Group President, Group Managing Director & Editor In Chief: Dr.Shelly Ahmed

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Kejriwal’s Delhi Belly: An AAP Movement In 'Loose Motion'

By Anita Dhillon | Delhi

Several years ago while researching a story about ageing in India, I happened to meet a very feisty senior citizen named Kanta Advani. When I asked her about the problems of ageing I was expecting the usual list – cataracts, knees, loneliness, finances, absent children. But the outspoken Mrs Advani had more pressing issues on her mind. 

“My main problem about getting old is constipation. That is something we discuss quite openly with other people when we meet them. Constipation. Remember that. You will also get it when you are old.” Then she chuckled knowingly.
Arvind Kejriwal is only in his mid-forties. But the new chief minister of Delhi clearly thinks that anytime is a good time and anywhere is a good place to discuss stomach problems. That was apparent from the excuse tweet he sent out for missing his first big day at work as the new chief minister of Delhi. 

Running 102 fever since yesterday. Severe loose motions. Sad that I won't be able to attend office today. Whether Kejriwal picked up some kind of virus or not, that tweet certainly went viral. And tongues started wagging in response. “How’s this for a transparent CM?” tweeted out writer Samanth Subramanian. 

My friend Vikram Joshi quipped “That 20 Kilolitres of free water will be very welcome in the Kejriwal household today.” Kejriwal’s moment of over-sharing caused polite society in India to recoil and titter. Many would have preferred he had followed Narendra Modi's newly-blogged policy of stoic silence when in acute distress. But we should not have been that aghast. 

In fact, loose motions or the infamous Delhi Belly has actually been part of cloak-and-dagger intrigue. It wasn't just a scriptwriter's imagination as in the Imran Khan starrer Delhi Belly. Over 35 years ago, Henry Kissinger came to New Delhi on a fact-finding mission in Asia. It was all rather boring says historian Margaret MacMillan who wrote the book Nixon and Mao. Kissinger stopped in Delhi, had dinner with a suspicious Indira Gandhi and then flew to Islamabad. 

There the embassy announced he had come down with “Delhi belly” which he had picked up in India and needed to recover in Yahya Khan’s bungalow in the hills. “He had to cancel all appointments. This annoyed the Indians who anyway suspected the US preferred Pakistan over India,” says MacMillan. India-US relations were already frosty. To add insult to injury, now Indira Gandhi’s kitchen stood maligned. 

But it was all an elaborate ruse. Henry Kissinger, disguised in floppy hat and dark glasses, boarded a Pakistan International Airlines plane in Rawalpindi. He was on a top-secret trip to China, paving the way for Richard Nixon’s famous trip in 1972 where the “scourge of the Communists” made history by shaking hands with Mao Zedong himself. That was the faux Delhi Belly. 

This is the real deal. But it just goes to show politics and bowel movements have never been that far apart. India might be a prudish country when it comes to sex. Our Supreme Court certainly thinks so as is evident from that Section 377 verdict. But when it comes to matters of excretion we share everything in excruciating detail . This is not just a Morarji Desai hangover. 

Desai was just a proud practitioner of a larger cultural trait. I often overhear elderly aunts discuss exactly when to take a heaping tablespoon of Isabgol at night to time their morning ritual just right. Two days of indifferent bowel movements or too much gas prompt urgent telephone conferences between assorted housebound elderly relatives. 

The breakfast table is regarded as a perfectly appropriate venue to grade bowel movements using some intricate scorecard incorporating texture and colour. I don’t know about other Indian states but nothing says Bengali-in-distress as plaintively as “Pet-ta theek nei” (the stomach is not alright) delivered with the right dosage of whine and a pouty face. In our house the usual pills for colds, fevers, spondylosis and migraines live inside the medicine box. But the digestive tonics (and there are several) all grace the dining table, right next to the mixed fruit jam and mango pickle, within easy reach of the family. The family that digests together stays together. 

And everyone is an expert in this realm. We have hand-written notes on little packets of pills indicating which one is for what level of diarrhea. All Kejriwal has done is introduce this all-pervasive and all-important social topic into the realms of social media, sharing it in one fell swoop with his more than 961,000 Twitter followers. And by doing that he has made history. Napoleon famously said c'est la soupe qui fait le soldat. 

Or an army marches on its stomach. In Kejriwal’s world the aam aadmi army is no different. It’s just that Napoleon thought a well-fed army was a happy army. Kejriwal understands that a well-pooped Indian is a happy Indian. We are used to a Delhi where the private ailments of public figures, whether it is Sonia Gandhi or Atal Behari Vajpayee, exist in a world of hushed whispers and second-hand rumours. Kejriwal is clearly made of different stuff. 

When he came to power, political scribes wrote reams about how change had come to Delhi. His victory was regarded as a comeuppance for the Lutyens Delhi of snooty elitism. Kejriwal turned down a Lutyens bungalow. But nothing conveyed the fall of Lutyens Delhi as eloquently as that tweet. Sheila Dikshit, were she on Twitter, would never have sent that one out. No s**t, Sherlock. 

We are not in Lutyens Delhi anymore. The people's movement and the neta's motions have come together. But then a potty-trained leader is always preferable to a potty-mouthed one.
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