Thursday, June 24, 2010

Babugiri: The Headless Chicken Syndrome

Remember Ronen of the headless chicken fame? Let me jog your memory: it happened not-too-long ago in 2007 when Ronen Sen, our Ambassador in the USA, compared the acts of Indian politicians who opposed the nuclear deal negotiation to that of a headless chicken. Politicians quickly cudgeled and threatened to knock the head off Ronen’s. Mercifully Ronen escaped the onslaught by the “neck of his head”.

Few know the story of “Mike the Headless Chicken”, so let me relate. On September 10, 1945, Lloyd Olsen of Fruita, Colorado, had his mother-in-law around for supper. Lloyd knew she was fond of chicken and would savour the neck. He positioned his axe precisely, estimating just the right tolerances, to leave a generous neck bone. Even then it was as important for sons-out-laws’ to suck-up to mothers-in-law the world over! With trepidation Olsen failed to completely decapitate the pullet named Mike. The axe missed the jugular vein, leaving one ear and most of the brain stem intact.

The determined bird quickly shook off the traumatic event and telegraphed his intentions to live. Mike got back being a chicken, started pecking for food and preening his feathers. Since a chicken’s reflexes are controlled by the brain stem Mike was able to remain quite healthy.

His crowing, though, was less impressive – just a gurgling sound made in his throat, unable to crow to announce dawn. Being headless did not keep Mike from putting on weight. Olsen said Mike was a robust chicken – a fine specimen of a chicken except for not having a head! His fame and fortune earned him recognition in Life and Time magazines. In March 1947, Miracle Mike valued (even insured) at $10,000 choked to death.

Readers may glean parallels from our everyday life. I’m sorry I’m unable to expatiate more here thanks to the Conduct Rules I’m bound to. So please be imaginative: Do we need a head? More pertinently, do we have one? Well, the honest answer is – either we don’t have one or have too much of it. In effect, it means there are two types of acts: head-less or head-ful.

Lest you readers think I say this tongue-in-cheek let me elaborate this with some Babugiri thrown in for full measure that relates to both types. A few months ago the Ministry of Finance issued an order on Expenditure Management – Economy Measures and Rationalization of Expenditure that set the cat among the doves and pigeons.

You see doves and pigeons are essentially different, though smaller forms are usually called doves, larger forms pigeons. An exception is the white pigeons, who stay at home, are harmless, and are known as the “dove of peace”. Here we’re focusing on the putative pigeons. They are of varied kinds: homing, itinerant, and irreverent.

The order made everyone unhappy. Given the current fiscal situation and the consequent pressure on Government’s resources, the order said, economy and rationalization of expenditure was a necessity; the government mandated 10% cut in expenditure under Domestic/Foreign Travel.

To rub salt into the wound, holding of exhibitions/seminars/ conferences abroad was strongly discouraged and complete ban on holding conferences at 5-star hotels enjoined. To cap it all, the order proscribed air travel by first class. You’ve to rob Peter to pay Paul!

No sooner the cat was out of the bag, the media (pray how mean they can get!) pounced on the pigeons inviting them (ever so politely!) over for tête-à-têtes. I must honestly admit I’m asinine and, because of it, naïve to an elaborate fault. I watch all discussions on television and read six newspapers to get to the heart of the matter. Yet the matter almost always eludes my small mind. Every time I listen to these august pigeons parrot worldly wisdom of austerity like travelling cattle-class or in cargo-holds I blanch and wonder if they would be charged per head or per kilogram for their air tickets. And which will be economical – given their girth, circumference, and shape, thanks to past 7-Star free repasts, the gyms in 5-star hotels and clubs notwithstanding.

Make no mistake. Their girth is not the outcome of my febrile imagination. One of the newspapers carried reportage that travelling economy is a strict no-no for pigeons because they need space for clearing files while airborne, since that involves movement of the hand holding the venerable pen to put their priceless honorable squiggles. Plus they need quietude not provided in the economy section peopled by illiterate chatterati and twitterati. Obviously, they can’t be boxed in the same class as the population they serve.

Further, how could a Mephistophelian order stop pigeons, particularly the itinerant kind, to visit cooler climes in summer months on study tours, workshops/conferences/seminars abroad at Government cost when their heart and groin tell them so? Let’s face it. They’ve come out of the raging bushfire triumphant fighting hard battles – scarred in body and mind and soul – and each one of them needs replenishment and nourishment.

Worse: the complete ban on holding of meetings/conferences at 5-star hotels was the proverbial last straw. You can’t starve a pigeon and pigeonhole it! Which is why, I guess, pigeons of all shades – the homing statists, the itinerant wastrels, the irreverent withering-kind of stateless states – united and spoke as one: the fact that they’re beyond the pale of finmin’s hideous diktats. Of course, pigeons have their own rules of the game – above the lesser avian’s flights of passage. Of higher pedigree, they make their own rules, and would like to self-serve and self-preserve. Abstinence and asceticism are not exactly terms of endearment for them; far from it, they make mincemeat of these terms if someone had the temerity to throw such execrable objects at them.

Ahoy, the bell’s ringing loud in my mind – that famous infernal incident concerning Madame Roland. After all the bloodletting of the French Revolution of 1789 as she was whisked to the guillotine, she exclaimed those unforgettable words: “Liberty, what crimes are committed in Thy name!”

Heavens, did I paraphrase Madame Roland and caw implacably – “Austerity, what shams in Thy name!” – when I heard the orders reneged? We live in a nanny state in a profane world – tokenism notwithstanding – right? I simply join the children in chorus: Mike, Mike, where’s your head? Even without it, you’re not dead! while remembering the moral: Always care for your mother-in-law, you twit son-out-law! What the heck?

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