We desis have always nurtured a love-hate relationship with our neighbours (padosis) through the ages. Way back in 1941, V. Shantaram had made a social drama titled “Padosi”. Be honest. Do you like your neighbours? Do you even know who they are? Dead or alive -- do you care? Mumbai is one of the world’s most personal/impersonal cities. We get personal about everything, and yet stay cold-bloodedly detached when faced with a “situation”.
The padosi complex extends to how we view our neighbouring countries -- it’s with a mixture of suspicion and fascination, especially when it comes to India’s bete noire, Pakistan. This week witnessed heart-stopping turmoil and excitement across the border, what with a brand new Prime Minister (Shehbaz Sharif) displacing the blustering, bombastic Imran Khan, who created history but for all the wrong reasons (174 members of the Opposition voted in favour of the motion that resulted in Imran Khan’s removal). Unable to handle this rejection and defeat, the bumbling Khan tried every tactic at his command to hang on to his kursi. Friends from Pakistan say that at present he is licking his wounds in “Banigala”, but the Kaptaan ain’t done just yet. As padosis, we displayed admirable restraint for once, and didn’t offer unsolicited advice in patronising tones, as was anticipated. Kuch toh akkal dikhayi…!
Besides, Imran had serious competition in the sticky eyeballs race -- we were feverishly monitoring a much, much bigger and far more momentous national event back home -- the Ranbir-Alia shaadi (that was affectionately dubbed #Ranlia), which impacted the lives of every Indian in the days that led up to the mandap, the location of which was kept guarded like a nuclear site. Here’s where we get over-personal, and behave like it is a family wedding that we need to micro-manage. Since we love shaadis, it is only appropriate that we wish the golden couple of Bollywood many wonderful years of “Love and Light” … the standard IG way of showering pyaar on newly-weds.
England is only 7,544 km away from us, but given our colonial connections we continue to feel a certain neighbourly concern, now more so than ever, given how shabbily the Brits are treating “our” Rishi Sunak. He is India’s precious Jamai Babu, okay? We show great respect to our sons-in-law. Besides, his wife Akshata is India’s beloved beti -- being Sudha and N.R. Narayan Murthy’s daughter. The Murthys are amazing people -- not like the other show-off billionaires. We are sure they’ve brought up their daughter with all the right “sanskars”.
Why would she indulge in dodgy hera-pheri and jeopadise her husband’s future? We have poora-poora faith in this “made for each other” couple. If truth be told, this is definitely a conspiracy to scuttle Rishi Sunak’s chances of becoming the next Prime Minister of the UK -- how cool! Imagine the first non-white PM singing God Save the Queen with conviction. But his nasty critics are crowing: “From Dishy Rishy to Slippery Sunak….!” Meannnn! Poor chap, his ratings have dropped a bit, but the loyal wifey will have none of it. She has decided to pay her taxes on the Rs 11.56 crores she earns as a dividend from Infosys (she owns 0.93 per cent of the company), as also from her earnings from any other country. Note: as a “moral obligation”, not because she’s required to, being a “Non Dom” person. Yes, it’s complicated. Imagine! The “Non Dom” thingy was recognised in the UK since the French Revolution. And she’s not the only “Non Dom” accused of being naughty -- there are actors, bankers, business peeps and athletes who claim the same privileges. That compounds our sneaking suspicion about the Brit public being biased and racist.
Sunak’s skin is of the wrong shade, mate! His father is a medical practitioner in the NHS and his mother owns a pharmacy. The Sunaks are solidly Brit. And he is a very bright spark himself, as he has demonstrated since his appointment as Britain’s chancellor of the exchequer in 2020. Hey -- does it matter?
We definitely want to see our boy shine as PM once Boris Johnson moves on. And we don’t really care if Sunak partied with the boss on the lawns of 10, Downing Street during the wretched pandemic. All of us behaved rather strangely during that difficult period. Besides, Sunak kept his clothes on, as did the other party-goers drinking a beer or two or twenty… why beat him up for it? I tell you, these cheeky Brits… how wrong they get us!!! Just watch Bridgerton to get their take on “doing Indian” -- the Sharmas call their father “Appa”, sport mud-coloured foundation and are given the most ludicrous lines to mouth. But as someone pointed out on IG when I trashed Season 2 – “It’s a ‘What if…’ show… anything goes.” Sure. But as another commentator snarkily noted: “What if they’d cast a viscount with a better butt? In Season 1, it was the duke’s butt that won all the acting honours…” Noblesse oblige!
But here’s a better story from the land of warm beer and cold handshakes. There he was, on March 30, Dr Pillarasetti Raghu Ram from Hyderabad, dressed in a smart bandhgala -- with the Bonny Prince Charlie conferring an OBE on the 55-year-old, making him one of the youngest surgeons of Indian origin to have received this recognition in over 100 years. He sent me the conferment video, taken in the King’s Drawing Room at Windsor Palace, which shows Prince Charles moving away from strict Brit protocol and reciprocating Dr Raghu’s traditional namaste with his own namaste. Eight years ago, I had visited the KIMS-Ushalakshmi Centre for Breast Diseases when it was launched by the good doc in 2014.
We are all waiting to see how the Sunak saga pans out. It will be a shame if he is made the fall guy for being seen as Boris Johnson’s “boy”. Meanwhile, Akshata dearie, just pay up sweetly and get those mean-spirited critics off your case. But dude, an alleged evasion of around Rs 197 crores in taxes, as the accusation goes, isn’t exactly small change… It could easily finance Imran Khan’s re-election. Soch lo… it ain’t really over till the fat generals sing.