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|Volume 11 |Issue 23| June 08, 2012 ||
In the Land of Hirak Raja
AASHA MEHREEN AMIN
In Hirak Rajar Deshe (In the Land of the Diamond King'), Satyajit Ray's most brilliant satirical film, a king is so obsessed with piling up his wealth that he completely disregards that it is being done at the cost of his hapless human subjects. Ray no doubt was depicting the state of many countries, including his own, where the leaders had totally lost sight of what they were supposed to do.
In the story the king is apparently a happy-go-lucky ruler, surrounded by sycophants who assure him that all is well in his kingdom and everyone is happy. He knows deep down, that this is not the case but he chooses to stay in the stupor of delusion while in reality his emaciated subjects waste away their lives in trying to mine diamonds for their ruler.
We do not know if we are in Hirak Raja's country but the similarities are chilling. We are constantly being told how well the country is being ruled. When journalists are beaten black and blue by police the deputy to the Royal Minister of Protection of the Kingdom suggests it would be a good idea to keep a safe distance from them. Why, are they rabid dogs who cannot be controlled? Despite numerous reports of police personnel being involved in all sorts of crime including extortion, torture and sexual assault, the Royal Minister of Protection of the Kingdom herself insists that the police are much better than they were under other rulers. Are we to just nod our heads in acquiescence and rhymes like the brain-washed subjects of Hirak Raja?
Accidents happen but these days wanting to go out of the city by road is akin to a death wish. Yet nothing is being done to enforce speed limits, punish reckless driving, put up road dividers, prohibit unfit vehicles and drivers on the road or plant efficient patrols on the highways. Families may lose most of their members or may perish altogether but in Hirak Raja's land, these tragedies become forgotten statistics since so many more will come to take their place.
And when these uncomfortable truths are brought to attention we are told that newspapers just highlight the negative things about the rulers to make them look bad to the people, that they do not think about the image of their kingdom. Perhaps we should be taken to the Jantarmantar, Hirak Raja's brainwashing machine, so that we too will sing to the tune of our royal ministers, kings and queens and say 'Everything is fine, couldn't be better.'
It reminds one of that strange but entertaining fairy tale – The Emperor's new clothes'. The Emperor, drowning in his vanity appoints two weavers who will make the most extraordinary garment that will make everyone's jaw drop. As the story goes, the naughty tailors come up with the most outrageous fashion statement for the emperor – haute couture that is invisible to those who do not deserve their position or are just plain stupid. The Emperor, who does not want to appear either incompetent or stupid, ends up waving at his embarrassed subjects whose jaws are indeed dropping, while parading his ahem, 'new clothes' which do not actually exist. The royal leader is therefore, left exposing his rather unattractive (according to illustrations in most books) naked self. The subjects are too afraid of saying anything and hence keep up the pretense but one simple lad blurts out: 'But he isn't wearing anything'
If it weren't a fairy tale the poor lad would be taken to the dungeons to get his tongue cut off or his head screwed on a more subservient way. Nor would the subjects be able to keep a straight face while the Emperor strutted around in the buff. In Hans Christtian Anderson's version, the emperor learns his lesson and vows not to be so vain and carry on his duties properly.
The tale also illustrates the fact that when rulers expose themselves too blatantly, eventually some simpleton will point out the stark, naked truth.