The Rogue Varnish

A year when charlatanism was respectability…till you found out

The only thing that fascinates me more than cricket and film is crime. Crime and corruption are not just art forms, they are forms of life that have become a part of us. It is time we think not of the Dhonis and the Tendulkars of crime but of the Dawoods and Telgis of cricket. Art forms always create the mutuality of metaphor. Once we understand that crooks, charlatans, conmen and criminals are forms of life and not mere pathologies, we understand the logic of the system better. Our nose for evil acquires that extra sniff because you realise crime is a great chain of being than a singular act of violation.

I once defined the terrorist as the tourist you did not know. In many ways, the conman and criminal are success stories you did not see through. Charlatanism is respectability till you see through it. The minute that happens, you summon the storyteller. But each story has a numeracy to it. You want to list them in order of performance, not just of crime but of their understanding the dreams and desires of society. Each conman is a Rorschach of the desires of a society.

Let us face it, Telgi is yesterday’s newspaper. The prize of this year’s Arabian Nights of conmen goes to Raju of Satyam. He oozed respectability. The idea of the 108 ambulances almost gave a Mother Teresa-like sanctity to Raju. ‘Raju ban gaya gentleman’ acquired an ironic streak when Raju leveraged the latest, IT, for the oldest form of greed, land. It’s wrong to say Raju’s crime was against capitalism. He epitomised it. Raju’s letter to his board is a classic. It notes “the deep regret and tremendous burden that I am carrying on my conscience”. He could be reporting an error in table manners referring “to his failure to fill fictitious assets with real ones”.

Being second can be depressing, especially when a chief minister yields in seedings to a corporate don. Madhu Koda represents the pure rapacity of a political position. He is a case of life imitating Bollywood as art. Starlet Koena Mitra slinking in the background convinces one that Koda is the ideal villain that Bollywood has been dying to approximate.

Respectability is an art form, and patriotism tied to respectability an utterly potent one. To an old-fashioned person like me, the soldier exudes honour, service and loyalty. It’s something that’s supposed to go with the job. Of course, one has heard of defence deals, but one still has an old-style view of the army, despite sting operations.

Lt General Avadesh Prakash dented that image. Maybe he destroyed an illusion. When three top generals of the army face charges of corruption, one wonders what is up. Let us examine another military mobility story. When A.K. Kapur joined the army in 1971, he had assets worth Rs 41,000. In 2007, Major General A.K. Kapur assembles a little corpus of Rs 5.5 crore. The ordnance corporations are almost headless as three generals have been accused of irregularities. The wags attributed it to a literacy problem, of confusing ordnance with ordinance.

Down the standings, but not in standing, is Dawood Ibrahim. He has made the Forbes list of heavyweights combining as he did mafia lordship and terrorism. Dawood is a symptom of a bigger scam—the military in Pakistan, which has engaged in terrorism, drugs and nuclear smuggling. Hiding behind America and the rule of law, the Pakistani regime has been an international scamster for years.

My list may not match Transparency International’s. Their sense of corruption is strait-laced but mine is laced with a sense of wonder at the repertoires of chicanery and hypocrisy available. Given this, I think the biggest act of conmanship is the American behaviour at Copenhagen. Their insistence that the Third World pay for pollution and the claim that it should be seen as a partner in the crime of development erases the history of the last century. The official climate change summit takes the collective scamster’s prize. Even Raju, Koda and Ibrahim could not have invented a sting like that.


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