Paryatan Singh, the Minister for Tourism summoned S.T. Chanchal, Secretary Tourism, to his chamber at nine in the morning.
'Wonder what the problem is. Lazy bones doesn't get up before ten and never reaches the office before eleven. And even if he does he is too sozzled to start functioning before noon. But today, by nine he is in the office and is sounding sober. It must be an emergency. I hope I have done everything right', wondered Chanchal and started ticking mentally all the important jobs he had had to complete.
The file for allotting a petrol pump to the minister's sala's father-in-law's, younger brother's nephew by marriage had been cleared yesterday. Malai Devi, the Minister's wife had wanted him to look for a new maali and he had done that. Minister's son Chotu Singh had wanted a fake birth certificate so that it would help him avoid a major penalty in the rape charge against him. That too Chanchal had managed, albeit with a great deal of difficulty. Chotu was 31 but according to his latest certificate he was 13. "Now how could a thirteen year old rape and batter a twenty six year old woman, your honour? This is clearly the strategy of the opposition to malign and defame my little client's poor father." Chanchal could almost hear the Minister's lawyer Jhootmalani screeching in court.
Chanchal entered the chamber and found the Minister pacing up and down.
"G...good morning, Sir."
"What is bloody good about this morning?" the Minister snapped. "The High Command rang up at six this morning and fired me for 43 minutes in chaste Bhojpuri. I could only utter three words - 'b..b..but...s..sorry..th..thankyou'. And all this because of you."
"W....what have I done sir?"
"It is not what you have done, but what you have not done?"
"What have I not done, sir?"
"You ass? That also I have to tell you. This year has been declared 'The Year of Tourism' and yet we have recorded the most dismal performance of the decade. Tourist traffic has gone down by 33 per cent. The High Command has given me three months time. If we don't jack up the tourism industry the High Command will shift me to the Ministry of Alternative Medicine with additional charge of Urine Therapy or to the Ministry of Garbage Disposal and Gutter Management. And my dear Chanchal wherever I go I'll take you along with me," the Minister thundered.
On Wednesday at 9 am Chanchal entered the Minister's chamber.
"Are you ready?"
"Yes sir. How could I dare disobey the Honourable Minister's respected command. Will now the Minister kindly accompany yours humbly to the Minister's private auditorium?"
When the Minister entered he found half a dozen young men and women scampering here and there, arranging things.
"Sir, I have invited India's best Ad Agency to make a presentation."
"Is it up to the mark? You know how high my standards are."
"I didn't have the time to see it sir. We'll have a look together."
Five minutes later the lights were switched off and a young man in a three piece suit appeared on the brightly lit stage.
"Hi! I am Leo. On behalf of the Quick Fix Agency I welcome the honourable Minister to the presentation entitled V2K or We Too Can. What we mean is if Singapore, Australia and Switzerland can attract millions of tourists then We Too Can or V2K. But first let me tell you a little bit about our Agency. Quick Fix Agency specialises in instant gratification. It has won nineteen awards for the fastest campaign. Its most memorable campaign has been for Monica Condoms. The punch line was Yeh ?*?!#* maange more. The entire campaign from ideation to creation to execution took just sixteen hours, twenty three minutes and forty nine seconds. The product burst - I mean - flopped but the campaign made it to the Guinness Book of World Records."
Leo paused and after making sure he had the total attention of the distinguished audience continued, "Before I reveal the details of our strategy. Let me ask you a question. Every product has to have a Unique Selling Proposition or USP. If India is our product what is its USP?"
"India is the land of rich cultural heritage, magnificent temples and mosques, great natural beauty, unity in diversity...." Chanchal started his usual spiel.
"Sir, pardon the expression, but what you are talking is pure, unadulterated horse manure. Our cultural heritage has long since been dead and buried. If you ask a specimen of today's Generation Sex....sorry Generation X about Ram he or she would probably take off on Random Access Memory and advice you to go in for a minimum of 32MB on your PC. The other symbols of our glorious heritage like classical dances and music have been restricted to making brief appearances at 'Festivals of India'. Coming to our magnificent temples and mosques, the former have been plundered hundreds of years ago, hundreds of time while the latter have been destroyed in this very decade and are under constant threat. Shifting to the great natural beauty, it is being pillaged by the hour. In the name of progress and prosperity nature is being dammed (pun intended). And finally moving to unity in diversity all I can say is -- my left toe. With Hindu-Muslim, Hindu-Sikh, Hindu-Christian, Shia-Sunni, Upper Caste-Lower Caste and Tribal - non Tribal riots as common as history sheeters in politics, we have diversity in disunity and not unity in diversity."
