Monday, October 29, 2007

"Five years. People don't remember a thing..."

"Five years. People don't remember a thing here that happened five years back unless they're reminded of it."

Guess who said that.

No, not Tarun Tejpal, no editor of any newspaper, no one who yelled their heads off on The Big Fight. (Harsh Mandar may have tried to say something very like it, but if he did no one could hear him).

Billy Windsor. Who's Billy Windsor, you will ask. I will tell you.

Billy Windsor is temporary editor of the nauseating Cosy Moments, waiting for the big break in P.G.Wodehouse's Psmith Journalist. Wodehouse wrote the book in 1915. In it, Psmith helps Billy Windsor do a big story on cheap tenements and the big guys who make big money off the misery of the inhabitants. Nothing new there: politicians, gangs, cops that come after the gangs have all killed each other.

They find out that the owner of the ironically named Pleasant Street tenement is a guy who is running for City Alderman, and used to be Commissioner of Buildings. When a building he'd allowed collapsed, five years earlier, he lay low; now all that's blown over and he can come back and be Alderman, provided no one gums up the works for him. Billy and Psmith are trying to do precisely that. It is in this context that Windsor says, "People don't remember a thing here that happened five years back unless they're reminded of it."

Not unnaturally, I was reminded of the contents of the latest issue of Tehelka while reading all of this. Sure, tenement buildings do not compare with genocide, but remember that the book was written in 1915, before the term 'World War' was coined; before trench warfare and weapons of mass destruction became commonplace; before every dictator was also a butcher on a grand scale.

Then, as now, there was the default cynical view that one only needs a little time before everything - even the most horrifying crimes - can be forgotten; that a little relentless spin will transform a very culpable, unrepentant monster into a messiah for development; that the state machinery will side with said monster, never mind what they know to be the truth.


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