At a mushaira in Delhi, a poet was introduced with a "Now a round of applause for Mr X, who has come all the way from Madhya Pradesh." To this, the man from Madhya Pradesh had a return gift of the gab: "Why only me. Everybody comes from madhya pradesh." Even if you don’t go full-on biological, you will agree if you have seen the Gond land and the cave paintings of Bhimbetka. Just outside Bhopal, Bhimbetka’s cavernous walls have art painted by the earliest cave-dwelling humans, pretty close to when the land came out of the water.
Though the state claims to be the "Heart of Incredible India"; if you have seen the map, you know advertising can be incredibly deceptive. Madhya Pradesh is the stomach of India. The large, gaseous, shape-shifting, mediocre, button-breaking, noise-making, largely disregarded middle part. There is no shame in being the stomach; it’s one of the most important parts of the body and contains the most vital organs. It keeps the body functioning, but people didn’t go around flaunting it before the six-pack fad stormed in. And by the way, the six-pack isn’t flaunting the stomach but hiding it, as if it were a pimple promising to ruin your date. People are worried about what is visible. Stomach is conspicuously invisible, unless the owner is a resident of Galaxy Apartments.
Nobody is bothered about the middle. In any building, people want to stay on the ground floor or the top floor. Nobody wants the middle floors. Ask the middle one among siblings or the great Indian middle class. The government devises schemes for the poor and the scheming rich people can afford anything. The middle class wants to be treated like poor by the poor and like the rich by the rich without having the essential qualifications to be either. They hate both the poor and the rich, because they are practically poor, but their dreams are technicolour. The same goes for middlemen. You know if they didn’t exist, you wouldn’t be able to get around the red tape. But you hate them so much they call themselves public relations specialists or brokers, at worst. I have not seen a middleman’s visiting card mentioning the word middleman, their liaison d’etre.
Madhya Pradesh was one of the largest states in India in terms of area. It was divided into two without much ado. Like Nitin Gadkari. He went for a bariatric surgery to remove excessive meddling of fatty matter in his madhya pradesh, and you hardly noticed anything amiss. He seemed as big as Madhya Pradesh. UP cried hoarse while parting with Uttarakhand, and Lalu Yadav declared that Jharkhand could only be created over his dead body. Madhya Pradesh took one on the chin and moved on. It used to be a Bimaru state; even in the acronym, it was in the middle, flanked by Bihar on one side and Rajasthan and UP on the other. It apparently lifted itself out of deprivation under the leadership of Shivraj Chouhan, but then people hardly noticed that it was out of the Bimaru column.
The state capital, Bhopal, is pretty pretty, with lakes. It lacks nothing, but people can’t relate to anything in the city. Saif Ali Khan’s legendary father Mansoor Ali Khan was the Nawab of Bhopal and Pataudi. Pataudi is a small Haryana hamlet compared to Bhopal. But guess what he was known as? The Nawab of Pataudi, of course! The city of Indore thinks it is the mini Mumbai, and wishes it fell in Gujarat. There are spectacular places to visit in this heartland of India, but if it is noticeable, it has an identity of its own, no matter how much MP Tourism strives to reclaim the place. Orchha is beautiful but Jhansi is in UP, so you wouldn’t know Orchha was in MP if MP Tourism didn’t drill it into your head.
The truth is that we hardly bother about the stomach unless it is upset or bloated. Gas? Yes. Ask Bhopal. Carbide exploded in its face and Anderson escaped with the Union’s blessing. When it rumbles, you pretend to not hear, and even when you do, you suppress it by popping a pill or two. Only when the stomach is running, you go running to the doc. No regular care, otherwise. People go for facials, manicures and pedicures, but there is hardly any grooming of the stomach. Nobody seems to be proud of the 56-inch stomach. Everybody loves the 56-inch chest.
The ancient, past its use-by date, and still dangerously relevant caste system associates the middle area with the Vaishyas. The ones who create resources. Madhya Pradesh has of late become a major producer of wheat and taken leaps in industrial production. Chambal is not associated with bandits, but a fertiliser brand. Shivraj Singh Chouhan is credited for much that happened in the state in the last decade. But the stomach has a problem. It is host to all kinds of bacteria. Good ones and the bad ones. The stomach ailments are mother of all ailments. But often, they are detected late and cared for even belatedly. Vyapam is more than a 15-year-old tumour, which was forgotten as if it was benign, middle-level, midsized, middle class disease. If the same happened in in-the-limelight states like UP and Bihar, it would have got so much attention that we would have been sick of it.
This sickness called Vyapam had to swallow 40 lives for us to notice that there is something rotten in the state of Madhya Pradesh. We are shocked by whatever little has come to light. We do not know the full spread yet. The diagnosis is not complete; the prognosis uncertain. There is a lesson in there somewhere. Take care of the middle ones, among your little ones. Your middle class, neither poor nor rich. The middle order on the batting pitch. Feel for your stomach. You never know what all goes in there. And once infected, it can turn your entire world upside down. Ye MP ajab hai, sabse ghazab hai.