The unspeakable in pursuit of the uneatable
To say that in our times all public institutions and office, professions and honours have been diminished will not be an exaggeration. On the contrary, considering the overall lack of credibility in all these things today, it may be said that it is an understatement, when after all many of them have now been rendered meaningless, representing the very opposite of what they are meant to be.
There is hardly anyone who will speak for the presidency, the highest office in the land. It took only six incumbents and 40 troubled years to completely disillusion the nation, to weary of an office associated with a huge potential for abuse of power, nepotism and corruption in various forms.
Our Parliament has increasingly become a forum for the ragtag and bobtail, mediocre and the vulgar; a relatively easy path for a social step-up and financial nirvana. The Judiciary appears overwhelmed by the enormity of the task before it, again, with neither dazzle nor brilliance. As to our over-staffed yet under-performing government departments; their monopolistic hold valid only because so little is expected of them in terms of performance.
Our Parliament has increasingly become a forum for the ragtag and bobtail, mediocre and the vulgar; a relatively easy path for a social step-up and financial nirvana.
The malaise is not confined to the Government, as the saying goes; so within, so without. If the Hippocratic Oath is suggested to a present day doctor, he will feign total ignorance. The once sacred professional codes (and standards) for the various professions have now become mere showpieces, little understood, hardly evoked. Promotions, recognitions, honours only go by political favour. As a result, presently most professionals are in part-time politics.
A middling lawyer goes to his party boss, the President, with a plea to be appointed a President’s Counsel. The President is in an indulgent mood and grants the request of the humble lawyer. Sometime later, there is a constitutional controversy. Our obliging President’s Counsel promptly expresses an opinion on the Constitution which is favourable to his patron. Even the President holds out the opinion of the President’s Counsel as one coming from a person recognised by the State as an eminent jurist. What he lacked earlier; seriousness, maturity, intelligence have been conferred on him by Presidential decree!
It will be a mistake to think that such happenings are only of recent origin. In 1948, when the managing of our affairs was handed back to us, the world was very different to the one we were familiar with, pre- 1815. With independence came constitutions, laws, elections, parliaments, government departments, and a plethora of other new and exciting things. To sit behind a desk and push a pen was prestigious.
Nascent capitalism in the colony had opened undreamt of paths to riches to all and sundry. Office and honours did not depend on your birth anymore. These honours came with a lot of pomp and pageantry, sometimes even a trip to the Buckingham palace was included. In to this new world of infinite possibilities, we plunged in with the gusto of the recent convert , a melee of “nobodies” as well as “somebodies”, chasing behind the goodies and the shinning toys with unashamed abandon. Self-seeking, dissolute, former colonials saw no bounds in their quest for honours. It was the “unspeakable in pursuit of the uneatable”; Oscar Wilde’s famous description of fox hunting, relived.
We cannot do better than Tarzie Vittachi, one of the most acclaimed English journalists of the era, in describing the temper of the time: