Little Tinku, who lives in Jaipur, is a bit confused. Last year he and his friends celebrated Children’s Day in school, but he doesn’t know why it’s on November 14. His elder sister tells him that was Chacha Nehru’s birthday, but Tinku doesn’t know who that uncle is. (Nehru’s name has been expunged from school textbooks in Rajasthan). Didi, anyway, doesn’t have the time to indulge him. She has just heard that the authorities may reintroduce board exams for class ten. (The exams were replaced by point-based grading some years ago). Papa is reading the newspaper, his scowl becoming rather fierce. “Have you read this?’’ he yells at Ma. “They are changing development rules again. It seems the housing society we invested in will now be inside an ecologically fragile area. Now what?’’ Ma has a more immediate crisis to address. Yesterday, she blew up half the weekly budget on a handful of sad looking onions, not enough even for a salad. There are guests for dinner and she’s wondering how the chole masala and murgh do pyaza will get done. “How was I to know that onion prices would quadruple overnight?’’ she frets.
“Que sera sera… the future’s not ours to see…” sang Doris Day. In India, though, getting a peek into the future is lucrative business. Is it because almost every aspect of life here is riddled with the unpredictable? Rules for school admissions change without warning, as does the price of fuel. Whether it’s something as simple as figuring out when the next bus will arrive, or a matter as phenomenal as the annual monsoon, the only thing one can say with confidence is this: Kuch bhi ho sakta hai (just about anything can happen).
It isn’t as if there aren’t uncertainties elsewhere in the world. In the UK, for instance, the obsession with rain is because rain is a maverick there. But is that anyway comparable to the mysteries of the Indian monsoon? It’s not just a question of `will it rain today?’, but when, where, how and how much, too. India’s unpredictables are uniquely Indian and so is our response to them. Too busy grappling with life’s uncertainties, we don’t care much for why things are unpredictable. Instead, we put in every effort to get a grip over them. We wear rings of a myriad gemstones to direct the course of our lives, refer to horoscopes for selecting spouses and spell our names in complicated ways to be numerologically compliant. We even marry off frogs to ensure good rains. The wise have created a philosophy to deal with the unexpected: Karmanye vadhikaraste ma phaleshu kadachana (do your deed, don’t bother about the results). But it’s the smart ones who’ve exploited the uncertainties so typical to India. Take the business of betting in cricket. Would it have been half as much lucrative if the match always progressed on expected lines? Would astrology have thrived under a more certain sky?
Predictable is boring, the unpredictable is India.