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Book Review

Book Review : From Kak Bhushundi to Kaw

IT is believed that, during his wanderings in the Himalaya after renouncing the world, Sant Tulsidas met Kak Bhushundi, the mythical sacred crow to whom god Shiva had related the story of Lord Rama. Kak Bhushundi related the immortal tale to Tulsidas during his visitation, who, thus divinely inspired, wrote his classic epic poem, Ramacharitamanas. MK Kaw’s family too has a Kak Bhushundi connection. Kashmiri Pandits had an endearing trait – to give nicknames to fellow Pandits, making fun of some odd feature in their personal appearance. The aquiline nose of Kaw’s distant ancestor earned the sobriquet ‘Kaw’, likening him to Kak Bhushundi or a crow. The appellation stuck. Kaw seems to revel in it; I remember, by way of introducing himself in the Academy to fellow probationers, he’d zestfully repeat “Kaw–caw”, and while his eyes twinkled gleefully, he’d add “as the crow speaks – caw caw.”

Kaw had a distinguished career in the IAS, serving in various capacities in Delhi, Himachal Pradesh and at the Centre. He has a rare felicity of expression in Hindi and English and has been writing poetry in both languages from early days, earning high recognition. He is a keen observer of men and manners, particularly of the peccadilloes of fellow mandarins, and has a knack of seeing the funny side of things.

This book is a kind of a bouquet of the choicest flowers from his regular columns. It is filled with the heady perfume of seasonal blooms as well as the wafting fragrance of perennials.

Kaw’s opening gambit is generally innocuous. Take this piece on “Who am I”. He begins with a simple statement—“India is an ancient civilisation”, and takes the reader to lofty answers to one’s quest for identity, like “tat twam asi” from the Upanishads and “Shivoham” from Adi Shankaracharya. From this high ground, he brings the reader precipitously to the present-day slick corporate ID of PAN cards and the sordid reality of fake BPL cards. He finally introduces us to the redoubtable Nandan Nilekani who brought in his Aadhar card, which was trumpeted to be the mother of all IDs. And then Kaw quietly drops the bombshell: Nilekani’s Rs. 18,000 crore Aadhar project, apart from being an absolute superfluity, an unnecessary duplication of the ongoing National Population Register of the Home Ministry, was launched by friend Montek Singh Ahluwalia without any budget provision or legislative sanction! I was jolted; such a monumental financial impropriety was committed with impunity and the world was totally oblivious of it till Kaw twittered, nay, cawed!

Believe me, it is impossible to recreate the true flavour of Kaw’s scintillating pieces. He has the faculty of immaculate conception and neat delivery; has a knack for inimitable coinage, like ‘Vadrakadabdra’ and ‘chiaroscuro of demagoguery’. The book is replete with aphorisms:

‘Periods of high economic activity also witness higher levels of corruption’.

‘The problem with Bapu is that he is easy to caricature and copy’.

‘Arvind Kejriwal should stop saying that he is an aam aadmi. He should lay claim to being a khaas aam aadmi.’

‘With each passing day Advani looks more and more like a dissolute Nawab past his sexual prime.’
‘Vinod Rai is the first CAG to give us a really worthwhile scam with a respectable world-class figure of Rs. 1,75,000 crore.’

‘Manmohan appears Sphinx-like to let the latter day oracles of Delhi speculate to their hearts’ content.’

Kaw’s comment on Anna Hazare’s fast will remain a masterpiece: ‘Government was so bedazzled they resorted to the unprecedented step of constituting a Group of Ministers to negotiate the provisions of the Lok Pal Bill with Team Anna. It was almost reminiscent of the Cabinet Mission’s parleys with the Indian leaders about the grant of freedom to India.’

The list is endless. You stumble on gems everywhere, on Mayawati’s million elephants, and occasionally on a landmine that blows you up. I began by saying that his book is a bouquet of flowers; one can also describe it as ‘a hornet’s nest’ or ‘a witches’ cauldron’. The imaginative cartoons heighten the reader’s pleasure.

The reviewer is former Chief Secretary, Haryana

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