When you lift the shroud of demonetisation that the Reserve Bank of India settled over the primed up Indian economy, leaving her like Miss Havisham waiting eternally for her lost lover to rise from sudden death, you realise there was quite a happy 2016 before the pink Gandhis imploded over the bathrooms of civil contractors.
We didn’t start out snitching on our neighbour’s ability to pay for vegetables in cash and Tanmay Bhatt was still a considerable heavyweight in the comic world.
Like the year began with Google chief Sundar Pichai visiting India and realising that, in fact, the stories he’d been telling about not having a TV in India were not stories of him being poor, just #UrbanPoor; him being just another middle class Indian with conservative kanjoos parents like the rest of us. Many shook their Indian roots this year.
Microsoft head Satya Nadella bought out LinkedIn just so all the nephews of his multiple relatives of the extended joint family sending him requests for recommendations and jobs would please, like, really, stop.
Speaking of Indians who aren’t, RBI governor Raghuram Rajan was still India’s version of the bachelor to smitten pink papers and was almost certain of grabbing the rose, but alas, Subramanian Swamy still believed that if he didn’t have a Green Card no one should. So he protested vehemently at his regulatory controls that might actually make NPAs not unlike Swamy, pay up.
The Modi government, that nationalist anti-everything-foreign-Made-in-India-flag-waving conglomerate, crawled when asked to bend, and obliged by ousting any blighter with a foreign accent, and promptly hired economist Viral Acharya from East Coast NYC to replace him. Probably realising that Made in India invariably gets exported, especially from the IITs, and if one is spending every trip overseas playing to an NRI and PIO gallery then it’s quite self defeatist to refuse to hire them for what they bring to the country.
In this way, India found that it was not possible to have its cake and eat it too, and so passed it on to Pak PM Nawaz Sharif on his birthday. Fawad Khan who?
In the year of fake news everyone thought the Income Declaration Scheme was one, and is sorely regretting that, but there was also the uncomfirmed rumour that pink notes have microchips and that Viral Acharya was mistaken to be a guru of making things go viral on social media, which again enthused the RBI because everyone’s been asking when current governor Urijit Patel is going to start communicating in more than fake circulars.
Meanwhile, Rajasthan has started trading in dollars, and Northeast India, belaguered by the Manipur blockade, just laughed and refused to pull the notes off the market. Tamil Nadu, still in grief over the loss of state matriarch Amma, and needing no more mixer-grinders, fans, geysers, toilets, or wind mills for the next three generations, said what the hell, as long as the country is burning for religion, we’ll invent our own religion, bury our dead, vote for Amma’s long-time female partner Sasikala, and trade in cowries. Cho Ramasamy was so tickled by the inversions he laughed his way to heaven alongside his long-time friend.
Now everyone wants to be Tamil Nadu, especially West Bengal.
Mamata Banerjee wants to know if anyone remembers she vowed never to leave parliament when she thought the Indian Army was coming for her, and can she go home now and build Trafalgar square on Park street please because Christmas in Calcutta is all anyone has left now that she’s pitted the Muslims and the Hindus against each other, so much so that the Bengalis, even as the entirety of the Western world swings right, are praying for the return of the Left. Even Mithun got fed up and left.
Now what Calcutta, now what?
Also, Mukesh Ambani launched Reliance Jio 4G with a free forever scheme or something to that come-into-my-parlour-said-the-spider-to-the-fly effect and everyone who hadn’t watched Kingsman: The Secret Service lined up to have the sim implanted in their brains. They are all walking Reliance shares now, and haven’t read the fine print yet, but are liable to be traded on the stock exchange in lieu of late fees on their bills when they come.
This was the year of changing directions all around.
Bankrupt tycoon Vijay Mallya ran away to London from where he issued interviews insisting he had not in fact run away, just, you know, run away, which the foreign press totally sympathised with – tycoons that don’t pay their employee salaries in a country with hidden forms of poverty being the one kind of protagonist they ought to defend, no brainer. The same press subsequently could not comprehend why their public voted to leave the EU and were calling them names, lost faith in the media, and were siding with Donald Trump. Especially when Lord Sugar had been saying for years on end that nobody is poor anymore because look, they use smartphones.
