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Shakespeare and Indian Politics
Friday October 11, 2013 10:08 PM, Vidyadhar Date

Mr Sitaram Yechury, the CPM MP, has quoted Lady Macbeth from Shakespeare's play while commenting on Narendra Modi. But the quote needs to be put in a better context. In an edit page article in Hindustan Times of October 8 Mr Yechury quotes Lady Macbeth's famous line `All the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand.' He used it in the context of Mr Modi's now controversial remark that we should build toilets before temples.

Mr Yechury goes on to point out how dismal Gujarat's record in sanitation is and then ends the article with the quote from Macbeth.

The trouble is Lady Macbeth is not talking about sanitation. The theme here is of guilt and not sanitation, the terrible sense of guilt that overtakes her and what she means is that she cannot get over this. The cleaning of hands that she refers to is mainly symbolic.

Theodore Dalrymple, a psychiatrist and writer, has written a beautiful article in which he has shown how deep was Shakespeare's study of human psychology. This is seen through his depiction of the psychological crisis that Lady Macbeth goes through after the murder of the king and other crimes that her husband commits and in which she is an accomplice.

It would have been more appropriate for Mr Yechury to bring in the analogy of the genocide in Gujarat committed during the regime of Mr Modi and then said that all the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten his hands dirtied by the murders. The trouble with Mr Modi is that he does not even appear to feel a sense of guilt so no question of cleaning of hands. Shakespeare knew long ago what psychologists are learning now , that washing of hands is associated with guilt and that you feel better when you wash your hands after taking an important decision.

If Mr Modi with his high ambition and association with crime can be compared with Macbeth, what can one say about Mr Rahul Gandhi ? Which Shakespearean character could he be associated with ? May be he is a bit indecisive like Hamlet. But as the excellent critic Arnold Kettle points out Hamlet is more of an anti-establishment man, a rebel who is out to set the world's wrongs. Rahul , for all his bravado at the Press Club in Delhi and talk of velocity, gives indications of being the establishment man, living a sanitized life despite his talk of bringing in the young to power. The emphasis is again on power. Do the men surrounding him have the vision and the commitment ? And if you want to serve people do you have to be in power ? One can do it from outside, and in a better way.

One has found very few concrete ideas emerging from Rahul Gandhi. The idea of giving greater importance to toilets than temples propounded some time ago by Jairam Ramesh should have come from Rahul Gandhi . After all, these are political issues. But people like him are interested in winning elections, rather than changing the society and its ways. A Congress spokesman typically said on television sometime ago that Mr Gandhi will start speaking out once the elections come near. Why should he speak out now ? he said. Sad that this should happen in the land of Mahatma Gandhi who rightly lay great emphasis on sanitation and he enthused a lot of people in the endeavour. He knew that winning independence was not enough. People's lives have to change for the better.That is why the first Congress session held in the rural area, in Faizpur in Maharashtra, in 1936, was held in such clean surroundings with an army of scavenger volunteers, led by Appasaheb Patwardhan and included a large number of Brahmins.

Gandhi's idea of Gobar gas solves a number of problems at one stroke and needs to be widely implemented. It involves converting human excrete into a clean fuel. It creates a win win situation. You dispose of human excrete in a clean way without any expense and convert it into fuel.That also saves on so much on very costly drainage . Plus you get free gas, free fuel, clean environment. Such are the ideas that politicians need to push. But all this requires commitment and hard work.

Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray emphasized building of public toilets in his party's assembly election victory rally in the 1990s . But little was done during the party's rule in the state. In fact, the public toilet near Shiv Sena Bhavan at Dadar was demolished some time ago to facilitate the creation of the hideous high rise coming up on the land of the former Kohinoor textile mill and in which a Sena leader has huge stakes.

Another interesting point that can be made about Mr Modi is that ideologically driven people like him are capable of creating a much bigger carnage than tyrants of the past. The crimes of Shakespeare's evil doers appear to be petty when compared with those under totalitarian regimes , as Alexander Solzhenitsyn points out. But another view is that genocides can be carried out without ideology too and by individuals, not only rulers, as in Rwanda.

There is much to learn from Shakespeare for our politicians. This is from the classic play King Lear. In one of the greatest scenes in world literature King Lear realizes the plight of the poor and the houseless in his kingdom when he himself is thrown out of the door by his daughters and is exposed to a pitiless storm and rain.

Lear discovers that there is a far bigger tragedy in the world than his own personal suffering He realizes that he has taken too little care of the poor in his kingdom. He wonders how the poor houseless heads were defending themselves in cruel weather.

The realism of the play is so stark and it disturbed the establishment so much that for nearly a century after 1661 the play's tragic ending was changed and a happy ending was provided during performances.

Lear undergoes a radical change in his outlook when he experiences suffering himself. King Lear is Shakespeare's most mature play with a wide social outlook. No other play of Shakespeare has such words as poor, beggar, wretch, bare, charity, houseless , at least not to any significant level..

Shakespeare also shows the complete futility of power. King Lear emerges as a true man who understands human values when he ceases to be a king and when he suffers. It is time for our politicians to feel some pain of the poor. The poor are not there to hear your empty talk of serving the poor. Walking, Cycling, Public Transport Need Priority.

Vidyadhar Date is a senior journalist and author of the book Traffic in the Era of Climate Change

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