The four entered a posh restaurant together, somewhere in Delhi. The manager, who knew them quite well, beamed a gracious smile and escorted them to a corner table.
As they sat down without a word, the manager asked the one who seemed to lead the group, a bald and bespectacled man with a face that always held a faint smile, if he would have the usual. The bald man nodded, and also gestured at the empty chair, which the manager smoothly got removed. The fifth in the group did not turn up. So it goes.
The manager now turned to the one who sat next to the bald man, a suave lady who looked extremely chic even in a plain green saree. She grinned and said, “Beefeater for me”. Coincidentally, the lady shared the same initials with the bald man.
Next to her was her husband, dressed in a suit, looking dapper as always, who ordered a Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley, 2002 vintage. The last of the group, a man with tousled salt-pepper hair and dressed in an off-white kurta, ordered Pimm’s Iced Tea, a quintessential British drink.
The bald man smiled at everyone, and said, “So here we are, after a long time. How have you all been?”
The kurta-clad man was the first to speak. “I had a pleasant visit to the birthplace of the Bard, Stratford-upon-Avon, just last week. Every Indian must visit this place to learn the greatness of Shakespeare,“ said he with relish, and continued with contempt, “but they make all tourist places filthy.”
At hearing the word “Stratford”, the bald man winced.
The husband said, “Mixed, S______. On the one hand, the Noise has left the building. We may now expect sense over sensationalism, substance over style.”
His wife now winced at the last phrase, but he did not notice and continued. “On the other hand, there is trouble brewing. I can see the signs.” So it goes.
A little away from them, a small family was ordering their dinner, and they could faintly hear one of them selecting Zafrani Pulao. So it goes. At this, the lady turned her nose up, said “Hope he orders Hara Bhara Kebab too”, and laughed out loud. It was now the turn of the kurta-clad man to wince, whose idea of a good time, like some of his British masters, was to keep a stiff upper lip come what may. Her husband, meanwhile, quipped, “They’ve got money, SA______, but no class,” and shook his head.
For the first time, he stirred, the kurta-clad man. “How is the…”, and without completing his statement, he bowed his head to indicate that he was referring to the Sophisticated & Supreme Sacrificer. The rest of them also bowed their heads, in reverence to the One who was not even there, but then, She was no less than God to them, and they did not even whisper Her name.
S______ shook his head. “Disturbed, A____. Distinctly disturbed.” So it goes.
“Quite understandable. Ghanchi has been stepping on too many areas. Too many! Our friends have been calling me, sometimes in the middle of the night, their voices full of panic,” he said. So it goes.
Facing S______, he continued, with a mixture of warning and desperation, “I hope you have a plan to handle this intellectually barren vegetarian, S______. We are in a dire situation here, an era of amplified intolerance. Now, he has demonetized currencies. What about voter inducement?” So it goes.
S______ was pained, and thought to himself, “What about us?” So it goes.
“It is difficult, A____, the demonetization puts an end to any immediate mischief. First, those surgical strikes,” he said, as everyone bristled, including the usually calm A____, “and now, this. We have had no sources inside the government for long. The media is crippled. It is an Emergency. What do you say, R______? This is your domain.” So it goes.
“A few days back, I interviewed the new kid on the block, a true patriot, if there ever was one. A part of the agenda to drive the narrative the way we want, but there is also the social media,” said R______. After musing for some time, he said, “The right wing on social media needs to be pummeled and beaten.”
At this, his wife gestured with an animated hatred, and spat out “Those Internet Hindus!”
A____ said, calmly, “Well, let us just say that the social media would be taken care of” and allowed himself the luxury of a faint smile. A____ had abandoned social media sometime earlier, but his connections were still intact.
S______ also smiled, and said “Also, for some strange reason, the leadership is no longer interacting with their own supporters on social media. It works for us quite well.”
“Coming back to this patriot of yours,“ said A____, with a hint of sarcasm, “how is he?”
“A nice young fellow,“ lied R______, “and we have got him some powerful friends too.”
At this, SA______ went on dreamily, “The lad is genuinely worried about the minorities.”
No one seemed to be bothered about her remark, but A____, unconvinced, asked, “Don’t we have someone who is good looking and has charisma? Someone who has an uncommon understanding of Indian reality, like R____ G_____?” So it goes.
The only one who believed what A____ said was SA______. So it goes.
“Well, we still have the trump card doing his best,” said R______, this time not lying, but offering his unbiased judgment based on his own moral compass.
S______ did not comment, but he knew the anarchist that R______ was referring to. Of late, his relationship with the trump card had deteriorated, but R______ was having it quite well, and enjoying his association too. Possibly something big in the near future.
Hearing the word “trump”, SA______ went on, “A few days back DC felt like one big happy family,” and sighed. So it goes.
Again, the rest of the group ignored her altogether.
“Well, we still have our old friends, the network is strong enough still, and of course, the courts,” said S______. “We may yet have some solid surprises in store for our Sanghi friends.”
After a few minutes of sipping their drinks silently, R______ got up, and said, “Well, we have to leave now. I will croon ‘jaane kahaan gaye wo din’ as I head home. Shubhratri.” With that the two disappeared.
A____ and S______ looked at each other, sighed deeply, and with great difficulty, S______ took out his wallet to pay the bill. So it goes.
(Note: The “so it goes” phrase comes from the anti-war book by Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse 5. In the book, the phrase is used whenever there is a death. Here, it is used whenever there is trouble.)