"Then what do you have in mind?" Chanchal asked.
"To disclose that I will invite my colleague."
The lights went off and a spotlight appeared. It zeroed in on a smartly dressed woman who looked straight out of 'Vogue'.
"Tina is my name. Bharat's strongest point and Mother India's USP is Disaster. We seem to be perpetually moving from one catastrophe to the other - whether natural or man made. We are a nation of mediocres. Whether it is science, arts, sports, technology or music there is not a single area in which we have excelled. But when we come to disasters we are numero uno. No one can beat us in engineering and mismanaging disasters. Let us not go too far down memory lane, in the past 15 years itself we have had a spate of disasters both scripted by nature as well as orchestrated by man. Just listen to the list - Bhopal Gas tragedy, post Indira Gandhi assassination riots, Latur earthquake, Post Babri Masjid demolition riots, the numerous railway accidents and finally the supercyclone in Orissa***. The last one is the piece de resistance. It will go down in the annals of human civilisation as the Dada of all Disasters. God and man have never worked with such perfect synergy, such terrific synthesis. Our campaign will be centred around the Supercyclone and the punch line will be : India - Utterly, Gutterly Disastrous. Now I invite my colleague to round off the presentation."
This time the spotlight was on a middle aged man clad in a jeans and T shirt. He was sporting a french beard, his hair was straggly and it looked as if he had just slipped out of bed.
"Hi! I am Aleck Goddamsee the High Priest of Quick Fix. Well, having identified the USP we now have to launch an ad campaign. We propose a blitzkrieg in all the media - the print, electronic as well as cyberspace. We will offer special tour packages, offering discounts, prizes, incentives and what have you. For instance one of our packages is going to be the 'Super Cyclone Special'. It will be a three day exclusive luxury tour of the cyclone hit areas of Orissa.
"Wait! What is this nonsense? Who will be interested in seeing a cyclone ravaged state?" the Minister thundered.
"Honourable Minster, Sir, with humble apologies, I beg to submit that for the first time in your distinguished life you are talking through your esteemed Gandhi topi. Our friendly neighbourhood tourist from the West is sick and tired of visiting beaches, casinos, museums, safaris, parks and bordellos. He wants change. He also has an insatiable curiosity and appetite for the weird and the wacky, the grotesque and the gory. That is why the disaster movies like 'The Poseidon Adventure', 'The Towering Inferno' and the latest and the best 'The Titanic' have hit the jackpot. Well, Orissa is going to be disaster LIVE. They can actually see canines feeding on human corpses, animal carcasses dotting the landscape, skulls and bones vying for attention with putrid flesh et al. Compared to this, 'Schindler's List' and the 'Silence of the Lambs' would appear like 'Winnie the Pooh' and 'Snow White'. Then Orissa will also have a lot to offer to various specialists. So we can also indulge in niche marketing"
"What do you mean? demanded Chanchal.
"For the avante garde film maker it will offer an excellent opportunity to embark on a cathartic odyssey through the land of mayhem and misery. Didn't Satyajit Ray become an icon exporting India's sorrow and suffering to the West. The filmmaker's from the West can have a field day chronicling the adventures of the average cyclone survivor and win awards galore at Cannes and Karlovy Vary. For the Management Messiahs Orissa offers an ideal case study on Disaster Management. I am sure if Peter F. Drucker and Tom Peters spend a few days in Orissa they will churn out titles like 'Thriving on Crisis', and 'What they teach you at Orissa School of Disaster Management'. Members of social service and philanthropic organisations like CRY(Crisis Relief and You) will come in droves to provide succor to the people. Modern poets will make a beeline looking for inspiration and write 'Odes to Rotting Carcasses'. Painters will flock to capture the pain and the angst on the canvas. Believe me Minister there will be a deluge ...oops, what I mean is there will be an exodus to Orissa."
He bowed and signed off.
The Minister got up. "Wonderful. I really liked the presentation. Chanchal, I think we should go ahead. There is no time to lose. Once the effects of the cyclone wear off our USP will lose its meaning."
"Of that there is no danger, sir. At the rate things are moving in Orissa it might take months or even years. And the best news is that another cyclone is brewing in the Bay of Bengal and is expected to hit Orissa. If that happens we can continue peddling Orissa to the West for years to come."