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October 01, 2017 Sunday 11:30:06 AM IST

Of Ram Charan and the Right to Secrecy

Guest Column

It was a pleasant evening in Kochi. I was in my usual corner on the concrete bench in Marine Drive waiting for my friends. A group of mostly retired people, we used to meet there regularly. I was only an occasional visitor. We used to discuss everything under the sun till he, the Sun, now staring at us from the distant dark line of the Arabian Sea, slowly come down the blue sky changing his colors, from sparkling white to yellow and finally, a glorious red and bid bye to us, leaving us to enjoy the star-lit darkness. I was a bit early. I was attending a seminar and it had just ended.

 

The subject of the seminar was the Supreme Court’s full bench unanimous decision on declaring right to privacy as a fundamental right under the Constitution.

 


Participating in the discussions, I was elated. But at the same time I was apprehensive. I had a feeling that something was missing somewhere. The seminar was brainy and all the participants were honest and well studied.

 

I was perhaps reminded of George Orwell’s outstanding novel 1984. I’ve always been haunted by these words from the novel. Perhaps this is the forerunner of our future. Let me quote from 1984.

 


“It was terribly dangerous to let your thoughts wander when you were in any public place or within range of a telescreen. The smallest thing could give you away. A nervous tic, an unconscious look of anxiety, a habit of muttering to yourself, anything that carried with it the suggestion of abnormality, of having something to hide. In any case, to wear an improper expression on your face (to look incredulous when a victory was announced, for example) was itself a punishable offense. There was even a word for it in Newspeak: facecrime, it was called.”

 

Pondering over Orwell, I walked slowly to my usual place and suddenly I heard a familiar sound calling me.

 


“Mohan Babuji. Kya hal hai? Kaise hai aap?”

 

It was from my friend, Ram Charan, a Bihari worker, standing behind his thela and selling badam, kajoo and what not.

 


I have thousands of friends, rich and poor, logistically, religiously and intellectually different, from the age of five to hundred and I am very close to all of them with whom I interact regularly to educate myself as a writer. They are my raw material, the characters in my committed destiny of  storytelling and Ram Charan is one of them. He is from Bihar, speaks in Bhojpuri Hindi and has no formal education. He’s been in Kerala for the last ten years and is quite a jack of all trades. His family lives in his native village. He sends home around Rs 20,000 every month and is fully satisfied with the system and society here.

 

Suddenly, I had an idea. Here is an Indian citizen enjoying the same rights as all of us in our democracy. One vote and he decides what should be good for him.

 


There was a rickety stool under the thela and he drew it out for me. I asked him in his rustic Hindi.

 

“Do you know the Supreme Court full bench has unanimously decided that right to privacy is a fundamental right under our Constitution”?

 


“Kya Babuji”?

 

“Ram Charan, do you know as an Indian citizen, you have rights for privacy and nobody can question it. The Supreme Court says that it is in our Constitution.”

 


He was staring at me.

 

“What? What is Supreme Court”?

 


“Don’t you know the Supreme Court? The Constitution”?

 

“No. What is that? Modi ji ka, ya Laooji ka? I know madam also.”

 


“Ram Charan, look, they are all our leaders. But above them are you and me.”

 

“Me”?

 


“Yes. Now we have a Constitution, rules. It is written you have many rights. You can have secrets. It is your freedom. You are …….”

 

Babuji, I have no secrets.”

 


I was a bit stuck. He consoled me.

 

Babuji, one thing I have learnt from experience. Don’t keep secrets. If you keep secrets somebody will find it out. Police or anybody. You will have to shell out cash to get out of it. I am advising you. Don’t keep secrets.”

 


He gave me a small packet of cashew nuts. I thought of asking him about GST. But I was not sure how to make it intelligible to him. Instead, I asked him:

 

“Ram Charan bhai, do you pay tax”?

 


“No. Why? Sethji does it. He’s the wholesaler.”

 

We were interrupted as a tourist couple came up and Ram Charan became busy once again and almost settled a sale of cashew and a few Kerala spices. They started looking around and asked him:

 


“Where is the nearest ATM”?

 

Ram Charan asked: “Kyom sahibji”?

 


“We have to withdraw some money for paying your bill.”


“No problem, ji. I will accept card or PhonePe.

 

The couple looked at each other and turned to me. I wanted to say something in English. But I knew only words. I had no idea of what I could tell them.


 

I left Ram Charan with our usual “phir milenge”. A few friends came and the talks soon turned to the Supreme Court judgment.

 

The sunset opened the ads glittering and competing in multicolours with the evening sun spraying its last golden yellow on the tall billboards all around the Kochi skyline. The backwaters were dancing to the tunes of the reveling music blaring from dozens of slow moving tourist boats zig-zagging the waterfront. There was the ghostly white outline of a luxury liner entering the bay. The clouds, silver, grey and blue, halted for a moment hesitatingly and then started moving away. It was all free, no secrecy, fundamental rights for everyone!



K . L. Mohana Varma

Kochi-based novelist, short story writer and columnist.
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