EVERY good election contributes something to folklore. Uttar Pradesh is the land of lore; and the turbulence of its politicians is matched only by the sardonic wit of its voters.
The culture of the sons of Awadh has many dimensions, but a principal inheritance is the nuance of language, both written and verbal. Awadhis can turn a conversation into a duel of scalpels, interspersed with the stiletto stab that penetrates just enough to puncture an ego without hurting the flesh.
Cut and thrust are an art form, not a westerner’s duel at high noon. The sophisticate leaves invisible scars; he does not kill. That would be vulgar. The poet prefers to die a thousand deaths rather than injure a feckless or faithless lover; he might be tempted to ambush a rival but he would never waylay.
Lucknow is the nerve centre of this culture, but the neural tingle stretches across the hinterland, adjusting to local need or idiosyncrasy, but ever vibrant in a dialectical manoeuvre, making its point through askance analogy rather than a confrontational joust. Life after all must continue when scores are settled.
Ganga plays and competes with Jamuna as both enter the domain of a hundred kingdoms, and the resonance of religion, history, gamble and war, lifted by human endeavour or sunk by its indolence. The two rivers bear the weight of past and future lightly, and then embrace in Allahabad, where Uttar Pradesh ends, before wandering off towards the ocean.
The daughters of Awadh are not to be underestimated. There is more fertility of imagination in a raised eyebrow, the toss of a henna-hair curl, than in an anthology of anecdotes from an arid elsewhere.
And while humour is so often the solace of misfortune, whether the cause of ruin be the love of power or the power of love, nothing excites the genius of gentle laughter more than the innumerable frictions, and sometimes the bombastic fictions, of the troubled relationship between age and virility.
It is particularly pleasing to the feminine sensibility that only men can be victims.
Virility is both the pride of man, and his desolate downfall, as inevitable as the passage of time, retribution for the plumed strut of youth, evidence that in the battle of sexes women have the staying power.
When along comes that rare instance when a man can claim, with credible hints, that he has defeated time, there is jealous admiration from his peers and a bit of awed jollity among women. The late artist M.F. Husain had the ability to sustain such an image, and it was sufficient, for the discretion of an audience prevents a peep into the bedroom. The hero of the present hour is clearly the octogenarian politician Narayan Dutt Tewari. There has been no story as remarkable in Indian politics as the resurrection of the wolf in khadi clothing.
Less than two years ago, Tewari was shoved out of his grace-and-favour habitation in the palatial governor’s residence in Andhra Pradesh because a caustic madam had photographed, on her mobile, women massaging parts of his body that tend to ache rather more than shoulders or the neck.
He was jeered all the way into retirement in the Himalayas by a middle class that gets especially vindictive when it feels it has missed out.
In Dehra Dun Tewari was, and is still being, chased by a man who wants his DNA sample to confirm that Tewari is his real dad. Tewari refuses to undergo this test of paternity.
The embarrassment of three Karnataka ministers who were caught, weeks ago, watching pornography on their phones while in the Assembly, is nothing compared to what Tewari must have undergone. And yet today he is a star of the Congress campaign in Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh.
According to reports, the public response of crowds is noteworthy, and the private response impressive. Men talk in hushed admiration of the One Who Defeated the Ancient Law of Sanyas.
The Indian has never confused the morality of public life with the stresses of private behaviour. He accepted Gandhi as a mahatma despite confessions that would have destroyed a father-figure in another society. Gossip has swirled around most Indian prime ministers; that has meant absolutely nothing to the voter.
Peccadilloes might invite the occasional laugh, but the Indian leaves punishment of infidelity to God.
This does not mean that sexual vice is condoned. Absolutely not. No politician could survive a charge of molestation. But Indians do not enforce Victorian, or even contemporary American, codes of behaviour upon their leaders. Voters will judge Tewari at the hustings on the basis of his political arguments rather than his bedroom preferences.
It might be a sign of old age that you recover the gall that you lost in your middle age. Certainly Narayan Dutt Tewari has sufficient chutzpah to put a photographed past into the abyss of amnesia as he struts ahead to canvass for a party far older than him. He is the stuff of lore.
The writer is editor of The Sunday Guardian, published from Delhi, India on Sunday, published from London and editorial director, India Today and Headlines Today.