No one in India is
going to take pity on politicians. Any kind of political office
is a guarantee of prestige, and in a country given to high
levels of corruption, extreme wealth. The one source of amazement
in India is that they have a prime minister in Manmohan Singh
who is so distinctly and obviously different from the rest
of the political school he swims in. Truly the exception and
along the way, probably the most intellectual and best educated
head of government anywhere in the world today.
But he is the exception.
For all that, here in the south various kind of election fevers
are jostling for attention along with dengue fever and mysterious
African ailment chikungunya. A place like Chennai though is
overwhelmed with public media; huge billboards, constant advertising
and endless promotions. Everywhere you look there is a huge
face of Amitabh Bachchan selling anything from a movie to
toilet paper, or the vacuous Aishwarya Rai. You can even get
her on a sari.
So getting noticed when running for office in the Chennai
Corporation requires some effort. The current approach is
to hire a couple of autorickshaws and adorned them with billboards
and flags. Then you hire a marching band and hire some peons
to enthusiastically march behind - giving the impression of
followers and success.
Now it cannot be said that one particular woman campaigner
nearly ran me down with her show on the eve of polling - the
truth is everybody with a set of wheels in Chennai has offered
several puja in anticipation of being able to run down the
foreigner. So this politician was just in a long queue of
people who - happily for my sake - managed to fail to run
As she and her little band of noise makers - competing with
the diwali fire work exploders who make North Korea look pacifist
- wended their way through the lanes, no one was looking.
Or taking a blind bit of notice. The candidate, standing on
her auto doing Winston Churchill impersonations, was overwhelmed
with excitement when she spied me taking her photo. Party
strategists no doubt worked late into the night trying to
figure the polling implications of all this.
Others came by later, complete with flags, loud stereos and
assorted hangers-on, but it was impossible to determine whether
anybody was getting noticed above the clutter of an Indian
Those that did notice though were the hapless people of Tamil
Nadu who like alcohol. From 5pm yesterday and for six days
the entire state is observing prohibition. Crowds gathered
outside the ineptly named "Wine Shops" (ask for
a Pinot Noir from the southside of the vineyard, picked late
in the season and you will receive an uncomprehending stare)
to snatch the last supplies.
They sell almost exclusively rum and whiskey - with some beer
on the side. Most customers drink it straight from the bottle.
These tipplers were yesterday getting in emergency supplies
- and nearby the police waited. The New Indian Express this
morning reports that police in Chromepet were nabbing those
whose needs were the greatest, including one Ayyappan and
Venu Kumar who left the Wine Shop with 240 quarter bottles
of brandy and 240 quarter bottles of rum.
The story didn't say what the police did with the seized booty.