Tough one to crack this.
A newly-woke tycoon Ratan Tata returned from retirement, chucked out the upstart young modern dikra who wanted to keep things leaner and meaner, and went to Nagpur. Nobody will say for sure if this coincides with the return of publicist Niira Radia, but Mistry at least has Nusli Wadia for company. The Parsi Punchayet, meanwhile, has been meekly focusing on poaching priests from each other’s agiaries and hoping their donations won’t go haywire as the T-Rexes fight it out. "This is how we go extinct," one priest was heard muttering.
This was also the year that brought the humble Indian soldier back into everyday discourse, with everyone from Raj Thackeray to Amit Shah, to the flag waving court pointing to him to justify their personal ideologies, be that extortion, electioneering, or entitled activism, respectively. That he still has no snow boots and can get aboard a AN 32 that will go missing for a month with no word to families, or be subject to corruptible defence procurement deals that see them languishing for basic equipment, is another matter altogether.
At JNU, Kanhaiyya Kumar became poster boy of students who would never be soldiers, which is great considering how they get treated, but who would not quite graduate with their degrees either. Which can be really annoying if you’ve been waiting for the allotment of a subsidised hostel room for quite some time now. Student politics raised its head to distinguish students from the politicians and, it turns out, the students are the ones who (wisely) just bunk class and go watch films – no one who comes to campus is actually studying. Or can take a joke. Clearly.
The middle class in India is still waiting for 2017 for India to realise that there are other campuses in the country that need funding, and support, and the (hopefully benign) eye of the government upon it, than the one defunct Leftist epicentre in New Delhi.
Thank god for the new Start-up culture. Without them even more of our young ones would have nothing to drop out of in disgust that would propel enough momentum to create something worthwhile that could pay too much money too soon and leave several fresh graduates unemployed.
Where would we be then?
"Emergency" became the buzzword of the game this year, for everything from — in a year when the Supreme Court upheld Perumal Murugan’s right to write and Wendy Doniger made her way back to bookshelves in a spanking new edition – changing the colour of notes, standing in a queue, not being able to buy Udta Punjab tickets in black, to Chetan Bhagat who thought it made a cute poll tool, to Mamata Banerjee who sues every cartoonist or newspaper that tries to cover the news in West Bengal.
Just to prove we are a country that has only three lenses – Partition, Emergency and Nasbandi for everything, we just dubbed Demonetisation with all three and distributed the rest for everything from not finding the right shade of pink lipstick to the doodhwala not showing up. Even the liberal crowd seems to have realised everything cannot possibly be Modi’s fault now, because, well, he’d have to be god then wouldn’t he? And Obama has just ratified a law for atheism, but looking at the way USA is going, we’re also starting to look pretty good.
But realisations come slow to India.
Among the things we rediscovered this year was that the Indus river was actually ours, and not Pakistan’s, because thank god someone finally read Sanjeev Sanyal and now not only are they erecting a Shivaji statue in the thing, so as to colonise it, but they’re also going to rename it so that we completely confuse arriving airlines, just in case changing the name of the airport once more (from Chhattrapati Shivaji International Airport to Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj International airport) was not enough. (By contrast, in America they’re just renaming things "The Airport" "The Nuclear Button – DO NOT PRESS" in anticipation of the Trump presidency)… And that while we need to keep infiltration low in Kashmir, we can legalise the infiltrated in the Northeast. So right now, immigration in India pretty much depends on where exactly, you’re jumping over the fence.
And at the end of it, we’re not so badly off after all. I mean, as Pratap Bhanu Mehta puts it, line up the G20 and between Vladimir Putin, Donald Trump, Marianne Le Pen and whoever Merkel is going to be losing to, not to mention Dutertes, we pretty much look like the guys who ought to be leading the free world.
So what if we don’t have cash, we will always have jugaad.
So, while the PMO and RBI are marvelling at how lower and middle class India is not rioting, middle and lower class India is marvelling at how the PMO and RBI imagined they were the ones running this country in the first place. The secret to minimal government? Just like marriage, let the government think they’re the ones in charge and wear all the gold even when you're asleep.
Psst… want change for 2017? I know a guy.