See, the Muslims have one god.
The Christians have three gods.
And we Hindus have 36,000,000 gods.
Making a grand total of 36,000,004 divine arses for me to choose from.
Now, there are some, and I don't just mean Communists like you, but thinking men of all political parties, who think that not many of these gods actually exist. Some believe that none of them exist. There's just us and an ocean of darkness around us. I'm no philosopher or poet, how would I know the truth? It's true that all these gods seem to do awfully little work -- much like our politicians -- and yet keep winning reelection to their golden thrones in heaven, year after year. That's not to say that I don't respect them, Mr. Premier! Don't you ever let that blasphemous idea into your yellow skull. My country is the kind where it pays to play it both ways: the Indian entrepreneur has to be straight and crooked, mocking and believing, sly and sincere, at the same time.
So: I'm closing my eyes, folding my hands in a reverent namaste, and praying to the gods to shine light on my dark story.
Bear with me, Mr. Jiabao. This could take a while.
How quickly do you think you could kiss 36,000,004 arses?
-- -- --
My eyes are open again.
11:52 p.m. -- and it really is time to start.
A statutory warning -- as they say on cigarette packs -- before we begin.
One day, as I was driving my ex-employers Mr. Ashok and Pinky Madam in their Honda City car, Mr. Ashok put a hand on my shoulder, and said, "Pull over to the side." Following this command, he leaned forward so close that I could smell his aftershave -- it was a delicious, fruitlike smell that day -- and said, politely as ever, "Balram, I have a few questions to ask you, all right?"
"Yes, sir," I said.
"Balram," Mr. Ashok asked, "how many planets are there in the sky?"
I gave the answer as best as I could.
"Balram, who was the first prime minister of India?"
And then: "Balram, what is the difference between a Hindu and a Muslim?"
And then: "What is the name of our continent?"
Mr. Ashok leaned back and asked Pinky Madam, "Did you hear his answers?"
"Was he joking?" she asked, and my heart beat faster, as it did every time she said something.
"No. That's really what he thinks the correct answers are."
She giggled when she heard this: but his face, which I saw reflected in my rearview mirror, was serious.
"The thing is, he probably has...what, two, three years of schooling in him? He can read and write, but he doesn't get what he's read. He's half-baked. The country is full of people like him, I'll tell you that. And we entrust our glorious parliamentary democracy" -- he pointed at me -- "to characters like these. That's the whole tragedy of this country."
"All right, Balram, start the car again."
That night, I was lying in bed, inside my mosquito net, thinking about his words. He was right, sir -- I didn't like the way he had spoken about me, but he was right.
"The Autobiography of a Half-Baked Indian." That's what I ought to call my life's story.
Me, and thousands of others in this country like me, are half-baked, because we were never allowed to complete our schooling. Open our skulls, look in with a penlight, and you'll find an odd museum of ideas: sentences of history or mathematics remembered from school textbooks (no boy remembers his schooling like one who was taken out of school, let me assure you), sentences about politics read in a newspaper while waiting for someone to come to an office, triangles and pyramids seen on the torn pages of the old geometry textbooks which every tea shop in this country uses to wrap its snacks in, bits of All India Radio news bulletins, things that drop into your mind, like lizards from the ceiling, in the half hour before falling asleep -- all these ideas, half formed and half digested and half correct, mix up with other half-cooked ideas in your head, and I guess these half-formed ideas bugger one another, and make more half-formed ideas, and this is what you act on and live with.
Copyright © 2008 by Aravind Adiga
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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