Rajiv Gandhi, unlike his great-grandfather Motilal Nehru, grandfather Jawaharlal Nehru, mother Indira Gandhi, or younger brother Sanjay Gandhi, never wanted to be a leader or a politician or any such powerful person.

He was a pilot, a loving husband, a sweet father, and a good hobby photographer who enjoyed driving his family for dinner to ethnic dhabas on the outskirts on Delhi on weekends.

His grandfather Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India, its longest serving monarchical- democrat, the man who married India to Dreamy Socialism, loved roses, children, smoking cigarettes at historic moments at No-Smoking zones, Gandhiji, democracy, English, writing, reading, and the Chinese.

That last love of his killed him. In 1962, China attacked and defeated India in war, usurped large tracts of Kashmir, yes, Kashmir, and several other provinces of the Himalayas to their country’s eternally expanding geographic boundary.

Nehru died in 1964, of old age and a broken heart.

He gave an impromptu speech when India became free. Freedom at Midnight. A speech about which Dominique Lapierre wrote a book, a speech which gave Salman Rushdie an idea for a book and a shot at the

Booker Prize, a speech that still is the favourite of school children in India for elocutions, a speech which even I thought was very good when I was in school, till that other anonymous midnight when Ayalur Bala questioned it, blasphemously.

“What a stupid speech,” he began. “Isn’t it ironic that only a Socialist can be so elite and feel so superior that he addresses a nation just freed from the British rule in English, which not many understand? What leader would speak in the language of the enemy, but not that of his own people, on the eve of their freedom from foreign yoke?”

I listened silently, sipping beer.

“A Capitalist, in contrast, is keen to sell his wares to everyone, the more the better. He naturally wants to reach out to everyone, which is why not a single ad made for Coca-Cola is in Latin. Racism, Imperialism, Casteism, Communalism, all these divisive ideas naturally impede the greed of a true Capitalist. The Capitalist, in his natural greed for profits, wipes all the barriers which divide. Hence, his is the only way to achieve the humanitarian credo of uniting mankind where no one is disqualified outright for such narrow, hateful concerns. Yet, these government-certified humanitarians tolerate Racism, Imperialism, Communalism, Communism, and every such other credo, except Capitalism.”

It often happened, when Ayalur and I met, that he spoke and I listened, or the other way around. The one who listened generally drank most of the beer. That night it was me.

“Have you heard about the fraud who addressed an intellectual seminar last week?”

“Why would I be invited to seminars of intellectuals?”

“Yes, I keep forgetting you are practically useless, if one does not consider your part-time writing for an ad agency and your failed attempts at producing plays. Anyway, this phony said: if Mahatma gave India Independence, Nehru—no, he insisted on calling him Panditji—Panditji gave us Democracy. They all then shifted the discussion to threats to democracy, and as always it came down to bashing Amrendra Pratap Singh.”

“That rabble-rousing Hindutva leader?”

“The Hindu Hitler, as his followers call him. He is making inflammatory speeches across the country, which I think is a smart attention gaining ploy. He keeps talking about creating a theocratic India, run by a dictatorship of Hindus, killing Muslims as State policy. He gets all the media attention.”

“He dominated your intellectual seminar?”

“Yes. They kept talking about the death of Secularism and the modern State.”

“Who cares. . .”

“In any case, those who spoke about the threat he is posing to the country were more concerned about the coffee not being good and about having their photographs in newspapers the next day. They were rather disappointed that no TV correspondent showed up for sound bytes.”

“I am beginning to understand the convergence of you media guys and the great intellectuals of this country, with the potential death of Secularism, or the decline of Socialism, or the transformation of India into a market society as an excuse.”

“With a free lunch thrown in. You seem to have forgotten others . . . environment, child rights, American imperialism, labour rights, nuclear armament . . .”

“Stop it.”

(Excerpt from Sriram Karri’s book Mad Nation)