SO HERE I AM, ladies and gentlemen, a lone liberal from a lost country, a country with a great tradition and a horrifying present. And to tell you a story—and I love telling stories, and at times I see myself as an abandoned story in search of a narrator—I’m a survivor, a liberal survivor, maybe the only survivor, from the land of a great illusionist. He made his entry into our lives with such Biblical grandeur and, as if he was the Hindu Moses chosen by the only God, also a Hindu God I should tell you, he parted the ocean, let’s say a metaphorical ocean, and like in the other story I told recently at Berkeley, the fools, the gullible multitudes, who followed him went under the water when the spell was broken. Victims of an illusion. I was elsewhere on the shore, seeing what others couldn’t, as always, realising, as I always do, my own exceptionalism in my country whose drab sameness of fate continues to frighten me. Still frightens me. In the story about the tsunami I told at Berkeley the other day, it was raw wisdom that saved the tribes of Andaman and Nicobar Islands. In the tragedy unfolding in India as a whole today, only one wise man, the last storyteller, is left with a conscience. And an anecdote, which is me. Call me Rahul.
Who am I? That’s a question I keep asking. I don’t want an answer. No. Answers are finality. Finite. The perceiving mind seeks meanings by asking, and asking, the question. The search never ends. Like the stories. All my stories, they say, my anecdotes, have always been about this unanswered question in the political life of India. What do they know? They know nothing. They see everything, and every Gandhi, in the big karmic cycle of power. They see every struggle, the thing that provides dramatic tension to the story, as a traveller’s quest for power. But I’m not a traveller, not a seeker. I’m, mostly, a story badly told by others. I’m, really, a story told intermittently by someone trapped within myself. I’m going all over the place, I’m losing the thread, but no, I’m not, and in truth, it’s the pauses and absences, the surge and the calm, that make my story a surprise to myself. I’m shocked, at times. Who am I? The guy within me doesn’t answer, thank God for that. I would not have been here otherwise, as a receptacle to my inner narrator. Ladies and gentlemen, I think you’re more patient than myself with him.
In my Berkeley address I said, “The common conception in the West is that people have ideas. You all say, I have an idea. But there is an alternative way of looking at the world. The counter-intuitive notion that instead of people having ideas, ideas have people. So instead of ‘I have an idea’, an idea has me. This notion is the basis of ahimsa or non-violence as taught by Gandhi.” It is the wisdom of the East, which carries a whiff of the mystical in its knowledge. So follow me, me as an idea as labyrinthine as it could ever be. I’m not a statement tailor-made for your average pundit, sorry. I’m not a slogan compatible with the desperate party man at the gate. I’m not your one-dimensional morning headline. I’m the child of an idea, too fluid to be grasped by the lazy legion out there, and I’m evolving, hear me right, evolving, not disintegrating. This idea has not passed its time.
They may say the idea has already been outlived by India. They may say it’s the whimpering conclusion of an idea that has seen glorious yesterdays. How presumptuous. How simplistic. Why is it that my countrymen, currently in thrall of the illusionist,can’t comprehend complexities? Why is it that, please tell me, they like only linear narratives? They can’t go on reducing me to an idea retrieved from a genetic memory. I’m not a genealogical afterthought. Let’s spell it out: I’m not the weakest impulse of a dynasty. As I said elsewhere, dynasties are, in our part of the world, maybe in other places too, a way of political, cultural and business life. It’s no big deal. It’s not a bad thing either, keeping stuff within the family. It brings stability. It’s a system based on trust. Go read Fukuyama, he’s written a book bigger than the one he has written on the end of history. The point is: what’s the point of being Rahul Gandhi? Again, we are back to the question.
Answer it and it’s the end of the story, the redundancy of the storyteller. What I can say is that in the age of certainties, I’m a liberating uncertainty. I’m here to remind you all that power is not the conclusion of the idea that has me in its grip, that I’m not a character added without my consent to the dynastic script. I’m a bit more complex. Allow me to get startled by my own questions, my stories, my freedom to be what I’m not. I know you don’t get it. Nor does me.
Be kind. Thank you.