Padma Who?

I have never heard of the name Yasmin Merchant and had he been conferred with a Padma Shri, I would be wondering whether he deserved it. But he hadn’t and he is apparently very disappointed to have missed it. So upset was he that he has written a heart-breaking letter to Rahul Gandhi questioning the methods and modalities of these Padma awards.

And then we learn that he is a Billiards champion and had won a gold medal in Asian Games; and several other championships alongside. So you know that he indeed deserves some or other form of this Padma title. He has missed the boat this time. Since he has written to the highest power centre in India, we’ll hope that he gets it next time because from the letter it seemed that he is desperately longing for one.

Now, what else are the criteria for winning such an award apart from writing a letter to the Congress General Secretary? We don’t know. What are the criteria for winning a National Award? We don’t know that either. Like many things in India, These committees too function like a secret agency. We don’t know who the juries are for National Awards, or members of the Padma Awards committee are. Every year they announce the names that take their fancy. As Merchant has lamented, some get it when they are in their death bed and some get it simply for being famous regardless of the extent of their achievements. So we are left wondering what Saif Ali Khan has achieved except dating the most eligible bachelorette in the industry. This is déjà vu for us. Last year we wondered what Akshay Kumar has achieved except letting his wife unzip his jeans in a public show. Why Yasmin Merchant was so desperate to get into this glorious list is simply unfathomable.

Apart from choosing the list of awardees, this secret committee also has a responsibility of balancing the sheet by ensuring that when B gets a title, A also does because otherwise it would upset the social balance. So when AR Rahman is awarded Padma Bhushan, it becomes important that Ilaiyaraja also gets it because they both are considered in tandem by, well I don’t know by who but that’s how it is always looked at. The fact that Ilayaraja holds the record in composition that will remain unbeaten for as long as the Earth rotates the Sun has not made this committee to choose him for the award. The fact that till 1992, Ilaiyaraja remained the most talented composer in India has not entitled him that. The fact that he was a magical genius in music has not entitled him. Rahman getting this title has suddenly made Ilaiyaraja eligible for the same. No doubt that Rahman deserves every bit of the title. He has taken the Indian music to an altogether different league and the fact that today the Indian popular music is known in the West through Rahman is no mean feat. But putting them together is like awarding V S Naipaul for literature simply because Arundhati Roy was being given one. We don’t lose much. We are only balancing the chart. But awards are not about checks and balances; they are about achievements and emotions.

And to rub salt to the wounds, people who have pending criminal cases get comfortably into the list. So what else? We only have to award Padma Shri to Madhu Koda and Shibu Soren to complete the cycle. Well, Alagiri deserves one too.

Despite all this happening, it is immensely surprising that the media has not made any noise about the reckless behaviour of the present government. They write targeting an abstract entity for this fiasco. Not just Padma awards which is purely emotional but this government is squarely to blame for some real problems like Telengana, naxalites, displacement of tribal and Dalit communities and above all else, rampant corruption which is no longer a concern of our society. The media just doesn’t recognise many of these as our problems. They don’t even question why a grievance on a central government award should be conveyed to a political party leader rather than the home minister or prime minister. Actually the reality is that they don’t care. To them, this is just another interesting controversy, something that merits as much curiosity as a celebrity gossip. Tribal displacement doesn’t excite the society as much as Saif Ali Khan defending his Padma title. Especially when his doting girlfriend is standing next to him in support, it gets a few additional minutes of airtime. Perhaps next year she might get a title for herself.