By Lakshmi Chaudhry and Sandip Roy
The Mamata-MMS love story is now the Mamata-SMS breakup story, a relationship laid waste by a prolonged war of the roses, leaving in its wake bitterness and the inevitable finger-pointing. In keeping with time-honoured romantic tradition, each is eager to blame the other for the breakup. It's not me, it's you, entirely, damningly you, you, you.
What’s truly tragic about this breakup is that Manmohan and Mamata appear to be trapped in — of all things — a 1983 Sheena Easton song:
Long long distance love affair, woh
I can't find you anywhere, woh
I call you on the telephone
But you're never home
I gotta get a message to you
I wanna tell you what I'm going through
What in the world's comin' over you
How come you're acting like a total stranger
I try to reach you but I can't get through
Sweet, except it’s 2012 and technology has moved on.
Manmohan Singh insists — as men do — that he really, really did call. He asked Mukul Roy to speak to Didi. His minions claim they called her confidential assistant Ashok Subramaniam twice. Mamata’s own phone number, however, seems to have self-deleted itself from the PM's phone. Along with her email, her Facebook profile and the Writers Building fax number.
Back in the day, Manmohan could have offered many perfectly plausible excuses for the calls that never connected. He tried but junction was busy. Or this: He kept getting the Mahadevi Birla Girls High School instead and yelling, “Hello, Mamata hain?” at its irate staff. Perhaps his landline was paralysed by a cross connection, and the two aunties were much too busy discussing Pappu's upcoming wedding to get off the phone. Or perhaps he did call, but the phone just went on ringing, and ringing — as it was prone to do on most urgent occasions for inexplicable reasons. Then there's the failsafe classic: "Phone was dead, ji!"
Alas, the BlackBerry has deprived us of all such face-saving excuses. Even a missed call cannot be truly missed anymore. Expounding on the ubiquity of the modern telephone, the PM’s own colleague Shashi Tharoor wrote:
Recently, I visited the country farm of a friend in Kerala. He asked if I wanted fresh coconut water; I said yes, and he pulled out his cellphone and dialled the local toddy tapper. A voice replied, "I'm here"; we looked up, and there he was, on top of the nearest coconut tree, with his lungi tied up at his knees, a hatchet in one hand and a cellphone in the other.
What Tharoor offers as a story of empowerment is also one of enslavement. We are always connected, even on the top of a bloody coconut tree.
Mamata's victim game plays to a more hallowed celluloid tradition, made immortal by a forlorn Cary Grant as he waited long and in vain at the top of the Empire State Building for Deborah Kerr in An Affair to Remember. Since then, countless fictional and real lovers have been abandoned by heartless creatures who failed to show up at an appointed time or place. "I was waiting in the rain for hours. And you were late," crooned a desolate Phil Collins, "Now it's not like me to say the right thing. But you could've called to let me know."
Or SMS-ed/emailed/ IM-ed to let her know, in Manmohanji's case. Poor Mamata was left holding a silent BlackBerry that neither rang or pinged. We really ought to sympathise except for this very 2012 question: Why didn't she call or text him? A political version of that staple SMS-es of irate couples -- "Where the hell r u?!!!" or "Why rnt u calling?!!"-- would have done the trick. Or at least placed Mamata safely on higher moral ground. Who can sympathise with a cad who won't return your repeated calls? But Didi preferred to play it super-cool, sending one akela SMS to Sonia that issued the ultimatum" "I sent a message to Sonia ji too...I told her four days ago...that we cannot accept this..."
Sorry, Didi, one threatening text message does not a dumped girlfriend make. At the very least, our poster girl for the “common people” should have employed the excuse favoured by the AWOL maids of India: "Maaji, no balance."
The bottom-line for M&M is this: the 21st century phone makes for a bad breakup scapegoat. It's mobile, connected, and maintains a record of your every action, or lack thereof. It does end relationships, but by working a little too well. The death of relationship is often just a text message away. You can dump someone via SMS — “Sorry Dnt think it’s working out. Let’s just b friends.”— or be dumped by them because they stumbled on, well, your other SMSs. For example, Mamata could have stumbled upon cozy, flirty messages between MMS and Mayawati, catching him in flagrante Airtel.
But the phone excuse is entirely useless as evidence for exaggerated claims of innocence. It's time instead for our mutually jilted lovers to upgrade to a new breakup song, say, Lady Gaga's Telephone:
Hello, hello, baby, you called? I can't hear a thing
I have got no service, in the club, you see, you see
Wha-Wha-What did you say, huh? You're breaking up on me
Sorry, I cannot hear you, I'm kinda busy