Rediff Logo find
February 2, 1998


E-Mail this story to a friend

Farzana Versey

The line of actual control

Dominic Xavier's illustaration Why must we get so uptight and upright over kickbacks, when we are a country of middlemen? Have we, even in our daily lives, got things done without the services of a well-wisher, a balancing force, a go-between?

Just as a prostitute needs a pimp, a manufacturer needs advertising. But, of course, we elevate it to an art of a public relations exercise. Few are honest as an advertiser was in one of our respected financial papers, when he stated clearly: 'Wanted person experienced in the art of 'lubricating' top executives in banks.'

At first, this piece of bluntness threw me of completely. But come to think of it, isn't this a regular occurrence? Can any of us get any work done without paying for it in cash or kind? Does the middleman not make life somewhat easy, just like the blackmarketeer at a cinema hall, the helpful peon at a government office whose only demand is chai-paani and the high-ranking official who miraculously provides water in drought-prone areas because the private sector, which he publicly claims to hate, provides him with a brown paper packet?

Why get into this serious area of moral accountability? Let's talk about birth, marriages and deaths -- we need someone to make the passage clear. In fact, most wedded bliss depends on the ubiquitous matchmaker, usually a woman who knows more about the meat market than about the human psyche. There are also the sophisticated varieties who say they are doing social service. These are so status-conscious that they probably match the bank accounts of both families to see that equality prevails!

Social workers are go-betweens of another kind. They act as buffers between good and evil. They also get catapulted into the forefront of a movement or they sit in air-conditioned offices of corporate honchos, sipping coconut water and demanding donations.

Demanding has become a normal practice. If you are a beleaguered soul seeking justice or merely have a case in the courts, the black-robed ravens swoop down on you. The fashionable ones charge a neat 50,000 bucks for a one-page consultation. But it is the solicitous who, instead of honourably charging a fee, straightaway ask for a cut if it is a property matter, not to speak of sending a separate bill for stationery and typing charges. I think they must be sued for being such cheapskates.

Real estate agents are another bugbear. Forget what they promise you. Just watch the gleam in their eye as you sign on the dotted line and they get their two per cent commission. It is all a big racket.

God has not been spared. When you go shopping (okay, seeking) for a guru or a saint, you are looking not so much for solace as for a nice middleman. Everyone knows that the Real Thing is somewhat confusing, an abstraction, and understanding this entity can get time-consuming, besides taking a toll of your brains. So you deposit your searching soul at the feet of a holy one and leave it to him/her to pass on your messages, requests, complaints to God. Along the way you drop some money into a donation box or sprinkle ghee into fire or slaughter an animal, depending on what you are told to do. This is not to appease any Higher Power, but to make your earthly messenger feel that something is being done.

One thing is certain, there is a thin line dividing the sublime and the ridiculous. And on this line stands the middleman, waiting to take you from one to the other. It is on this line of actual control that we become willing victims. But when two sides fight it is the middlemen who get away, pleading quite truthfully that they are merely caught in the middle.

Illustration: Dominic Xavier

Tell us what you think of this column

Farzana Versey