By Sushil Kutty
Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History Of Time and Citizen Pranab Mukherjee’s A Short History of Bharato! One a book, the other an oral summation. Hawking’s book was for eighth graders and it explained complex concepts such as space, time and black holes to the simple mind. Pranab’s quick summary of the entropy of India through 2000+ years of war and peace was to “RSS officers” with “exceptional brains”.
The two placed side by side explain how our planet was created and how a nation came about. Where we have come from and where we’re going – Big Bang to Black Hole! There were lessons in Pranab Mukherjee’s speech for everyone. To the Congress, his party of over 50 years. To his party’s perceived enemy, the RSS. And to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his government.
Last but not least, to doubting daughter, Sharmishta Mukherjee, who was appalled that her “Baba” was giving to the anti-Congress forces, the RSS and BJP in particular, pictures and positions to keep hounding him and the Congress Party for years, decades if not centuries, to come!
But read A Brief History of Time, and Stephen Hawking makes it clear that it’s impossible to “remember” the future! That it is also nigh impossible to time travel because to go back in time you have to “die first”. Hawking also said that time can only move forward, never backward.
Pranab Mukherjee did not have to “die first” to go back in time to retell history. He’s 82 and in his memory-cache there is enough of reading of history told and written to recollect, which he did, linking it to “nation, nationalism and patriotism”, drawing differences between the Indian nation and the western concept of nation.
But to dissect Citizen Pranab’s speech it has to be read in context with RSS Sarsanghchalak Mohan Bhagwat’s narrative. Both found “much common ground”. They both spoke of pluralism and a single cultural ethos built over the millennia. The “Sangh”, for obvious reasons, displayed its best face to Pranab, whose no-nonsense personality can at times be overbearing.
Hawking in his book says, “Intelligence is the ability to adapt and change.” Pranab Mukherjee in his short history of India, said the people of “Bharato” had the ability to adapt to change through the ups and downs of time. Bhagwat spoke of the “samrudh society” that was at the centre of India’s survival as a nation and Pranab drew a picture of India, quoting Rabindranath Tagore, assimilating many streams of varied thought.
The Congress had no idea what Pranab’s thoughts were as he adamantly stuck to his decision to accept the RSS invite. When most everybody else in the Congress failed, Sharmishta Mukherjee was fielded. But even that “arrow in time” – a construct in Physics – failed to hit target and Pranab wrote in the visitor’s book at the RSS headquarters of that RSS founder KB Hedgewar was a “Great Son of Mother India”.
That broke the final straw on the Congress’s back and the party went into entropy. A series of final hour tweets slandering the RSS followed Pranab to the RSS stage where he sat and sweated a little in the summer heat. Hawking, if he was at 10 Janpath, would have told Ahmed Patel to let go because there was “no way theories can be fully proven” and most of what Congress leaders were spouting were at best theories.
Hawking’s path-breaking A Brief History of Time can be summed up in three points: 1) theories can never be fully proven; 2) time is not fixed and 3) time can only likely move forward. So for the Congress to gloat after the event that Pranab “taught a lesson” to the RSS was proof that its theories on Pranab’s behaviour were bunkum, evidence of the panic in the Congress: Would it lose its most erudite icon, one who had in 2010 likened RSS to “terrorist”? As it happened, the “child” found, to the outrage of the “high command” that China once dropped would shatter!
Congress theories on Pranab were not fully proven. Except the one left unspoken, whether Pranab will leave the Congress’s affinity for the Muslim and not criticise it. Pranab in his A Short History of Bharato did not disappoint. He did not talk of Muslim appeasement. But his dismissal of “600 years of Muslim” in five words “Then came the Muslim invader” was jarring, music to the RSS ear.
Whatever Pranab spoke of the “mercantile company” thereafter paled against that one reference to the “Muslim”. More than the Congress, how will Mamata Banerjee take it is the question. Ask Hawking and he will say do not try to “remember” the future because that is impossible and that entropy is the tendency to increase disorder wherever possible till you hit a black hole and the Universe contracts on you!
That must be how the Congress felt after the Citizen Pranab speech. Post the event, most Congress spokespersons on television were still not ready to yield. But they seemed to draw consolation from Pranab quoting the Sanskrit sholka above a “Parliament lift” in which Kautalya reminds the kings that their first duty is to the people. If Prime Minister Narendra Modi was listening that was “lesson” to him. Pranab also spoke of India’s abysmal “135th position” on the “happiness index” and of a pervading “sense of fear”.
If the “graduating RSS officers” and Mohan Bhagwat were happy that Pranab stressed on “cultural assimilation” and in a “one India”, his stress on “Constitutional India” was a pointed barb the RSS could not ignore. It gave the Congress something to crow about. But to Sharmistha the doubting daughter the lesson was that more than physics it was chemistry that mattered. Fathers and daughters share a unique chemistry and that is something that shouldn’t ever come up against a black hole!
In short, with A Short History of Bharato, Citizen Pranab, without his knowing, weaved in Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time, and though he did travel back in time to teach History to “exceptional minds”, the eighth-graders among us know that he didn’t do that by physically travelling back in time. That only Arnold ‘Terminator’ Schwarzenegger can. The important lesson for all of us is that time only moves forward and the need of the hour is ‘Samvaad not Vivaad’. (IPA Service)