There is a smart cookie in Shiekh Hasina’s office; most probably a woman because women are usually smarter than men. A single word – angst – in Hasina’s get-well-soon official message to Sonia Gandhi was a dead giveaway! Hasina’s message, obviously drafted by a faceless but smart bureaucrat, specifically mentioned Sonia’s post-surgery “angst” while assuring her that the Bangladeshi premier along with the whole nation prayed to God for her speedy recovery.
Why am I excited by angst? Angst encapsulates a feeling of acute anxiety, insecurity, or apprehension. But when is the last time that a head of state publicly uttered that word? Or it figured in an official statement by a prime minister or president? I can bet my right arm that never before has it embellished any communiqué issued by the highest office in any country. And that’s why I am so thrilled.
To be honest, I am overjoyed that a south Asian civil servant peppered one premier’s missive to another with a word that I became familiar with during my school days in Sahibgunj — a small town in Bihar [now Jharkhand] where I grew up.
Angst apart, Hasina’s message betrayed the special bond between the Wajeds and Gandhis. Hasina not only called Sonia her sister but stressed that her entire family, including her children, hoped that the operation was “flawlessly smooth and successful”. I think Hasina’s heart beats for Sonia. And luckily, Hasina is blessed with bureaucrats capable of translating her deep concern for Sonia’s health and well-being into sparkling English.
It’s hardly a secret that Sonia was operated at New York’s Sloan-Kettering hospital which is known for treating cancer cases. But neither the Congress Party nor Gandhis have disclosed what the surgery was for or even the name of the hospital. According to a brief statement issued by the party, Sonia is recovering in an intensive care unit abroad after an operation which the surgeon indicated was successful. It added that besides Rahul and Priyanka, son-in-law Robert Vadra is with Sonia who will be away for two to three weeks.
Interestingly, India’s most powerful Bengali – Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee – is not a part of the four-member group constituted by Sonia to look after Congress affairs in her absence. The core group comprises A.K. Antony, Rahul Gandhi, Ahmed Patel and Janardan Dwivedi. Pranab’s exclusion has set tongues wagging. His detractors in the party and government are of course celebrating. Pranab, by the look of things, is unfazed.
So is Pranab no longer a part of the inner coterie? Before you even attempt to answer the question, please note that even Manmohan Singh – the man Sonia evidently trusts more than anyone – is not among the four chosen by Sonia to deal with any crisis while she is recuperating. Strange are the ways of politics. Politics is not simple arithmetic. It’s calculus my friend.
So far the Indian media has displayed extraordinary restraint bowing to the Gandhis’ and the Congress Party’s appeal to respect what they have described as Sonia’s privacy. Used to daily bulletins whenever prominent Indians like Manmohan Singh, former PM A. B. Vajpayee or matinee idol Amitabh Bachchan are hospitalised or operated upon, the print and electronic media are groping in the dark.
Remarkably, the Gandhis have kept India’s diplomatic missions in the USA at an arm’s length. Sonia’s medical treatment is purely a private affair. If the services of any bureaucrat have been requisitioned, it’s Pulak Chatterjee’s. Pulak is a long-standing confidant of Sonia who is now India’s executive director at the World Bank headquarters in Washington.
Well there is a Bangladeshi connection! When Chatterjee took leave of absence from the bank to be with Sonia during her hospitalisation and surgery, he handed over charge of the bank’s South Asia constituency to Kazi Aminul Islam of Bangladesh, according to media reports whose authenticity I have no reasons to doubt.
Now let me come back to angst. I was probably in standard nine when I first heard that word. I was telling my principal at St. Xavier’s School in Sahibgunj, Father Stellini — a Maltese Jesuit priest who passed away a few years ago — that I was unable to concentrate on my studies because I had fallen in love for the first time.
“Ah teenage angst”, Father Stellini chuckled and pardoned me for neglecting my studies. Later I consulted a dictionary and discovered what angst meant. I even told the girl I was besotted with that I was afflicted by angst. She probably knew the word already because she said: “It’s better to suffer from angst than acne.”
S. N. M. Abdi is a consulting editor, writer, columnist and broadcaster from India