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Unless the winter soup that Delhi has been inhaling disperses next week, we can look forward to an invisible Republic Day flypast. I speak from experience: I live in a suburb directly under the flight path, from where the practice sorties appear to be all sound and fury, signifying nothing but fog. All those interceptors have achieved so far is to frighten the pigeons and cause citizens to point en masse at the inscrutable presence above their heads, like in the Dharamsala scene from Close Encounters of the Third Kind (Spielberg, 1977).
Print and internet media have been much excited about whether the camels of the Border Security Force would be missing in action at the parade for the first time in 66 years. And Times Now wonders if army dogs will perform for the first time in 26 years. Such numerical speculations offer pleasant relief from the gory details of the big headlines, such as the incidents involving Kiku Sharda, who stood accused of imitating Gurmeet Ram Rahim, and Rahim himself, who has been targeted by the All India Hindu Student Federation for imitating Vishnu. And how tedious it is to see the government in denial yet again, this time over Rohith Vemula’s suicide, with the HRD minister rejecting a Dalit angle exactly like Arun Jaitley had trashed the intolerance debate, and as futilely. And five days after the event, the prime minister addressed the issue — in passing, in abstraction — at the convocation of the BR Ambedkar University in Lucknow. Because the venue made it impossible to evade.
Let us turn away from the idiocies and idiosyncrasies of our media and politics in order to encounter exactly the same thing in the US. Glenn Frey, sheet anchor of the Eagles, passed away this week in New York. He led one of the most successful rock bands of all time and will be remembered for Hotel California, the perennial hit which is at the heart of Americana, right alongside Coca-Cola and Wonderbra. But he did not go gentle into that good night. The exit music was all jangly. Amidst the chaotic and occasionally satanic music culture of their times, the Eagles brought corporate, process-driven rigour to their work. It was disliked by critics in search of radical cool, who appreciated experimenters like the Rolling Stones and David Bowie, who died just days ago. The antipathy seems to have had the half life of radioactive material, and it came bursting out of the silos this week, 40 years old but as good as new.
The reluctance to speak ill of the dead is so old that the classical proscription is in Latin: De mortuis nil nisi bonum. But shortly after the tributes to Frey began to appear in the press and on social media, so did extremely unkind takedowns. The worst appeared in a New York paper, headlined: “Glenn Frey’s death is sad, but the Eagles were a horrific band.” Then US media looked at itself in the mirror and saw something shamefully deformed. Commentators concluded that the spate of “Frey poisoned my impressionable years” stories and posts were a disgusting symptom of a click-crazed media culture. And at least one publication, Jeff Bezos’ Washington Post (that phrase still has such a strange echo), tried to counter the weirdness, in this case with a story headlined: “How Glenn Frey and the Eagles outlasted everyone who loves to hate them.”
It was a bad moment for American media that wasn’t soon over, but we live in a rapidly evolving thoughtspace, so the complicated Frey story was soon overwritten by a simply surreal event in Ames, Iowa, wherein Sarah Palin hailed Donald Trump as a sort of Trump Tower made of solid testosterone. For the first time in the course of his campaign, cameras revealed Trump to be confused and disoriented, like a man who has pulled the pin on a grenade in the bath but is too macho to rush out naked. Here is an epic quote from Palin’s bizarre speech: “Are you ready to make America great again? We all have a part in this. We all have a responsibility. Looking around at all of you, you hard-working Iowa families. You farm families, and teachers, and teamsters, and cops, and cooks. You rocking rollers. And holy rollers!”
Here’s more: “Are you ready for a commander-in-chief, for a commander-in-chief who will let our warriors do their job and go kick Isis ass?” Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Sarah Palin is wasting her life in Alaska, among the huskies and racing snowmobiles. She would flourish in nationalist Indian politics. Here, she would be the goddess of hot pursuit.