Oh Romeo, Romeo

by Keki N. Daruwalla

What next for UP police? Keeping a headcount of legit butchers, and confiscating meat cleavers?

I am told there is much excitement in Firenze, Milano and Roma over the pro-Juliet squads launched by our hardline ascetic newly-appointed chief minister. Instead of watching a Raphael Madonna or Botticelli’s “Birth of Venus”, or kneeling at the tomb of St Francis of Assisi, Italians are busy on their iPads, looking for further information on our chief minister’s take on Romeo and Juliet.

But Italy can wait. Would anyone know what our inspectors — the Tripathis, Tiwaris, various Singhs from the Jat belt of Meerut and Muzaffarnagar, and the Yadavs from Mainpuri and Etawah (alleged beneficiaries from the previous regime) — say to the unsuspecting males? The first words invariably are “Oh Romeo, Romeo! Wherefore art thou, Romeo?” The wannabe Lotharios are usually stumped since their knowledge of Shakespeare does not match that of the Uttar Pradesh cops. (The next line, “Deny thy father and refuse thy name”, is not articulated by the learned gentlemen in khaki.)

This very crucial question used to be asked in Gujarati by producers of the 19th century Parsi theatre, when they enacted the play. A dowdy Parsi Juliet, her bosom heaving, would emote (she would put our Shah Rukh Khan in the shade) and beseechingly ask, “Oh Ramiah, Ramiah, kain chai thu pan, Ramiah?” Scholars tell me Juliet was actually asking Romeo, why he was not a Capulet.

Then the Shakespeare-literate cop switches of a sudden to Hamlet’s “What is Hecuba to him, or he to Hecuba” speech and shouts “bloody, bawdy villain! Remorseless, treacherous, lecherous, kindless villain. O vengeance!” When there is still no answer from the stunned male, the squad at last breaks into our national language, “Kyun salay, lakwa mar gaya tujhe?” Has paralysis hit you? (Notice how lockjaw and lakwa sound so similar). After that, the squad enters into bijness, according to unverified sources of the Intelligence Bureau. The IB, believe me, will shortly be on the job. Instead of reporting which politico is doing what and intriguing with whom, and asking for how much demonetised dough to cross the floor, their officers in UP have been tasked to find out which Ranjha is moving out with which Heer, in which particular park. Who knows, they may soon be tasked with keeping a headcount of legit butchers, and confiscating meat cleavers. You can never tell what could happen in Ulta Pradesh.

England, rather the entire West, had a consensus about one thing — give unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and to the church what belongs to the church. Yes, King Henry II may have got himself scourged after one-time friend, but now Archbishop Thomas Becket, was murdered in the cathedral. But as Jean Anouilh shows in his play Becket, friendship was all very fine, “In all save the honour of the realm.” And Becket’s motto was “in all save the honour of God”. We seem to be adding to these two with “in all save the meat of goats, sheep and buffaloes”.

The church’s lands and money were not touched, but they were kept away from wielding power. A few exceptions do come to mind — Cardinal Wolsey in the reign of Henry VIII, or Cardinal Richelieu in France. Wolsey came to a sad end though Henry makes his first appearance in Shakespeare’s Henry VIII, leaning on Wolsey’s shoulder.

But read Hilary Mantel or Wolsey’s last speech in Shakespeare: “Had I but serv’d my God with half the zeal I serv’d my king, he would not in mine age Have left me naked to mine enemies.” What is to be noted is the cardinal “served”, didn’t rule. Thomas More was sent to the chopping block and Archbishop Cranmer was burnt at the stake by Queen Mary.

One has been marking the sudden ascendance of so-called holy men and their stamp on politics. Some months back, Double Shri was handed over the whole Yamuna bank to ruin as he pleased, and the media is silent about whether he paid the crores that were asked of him.

The Dera Sacha Sauda of Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh was, according to a press report, handed over fifty lakh rupees by the sports minister of Haryana. (Our politicians never seem to realise that there is no such thing as sarkari paisa. It is the tax payer’s money.) Never mind the fact that he is also facing criminal charges, including murder. Ramdev has become an icon. Asaram has been jailed for molestation of women disciples, but quite a few of the witnesses against him have been bumped off.

Which brings me to the question, what about “holy” men or women from other communities? They have still not got their due. I am certain that someone from Deoband or Bareilly or Aligarh will soon be picked up and handed over some plum post. Piety and “holiness” cannot be the monopoly only of the majority community, right? We can await some imam to be showcased as the BJP’s chief ministerial candidate for Delhi in the next elections.

And why not some BJP pastor to wrest Karnataka from the defunct Congress?

This article was originally published in The Indian Express.