An uber babu who applied the ordained poultices

Tarun J. Tejpal, the editor of Tehelka, assesses Manmohan Singh in an essay of exquisite artistry in the latest issue of the magazine:

“What when he looks into the mirror, does he make of hmself? Does he see a professionarial economist who bust the seams of possibility by becoming the Prime Minister of the biggest democracy in the world? Or does he see a decent, remarkably inoffensive politician? Does he see an efficient flunkey, living and dying by the whim of the master? Or does he see an artful leader couched in the skin of an artless follower? Does he see strength in his eyes? Or does he see weakness in his jaw? Is that honesty shining there, or is it timidity? Is he the handiwork of a superior will, or is he the creation of lucky accident?…

“He probably sees a sincere, hardworking man who rode every accident of history with humility and gratitude. He probably sees someone truly exceptional, not great. He probably sees more decency than courage, more willingness than will. As the image shimmers, he sees there is a vision, but perhaps in need of some expansion and refurbishing. He turns to catch his profile. The nose and the jaw: well, they belong to both master and follower. He looks into the eyes, and then over his shoulder. He lets out his breath. Actually, he’s done okay. Given the circumstances, as well as he could. And if there is a second chance, he would certainly work harder at doing better.”

Illustration:  courtesy Thomas Antony/Iran cartoon gallery