Price-Tags On Pride

About a fortnight ago, the secretary of the J&K Academy of Art, Culture and Languages presented a cheque of Rs 50,000 to Seth Rafi, a humourist, actor and writer, who has fallen on bad times and had to undergo surgery for heart ailment. The secretary was accompanied by a clutch of prominent TV artistes who are not as unfortunate as Rafi when it comes to money. A press release issued by the information department said that the secretary had requested the chief minister to provide financial assistance to the actor who is the sole breadwinner for his family. A photograph, showing the secretary handing over the cheque to Rafi while facing the camera, accompanied the press release. It was the greatest insult to the actor, who was called as an “artist” in the press statement. The Academy could have spared the actor the humiliation of official publicity. Fifty thousand rupees is the proverbial drop in the ocean of the corruption-ridden, Byzantine world of state-run information and culture, which, being an extension of the Deep State, is oiled by money.

When “artists,” “producers” and “directors” demonstrated on the streets a few years ago, complaining of not being given any projects, DD authorities published a list in local newspapers with details of the contracts each producer had been allotted and the amounts of money involved – sums running into crores. Seth Rafi, who has featured in a number of kitschy but hugely popular humorous programmes broadcast largely on private TV channels, is immensely more talented than many “actors” and “producers” who have made millions. But given his officially publicised penury, it is clear that he is not talented enough to have earned or saved enough even for an illness. In fact, the official statement did not fail to mention that Seth Rafi had “thanked the chief minister and the secretary for help”. A man in distress would not care much about an infringement to his honour, but the four prominent actors who were part of the cheque-delivering delegation had no reason to be a party to the insult. The episode is actually a symptom of the larger malaise. The culture industry, where the money is, has been completely taken over by the government. Artists, even great poets, are supposed to be closer to the government than to their art to “succeed.” In such an atmosphere, even the misery of an artiste like Seth Rafi can be appropriated by the state.