Rahul Gandhi’s recent Bengaluru sojourn shows a lofty dynast emerge as a maturing politician

Artists, especially 'millennial artists' like myself are repeatedly accused of being bubble-wrapped in worlds where only ideas matter, and find confronting politics (not the much-relied upon 'personal is the political' variety), squirm-worthy.

I, the aforementioned artist, often find myself on one end of my dining table with my MacBook, spewing liberal ideas about freedom and artistic expression; and on the other end are my parents, armed with notepads and newspapers. I sound belligerent, and they seem rational and uninterested at best. Since 2014.

They embody what the word 'decent' was really meant to describe. They are retired now, but through their working years, my father was a civil 'servant' and my mother, the first-ever woman doctor from her village, something she will never get a badge for.

 Rahul Gandhi’s recent Bengaluru sojourn shows a lofty dynast emerge as a maturing politician

File image of Congress president Rahul Gandhi. PTI

They have always been fans of the various avatars of the Congress, and even the Sikh massacre of 1984 didn't entirely deter their faith in the party – despite being Sikh themselves. But 2014 was different. They were genuinely tired of the UPA and really believed in what the BJP had to offer.

They weren't worried about giving up the liberal label, because they were never applauded for owning it. They were interested in what they called 'the real stuff'. They thought Rahul Gandhi lacked the 'magnetism' – a word their generation seems to use excessively – for a prime minister.

I think they secretly thought he sounded like my friends or myself: sweet, fumbling and innocuous. And as their loyalties have shifted, something even more interesting has begun to happen: they have given up their need for statistics and begun buying lofty and bizarre ideas, without much proof.

We still debate and scream over each other about 'the future of our country', but I'm tired of answering the question: "What are our options, really?" And when we are hopeful, it is about things that couldn't be further apart.

So, when I was asked to attend an informal conversation with Congress president Rahul in Bengaluru on Sunday, apart from being driven by what a friend called 'writer-ly curiosity', I was also interested, almost from the outside, in what someone like myself would do speaking with a 'real politician'.

My mother told me once that as a fat baby in a pram, Rajiv Gandhi had patted me on the head at the inauguration of the defence colony I grew up in. She beamed at me as she said it, as though I had earned that encounter by my merit as a six-month-old. But when I told her about the conversation with Rahul, she was pretty breezy about it. She said: "Ask him a question that affects your field of theatre, I guess."

At the event, I saw many very accomplished and glittering women, and even amongst the photo-ops and some starry-eyed behaviour, there was a feeling of optimism.

Everyone seemed to be rooting for some kind of change. When was the last time a political party made a concerted effort to gather so many experts from a cross-section of professions: Dalit rights and transgender activists, rappers and dancers included? All women.

The flow of this event was straightforward. He arrived and the questions began. Rahul wanted to answer as many as possible. He and his team were keen to make good of the time they had, and some questions were difficult, as they should have been.

From foreign affairs to malnutrition, from the Indian educations system's stress on grades to battling vitriol and hate on a daily basis, he really did attempt to take on every question with sincerity. Rahul admitted to things that went wrong, or when he didn't know enough. His tone was honest, often funny, and it never betrayed a genuine interest in the people in front of him. Here was a man, once a boy, who watched his father blow up at 19, bore the legacy of a fraught dynasty, stumbled and failed, and was still trying to get it right.

I can't say I'm floored beyond question (should we ever be?), but I was impressed. Do I still hope, like Iceland, we will elect a 41-year-old anti-war feminist as nation-leader someday? Absolutely. Do I think I could have expressed that very hope to Rahul that afternoon? I most certainly could have. And that is why I'm relieved. All the ideas and concerns people held closely to themselves in that room, were not dismissed or mocked or taken lightly. They were addressed with due weight, and very importantly, with great dignity.

He didn't trash the Opposition unnecessarily, he was respectful and he tried very hard not to fall back on rhetoric. While his bumbling about was covered with great aplomb by popular media, I wonder if it is interested in his current self: a maturing political figure, trying hard to have difficult conversations.

I, the genteel millennial artist (the receptacle for that all that is 'fluff and fabulous'); I, the urban, intelligent woman (recently accused of doling out Gulag-style justice among other things); and I, the skeptic (of hashtags and political parties alike) suspended my disbelief for a moment, much like an audience 'in my field of theatre', and wished I could have brought my mother along as well. I wanted us, if only for a moment, to feel hopeful together. About the same thing.

The author is an actor, playwright and director.

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Updated Date: Apr 12, 2018 16:04:58 IST