trump look-alike as the Foreign Secretary.

The original Greek word daimon did not have any negative connotations; it meant a spirit or a divine power similar to the Latin genius. In Christian demonology, the demon became a fallen angel and an unclean spirit. They used to exorcise the demon and burn the witch, in medieval times. Somewhat like the latest American elections or at least the reaction to them, don’t you think?

How I Stopped Being an Indian

… and couldn’t turn into anything else. Wonder if it’s my private tragedy or whether I have compatriots in this very special circle of hell. In the Divina Comedia, Dante Alighieri’s Inferno begins with the Limbo and proceeds over Lust & Greed & Violence et cetera to Treachery. We expats remain in our limbo, which is exile.

Limbo is the First Circle of Hell where unbaptised but virtuous pagans live, as Wikipedia will tell you (I just checked ‘God’ on Wiki and was blown away!). These virtuous pagans are not sinful, even if they did not accept Christ (convert to Christianity i.e.). Trust an Italian poet of the late 13th/early 14th century to describe the state of mind (if not existence) of an Indian expat in Germany in the late 20th/early 21st c. And I’m in good company: the ancient Roman poet Virgil, who is Dante’s guide on his journey through Hell, personally resides in the Limbo, so quite a classy neighbourhood, I should think. Virgil lived before Christ, so he couldn’t possibly have been anything other than a virtuous pagan. But let us not split hairs.

Germany, where I landed more by chance than by choice, also proved to be a classy neighbourhood. It is one of the richest and best organised countries on earth. After their excesses in the earlier part of the last century, the Germans have created one of the most efficient economies together with one of the smoothest running democracies and one of the most liberal & tolerant societies anywhere on earth. It is not Frau Merkel who is drawing all those hapless people to Germany, it is the country itself, the country that I privately call Jesus Wept. Jesus would weep for joy if He saw what this country does for an unmarried teen mother who is a school dropout with a punk hairstyle and five instances of broken off vocational training. It is a country where shelterless persons picked up from the Bahnhof toilet with alcohol poisoning – and like-as-not without a health insurance – are treated by the head physician of the hospital on a priority basis, since the state pays for it. There are saunas, table tennis rooms and private rooms for couples in prisons in this country. Lastly, it is a country where I have lived for three odd decades without ever having to ‘ring up somebody’ to get something done. It is a country where you walk into a government office as if they owe you money.

So do I have the right to be unhappy in such a country? Should it not at least be the Earthly Paradise for me – which sits atop the Purgatorio – leaving out Paradiso for the moment?

But I am not a Christian and I come from Kolkata. Any Calcuttan turning up at Heaven’s gate is simply waved through, since he is coming from hell – that is an old joke and certainly not one of mine. Dante should have visited Kolkata at the height of summer or during the rains – unfortunately Kolkata was founded 362 years after he finished the Comedia, so it’s neither his nor Kolkata’s fault. Had he been ‘born and brought up’ in Kolkata like me, his Latin would have been like my English and Dante Alighieri would have been another unknown blogger whom (how long haven’t I had the chance to write ‘whom’? Even Saint Obama says ‘who’) – to repeat, Dante would have been an unknown blogger whom Facebook suspects of writing spam from time to time. He should thank his stars he was born in Florence, though I’m not too sure about dying in Ravenna.

To hell with Dante – eh? – what about me? In my grander moments I rail in front of my German friends: ‘Who will integrate me? I have two continental plates rubbing against each other inside my head. I am the Invisible Man, I am the Man Who Does not Cast a Shadow. What do you know about me, huh? What do I know of myself? Am I German, am I Indian, I mean am I a German, am I an Indian, after all these years?’ ‘Half and half?’ one German onlooker – onlistener? – dares to comment, which is the German phrase for minced meat, half beef and half pork – I nearly eat him up! ‘D’you realise that I come from a country where the Hindus do not eat beef and the Muslims do not eat pork?’ ‘What do they eat?’ ‘Chicken, and the rest are too poor or vegetarians.’ ‘Do you miss India?’ ‘Miss India 2016? Priyadarshini Chatterjee? Isn’t she an eyeful? And a Bengali, like me!’ I declare proudly. ‘Bengali? We thought you were an Indian…’

It took me thirty odd years to make up my mind – and then I applied for the German passport. They tested my knowledge of German and Germany – whereas I am yet to meet the German who can pronounce my family name correctly: mostly it is Shouduri or Showduri, I’ve even heard Shovduri and Hovduri, and for the particularly adventurous, Khovduri! The ch at the beginning, the w in the middle (which is actually a v in German), followed directly by the unpronounceable dh, which is d with an aspirant laid on it; finally the inexplicable y. They had no choice except to give up and declare somebody to be a German & a countryman whose name they cannot pronouce and never will, even if I and my progeny were to populate the country with Chowdhurys.

