Opinion| The wisdom we have gained over the past five years

An aphoristic reflection of the new realities facing us as Indian electioneering nears an end

War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength. He who controls the past controls the future. These outwardly paradoxical aphorisms have been popular since George Orwell’s dystopic novel 1984 was published in 1949, and they carry considerable wisdom. Shift words a little, and you get a new aphorism, giving the sentence a new meaning. As India enters its final week of electioneering, here are some proverbs, suitably modified—and, as those car commercials say, your mileage may vary. A proverbial roundup of the past five years.

Social media: If you don’t have anything nice to say, get on Twitter and say it anyway. Keep your friends close, but troll your enemies. Where ignorance is bliss, it is jolly to spread lies. A little knowledge is an extremely powerful thing. Don’t believe the printed word, believe the WhatsApp forward. Cleanliness maybe a sign of godliness, but speaking of cleanliness is a sign of eagerness. The grass was greener on the other side of history—before the Mughals came. When in Rome, look for Rahul Gandhi’s home.

The motto for social media is: I do not agree with what you say, and I will use everything at my disposal to exercise my right to stop you from saying what you want to say. If you can’t beat them, insult them. Two wrongs make it a fair fight. Offence is the best form of defence, but taking offence is an even greater form of offence. Finally, this one: Early to bed and early to rise keeps you away from social media’s vice.

Leadership lessons: Two heads are better than one, but two Gujarati heads are even better. Action speaks louder than words, but talking of taking action speaks louder than taking action. The emperor has clothes with his name written on it a thousand times. If at first you don’t succeed, don’t merely try again—order a reshoot or get someone to photoshop it. Good things, like “achche din", come to those who wait—for Godot— for they also serve who stand and wait. There is no such thing as a silver bullet train. Every cloud has a silver lining—it is the trail of an escaping aircraft. Knowledge is power, but knowledge gained through surveillance has far more power. Every terrorist action has an equal and opposite choreographed “action". Divide a house against itself to make your stand. People who live in glass houses should undress in the dark—because of surveillance cameras and Aadhaar.

A penny saved is not a penny earned; it gets demonetized and becomes worthless. A bank is a place where the poor save so that the rich may borrow. Power corrupts; absolute power disrupts absolutely. To err is human; to admit to an error is foolish. When in doubt, blame Nehru. The road to nowhere is paved with lofty declarations. If at first you don’t succeed, blame Pakistan. If it ain’t broke, break it.

The fourth estate: The pen is far lighter than the sword. When asked to sit, bend; when asked to bend, crawl; when asked to crawl, fold your hands and recite a mantra. A picture may be worth a thousand words, but a selfie with the prime minister is worth 10,000 editorials. News is what people tweet; the rest is advertising. A good newspaper is a nation talking to itself, but a great TV network is one that tells the nation what it must demand to know. Flattery is the best form of imitation.

The courts: There is honour among judges. Judges of a feather flock together. No jokes please, we are Indians. Making memes breeds contempt. Covers are like lips, they must be sealed. Just as you don’t judge a book by its cover, you can’t cover a judge in a book.

Birds and animals: There is no such thing as a free lunch, nor a free mid-day meal with eggs. You have to break eggs to make an omelette, but you can’t make an omelette with eggs—period. You can’t have your cake—if it has eggs. Don’t put all your eggs in any basket—in fact, don’t even think of eggs. One man’s food is another man’s chance to spread poison. The best way to learn what lies within a man’s inner heart is by finding what’s in his stomach. Don’t give the man a fish, give him rice and dal. You may take a horse to a pond and see if he drinks, but you can’t lead a cow to slaughter—and after she eats discarded plastic bags, you can watch her health sink. Don’t count your or anyone else’s chickens, period. Don’t put the cart before the horse; put the puppy before the car. Na khaunga, na khaane dunga (I won’t eat, nor let anyone eat) was about beef. What did you think?

Those with money: When the going gets tough, the tough go to London. Fortune favours those with gold. Remember the golden rule—he who has the gold, rules. Don’t bite the hand that feeds you, spite the hand that needs you. It is easier for a camel to enter through the eye of the needle than for a rich man to see the inside of Tihar jail. Do not a lender be but do be the one to borrow; let the loan be a loss for the bank, let the banker repent in sorrow.

And those without much: The meek shall not inherit the earth. Beggars can’t be choosers; they’re losers. Check their National Citizenship Register evidence or Aadhaar, and if they don’t have it, call them termites. As farmers shall sow, others shall reap. The farmer has little and gets less.

And finally, God helps only those who shout Bharat mata ki jai.

Salil Tripathi is a writer based in London.