Uttam Kumar in Satyajit Ray’s ‘Nayak’
In many Indians’ ridiculous perception, a dictator is one is who is a strict but essentially well-meaning disciplinarian who knows better than you what you need to lead a noble and fruitful life. He—and it is necessarily a male—is the sort of man whom you can hug and cuddle in his more amiable moments, of which there are many. There was and there still is a sizable number of Indians who see Adolf Hitler in this light. For them Hitler is this cute boy who never really grew up and never tired of dressing and playing dictator. Of course, all this is unforgivably absurd self-delusion.
Pop cultural references to and fascination for Hitler still survive across India. I have just cited two completely random examples here. The frame above is from Satyajit Ray’s 1966 film ‘Nayak’ (The Hero) where Uttam Kumar’s character, a self-absorbed movie star, is talking to Sharmila Tagore (not in the frame), editor of a journal, about a neighbor of his who was apparently a selfish man. “Like Hitler, you know,” says Kumar’s character. Of course, it is not my case at all that the great Ray saw Hitler in that light. However, the fact that the hero of his film could use the criminally deranged and yet fiendishly efficient and murderous despot as a casual,throwaway comment is rather disturbingly instructive. The second instance—and this is from real life—is the perpetually high-selling autobiography of Hitler, ‘Mein Kampf’, in India. The image below is from Flipkart, India’s leading online retailer this morning.
I give this backdrop to make a point about comments made by a serving Supreme Court justice of the country. Justice Anil R. Dave has been quoted as saying this by the Indian media at a conference in Ahmedabad, “Had I been the dictator of India, I would have introduced Gita and Mahabharata in Class I. That is the way you learn how to live life. I am sorry if somebody says I am secular or I am not secular. But we have to get good things from everywhere.” This man is a sitting judge on the country’s highest court and yet his perception about what a dictator is is still essentially the same as I describe—a figure of powerful but well-meaning authority with which he lords over the populace telling them what to do and what not to do. It is a disturbing peep inside a mind who sits in judgment day in and day out. There is a whole class of people who nurse a wistful regret that India chose the path of democracy after the British left in 1947 instead of going in for a charming dictatorship.
I presume that Justice Dave has not only read the Gita but even internalized its message. I suspect it must be a different Gita from what I have read, courtesy of my father Manharray who read it as a matter or routine. Apart from everything else, the Gita is—as is the the whole of the Mahabharat—about cold situational logic. Its prescriptions—if one can call them that at all—are situational and not overarching. Situational logic and dictatorship simply do not mix. Dictatorship is about handing down and enforcing ruthlessly the convictions/beliefs/delusions of an individual. Situational logic is about recognizing a particular situation’s peculiarities and fashioning logic to deal with it. Two very different things indeed. But who is to tell that to someone on the pulpit as powerful as the Supreme Court? Well, I just did.
In any case, this notion that books of ancient yore are infallible simply because they are books of ancient yore is laughable.