Which is why I took to calling myself Der Inder, which means The Indian. At the dry cleaner’s, at the hairdresser’s, at the baker’s, at the local supermarket, I am known as der Inder or Herr Inder – Mister Indian. They write it on the bills & the vouchers, and in their appointment books. One point two billion of us, and the redoubtable task of representing India in Plittersdorf had to fall on my arthritic shoulders. When I have been a German for the past five years.

Try telling that to the Germans.

The facism of racism

Race is the most salient fact or feature about a person – if not about a nation – that we try to ignore & to equalise & to relativise all the time. But why? What are we afraid of? To me, race is a kind of ethnological scar, a mark of the evolutionary branding that all of us went through. To deny race is to say that all the animals in the forest are the same – yes, they are, but they are also different.

Nations are/were formed on the basis of race but are geographical & political entities, in the final analysis. Hence nationality may or may not correspond to race. One cannot change one’s race but one can change one’s nationality. Whatever nationality you have, it is the race that shines through. You have the passport in your hand but the race is in your face. It’s what they don’t teach border guards & policemen & customs and immigration officials because they don’t have to: border guards & policemen & customs and immigration officials are born with that instinct (maybe all of us?). Imagine Barack Obama arriving in a torn T-shirt and a pair of worn jeans, with a seven-day stubble, by dinghy on a deserted beach on Spain’s Costa del Merde. What d’you think a bored and slightly short-sighted member of the Guardia Civil would do with him? Call out the guard of honour?

Racism manifests itself mostly as facism, we conclude – not to be confused with fascism, though certain similarities cannot be denied.

Why talk of Barack Obama, take us South Asians in Germany. Even the sub-Saharan (a terrible word I picked up from Sacha Baron Cohen) toilet attendant in a Kaufhaus does not expect me to put down that fifty cent piece on his plate simply because I look like what I am viz. a South Asian. And he expects a South Asian to be either ungenerous or poor, possibly both. Reminds me of this Indian friend of mine who got held up after dark by a black person, might have been in Chicago: “Gimme whatch’u got!” My friend fished out the small change he was carrying in his pocket. “Where are you from?” the holdup artist was asking. From India – my friend submitted. “You keep it. You need it more than I do.”

I live in Germany, which consists mainly of Germans and then the rest of us from almost every conceivable continent, country, nation & race on earth. We, the non-Germans, are not particularly fond of each other. For example, we South Asians want the Germans to realise that we are not like the – well, sub-Saharans, say. And that we are better than the Turks, in many respects. The Syrians and the Iranians are fairer than us, we must acknowledge, which gives them an advantage. But none of them know English as well as we do. Who needs English in Germany, you say? Well, you may be having a point there but don’t tell it to the Germans. We still impress them with our subcontinental English.

Talking of the Germans, before I accuse any or all of them of being patronising & condescending to us ‘outlanders’, I have to remember how we outlanders in Germany treat each other. There’s this Italian who used to look down upon me, the midget, his only qualification being that he baked the best pizza in Ober-wherever-it-was. He could afford to look down upon me because I was sitting while he was standing. This was in his restaurant. I was sitting at our table when he turned up with the menu cards and some of the rottenest German in Germany, all adorned with his Gorgonzola smile. I could have made him aware of the fact that he was looking at the proud son of a proud nation, the proud progeny of a proud race whose history went back some six thousand years to the sewage systems of Harappa & Mohenjo-Daro (though there are not enough toilets in India today). I praised his pizza instead. We’ve been friends ever since and spend our time cursing the Germans in broken German whenever I visit his restaurant.

Oh yes, we hate the Germans, we hate the Germans because they do not love us or do not love us as much as we’d like them to. We hate them for not having stopped all immigration immediately after Signor Zucarelli (naturally not his real name) or at the latest after me. Signor Zucarelli’s father came on a Vespa over the Alps to Germany as one of the first Guest Workers whereas I am in my thirty-fourth year of asile d’amour or romantic asylum in Germany. So we are like the first child & the second child watching more siblings arrive by the year while our (imagined) share of the (imagined) cake gets smaller and smaller.

The new ones or the old ones, it is not as if we outlanders hurl insults at each other and go at each other’s throats all the time. As there is honour among thieves, there is a kind of tolerance among the outlanders here in Germany which is the exact opposite of ‘integration’, the beloved buzzword of the German government as well as of the German public. We outlanders leave the other outlanders be. On any particular evening in Bonn, there’s a different kind of food being cooked in every outlander kitchen which none of the other outlanders would like to eat on a regular basis – except as a more exotic form of waterboarding. All those smells are streaming or steaming out of the kitchen windows and mingling with the summer fragrance to create a mixture so potent that the Germans are wishing they were in some other place than Germany.

Why do you think the Balearic Islands are tipped to be the next Deutschland?