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Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman didn’t disappoint us with the poetry she laced her Budget speech with. Her very first citation of a verse, Watan by Deenanath Kaul Nadim, had the treasury benches thumping desks and the opposition hollering across the hall in protest. It was in Kashmiri, and it waxed lyrical about one’s homeland, spoken of as a garden in bloom with a bouquet of flowers. What occasioned the eruption across the aisle, though, was the explicit reference to Srinagar’s Dal Lake in bloom with the lotus, the election symbol of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, and the warming of the youth’s blood at the thought of “My country, your country, the world’s most adorable country".

Her subsequent citations, though, had no political overtones. In asking farmers to adopt organic fertilizers, she quoted the Tamil poet Aauvaiyar’s snappy advice, “aaathichoodi". Translated, this simple means one must first till one’s land and then eat.

On good governance, Sitharaman invoked Tamil poet and philosopher Thiruvalluvar’s ‘five jewels’ required for a good country: freedom from illness, wealth generation, farm productivity, happiness, and good defences. This passed with even less of a murmur. She rounded her literary repertoire off with Kalidasa’s Raghuvamsa. Just as Surya collects vapour from little drops of water, so must a government collects taxes—lightly. While such flourishes have been a tradition in budget speeches for quite a while, it is rare for a finance minister to cover poetric traditions all the way from Kanyakumari to Kashmir—the length of the country, that is, if not breadth.

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