Farrukh Dhondy | Fresh mess in land of ‘Hedgimaharaj’: On maths teachers & nannies for kids

The Asian Age.  | Farrukh Dhondy

Opinion, Columnists

The first scene is set in a church hall which acts as a food bank, where volunteers hand out parcels, cans, vegetables, fruit

People take part in a rally in Trafalgar Square in support of striking NHS junior doctors, as the British Medical Association holds a 96-hour walkout in a dispute over pay, in London, Tuesday April 11, 2023. (Kirsty O'Connor/PA via AP)

“The children dance in the Monsoon

To the pitter-patter and thundering tune

A joy to the farmer and the maali

And when it ends it’ll be Diwali

O thunderclouds please return soon?”

From My Heart is a One-arsed Bird,

Tr. from Hindi by Bachchoo


Gentle reader, I’ve written a play -- for stage and screen -- and am looking forward to getting it performed at the Royal Shakespeare Company and on Netflix. I normally charge exorbitant sums for a glance at the script, but as you are loyal followers of this column, I will make an exception and present it to you for free. It’s written in dramatic format, but for readers unfamiliar with “scene-character-dialogue-action”, I’ve turned it into simple prose:

The first scene is set in a church hall which acts as a food bank, where volunteers hand out parcels, cans, vegetables, fruit and sometimes even sausages and fresh chicken, to families who can’t, because of steeply rising prices, mortgages becoming impossible to pay, unprecedented inflation and the deflation of the economy, feed themselves and their children. This becomes clear in the dialogue between a woman, who comes in with three children, and a volunteer who hands her fresh milk and a parcel which will stretch to two meals for her family. She leaves, without a smile on her face.

The second scene is in several corridors of a hospital with fifty patient trolleys carrying people in various stages of illness, fracture, pain. A nurse walks past the row.

“Bad news”, she says, “the four-day strike by junior doctors means operations and treatment cancelled except in emergencies”. A cry goes up from the patients on the trolleys.

The emergency nurse shrugs.

CUT TO (as we say in media jargon)

Outside, where hundreds of junior doctors have assembled in a strike demonstration with placards saying they haven’t had a pay raise for seventeen years, while inflation has depleted their wages by 35 per cent.

An ambulance draws up. The doctors boo. A manager comes out of the hospital and says they are a disgrace, why are they booing an ambulance?

“Because these privatised ambulances cost the National Health Service millions of pounds a week, which could be used to help the NHS get back to some form of normality instead of handing out huge sums in profit to private ambulance agencies,” one junior doctor shouts.


The street outside an underground railway (“Metro”) station. Two tramps, a young man and a woman are crouched with cans in front of them asking passers-by for “any change?”

(Oh sorry… I neglected to say that the whole play is not set in Sudan, but in a country that I’ve invented call Ukistan!)

Next Scene:

The Ukistan Prime Minister’s residence. The PM is called Hedgimaharaj. He and his beautiful wife, Nondomina, are in their sumptuous bedroom, preparing for a good night’s rest.

“Hope you sleep soundly, you look worried,” Nondomina says caringly.

“The country is in absolute crisis. Just think … millions of people have no training in maths.”

“It’s disastrous”, Hedgimaharaj replies.

“Is that really the only problem, darling?” Nondomina asks, taking her dressing gown off.

Temptingly… “I’ve been thinking and have come to the feministic conclusion that too many women have to look after their children and so can’t go out and do menial work and grow the economy.”

“But darling, aren’t you a shareholder in that company -- what’s it called -- Cash and Care, which rents out nannies? That should sort it,” says Hedgimaharaj.

“Do the maths, Fundhead,” Nondomina replies. “If these families can’t afford food and heating at the same time, how are they going to pay my firm’s colossal fees for hiring nannies?”

“Hmm, you might have something there. I think I’ll have a word with my chancellor, old Tallyhoji. We should provide a nanny or two, just like we had, to every household with children. He’s good at maths,” replies Hedgimaharaj, as he goes scratching himself to the bathroom. “Good night darling -- sorry! This maths deficit in the populace is worrying -- so not tonight Josephine -- or whatever you’re called.”

FADE TO BLACK (more script jargon)

New scene

The chancellor’s office the next day.

“I say, old boy,” Hedgimaharaj says, “I think we need to raise the school-leaving age to eighteen and provide every school with one supremely qualified maths teacher for every six pupils -- you should do the maths for that. We’ll beat China and India at their own game, exporting all these mathematicians to Silicon Valley. Hah! And while I’m at reforms, why not… um… provide every household with children, with a nanny -- and if there are too many children -- you know how the poor breed -- with even two nannies?”

“Good thinking, Hedgeperson, I’ll see what I can do. Have to do the maths,” Tallyhoji replies.


The PM’s residence. Night. Nondomina and Hedgimaharaj are watching the BBC news.

The newsreader comes on. “The chancellor, Tallyhoji, has announced in his mini-budget that his priority will be to grow the economy by ensuring that working class women go out to work while renting agencies send child-care people to look after their children. The chancellor has allocated billions of taxpayers’ money to six of these chosen private agencies, one of which is classically called Cash and Care!”

Nondomina rises from her chaise longue and, smiling, grabs Hedgimaharaj and kisses him gratefully.


“Any change, please!”