Oh, how I wish Madiba, that great, great soul, could have witnessed his
own memorial service. I’d like to think of Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela and
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi having a rip-roaring time in heaven. It might
go like this:
(Start of skit)
Mandela: They say I like to bring people together. I do. The best
was how that brilliant boy Obama got himself in a pickle with what they
call a “selfie” with that young blonde leader, Denmark’s Helle Thorning
Schmid. In seconds the world knew about it. You know, I think women like
Obama a bit too much.
Gandhi: But yes, Obama’s wife must have a spine of steel to put
up with the adulation he gets from women. Obama was practically leaning
into the blonde. Michelle didn’t look amused. You know I struggled with
my love for women in my lifetime. Unlike Obama I was not blessed with a
fantastic physique made for those painted-on suits highflyer women like
these days. You know, once I started wearing a loincloth, my days of a
debonair professional were over. I had no time for fittings of suits.
Mandela: I respect you, Gandhi, but I don’t think even in a suit
you had the features to make women swoon like my young protégé Obama.
Another woman wearing a spectacular copper and gold traditional outfit
with a high headdress caught my eye because she was not African.
Gandhi: Yes, I saw her. She is Kamla Persad-Bissessar, of East
Indian descent, from a West Indian twinisland state.
Mandela: Well, Bapu, I didn’t think I was seeing right this far
from earth. She looked good. I feel honoured, but I got the feeling that
once she got there, she felt a little out of place. I like to see
people’s authentic selves, and I worried that she might have wasted
precious moments of bilateral bonding with world leaders explaining who
she represented. I understand that T&T is a cosmopolitan state. She
might have even worried Michelle Obama, who, in her plain black dress,
looked well. You know how women stress over these things.
Gandhi: Ah Madiba, Kamla is a good name. She looks like a good
Hindu woman who loves many cultures. I wish I had visited her islands
in the Caribbean. I have always loved the sea. I could have made salt on
her island too. I have been looking at Rajiv’s widow, the Italian Sonia
Gandhi, for years. She has become a master at tying saris. She wears
only khadi—locally woven saris. She never wears western clothes in
public. She is even more austere than the staunchest Indian freedom
fighter I remember. She’s a foreigner to India but no one can fault her
taste. She is elegant, understated, wears no jewelry when she faces our
Indian masses, comes across as serious. She wants us to forget she is
Italian but Indians remember every day. I can’t believe this, Madiba,
we are gossiping like women.
Mandela: It’s okay, we were in jail for many years doing many
serious things. We took blows and stood up to oppression. We worked on a
large human canvas. India and Africa, and the whole world can build on
Gandhi: Back to the selfie. The White House is saying Michelle
was happy her man was taking photos with a blonde and released photos to
prove it. They call this “first world problems,” Madiba. In our time we
were too busy fighting for fundamental rights for our people
Mandela: Yes. It’s harmless fun. Obama is part of this new age
of technology that you and I missed, Bapu. Millions of young people need
to relate to their leaders. They relate to Obama’s selfie. I hope Obama
has learned from Clinton not to succumb to that hubris of adulation from
women. So he looks and flirts a bit. That makes him even more human,
Gandhi: As I was saying, the priceless moment, even better than
Mastercard, was when Sonia Gandhi, Rajiv’s widow, the juggernaut behind
the ruling Congress party, in her sari met Prime Minister Kamla
Persad-Bissessar of T&T dressed in full African regalia. The two met!
The Italian in a crisp Indian sari, and the Indian West Indian in an
Mandela: Ha ha. I saw that. Did you see how puzzled they were,
looking at one another?
Gandhi: That photograph was worth a thousand words. Each was
thinking “Who are you?”; then, “What are you?”
Mandela: Then they were thinking “But what am I?” A funeral is
now a fashion parade. I am glad. I am glad. Race is now a costume. Not
the serious thing it was when I was in jail. This lady Kamla has taught
us something. To go beyond tribalism. We are too tribal in India and
Gandhi: Let the young people enjoy themselves.
Mandela: Yes, it’s wonderful. Pretoria is a mosaic of the world.
I am, like you, a simple man, a humble man with Spartan tastes. But I
understand the East Indian West Indian lady’s country has a wonderful
spectacle called Carnival. We in Africa, and you in India, love a
spectacle, a parade.
Gandhi: But in the costuming, Madiba, let us not become people of
straw. Let us know who we are.
Mandela: You and I know who we are, Bapu, but we will never
figure out women.
Gandhi: Ah, but Mandela, you know about women’s nature better
Mandela: So do you, Gandhi, so do you. They will be bringing out
all kinds of diaries about you. But that’s good because that’s a way of
keeping your legacy alive. By the way, they call you Bapu in India, the
father of the nation. They call me father too, Madiba. So from now on,
I will call you Father.
Gandhi: I will call you “Father Father.” Come let me show you
heaven. Although the more interesting people are in hell, I hear.
(The two float along companionably.)