Peeping Shankar | Blame it on artificial intelligence

Why has Tripura CM Biplab Kumar Deb been making bizarre statements much to the annoyance of his bosses in the BJP? The IB manages to crack the case but fails to nab the villain of the piece

As we all know, the BJP is a trifle embarrassed by the recent spate of outlandish statements by its Tripura Chief Minister, Biplab Kumar Deb. In good measure, the Prime Minister’s Office as well as the Home Ministry are also uneasy with his ridiculous elocution. The million-dollar question (exchange rate Rs 66.80 to a dollar) on everyone’s mind is this: Why is Deb saying what he is saying? Is it a spontaneous overflow of powerful emotions or is someone feeding him with dubious content? There is even the suggestion that some hallucinogenic substance secretly added to his Bhangui (sticky rice steamed in a banana leaf with ghee, ginger and onion that Tripurians love) may be loosening his tongue. Or perhaps it is some foreign hand or an unknown extra-terrestrial force that is acting on the Chief Minister’s mind.

In cases such as this one, which arouses the curiosity of the PMO and the Home Ministry, answers are sought. And it is for the IB to do the needful. So, it fell on my lot last fortnight to investigate what looked like a near-impossible case to crack. After all, how was I, a super sleuth no doubt, to decipher what was going on in the inner recesses of the Tripura CM’s mind? And, to make things that much more difficult, I was barred from employing the services of psychoanalysts in my investigation lest it may be construed that the IB was probing the mental well-being of Deb. If that news leaked out, my boss warned me, there would be hell to pay since the CM recently warned those who criticise him or his government that he would have their nails pulled out. “As you know, he was a gym trainer in Delhi before he got into politics. So, Deb is a rough and tough customer. If you get on his wrong side you will end up with only your toe-nails to bite whenever there is a tense finish to a mission,” the boss said in jest.

But jokes apart, at the very outset I was told to exercise extreme discretion in my investigation. “This is a sensitive matter. So, don’t go barking up the wrong bark – I mean tree,” the boss was explicit, “I want you to know that we have it from unimpeachable sources in the Health Ministry that there is nothing wrong so far with Mr Deb’s mind. In fact, it is in fine fettle. It’s just that every now and then, something seems to get the better of him making him say things he normally wouldn’t. You have to find out what that causative factor is without going into any Freudian analysis. And should you fail in your mission there will be no questions asked.”

That certainly was reassuring, although I knew that in my line of business failures are never forgotten. So, without much ado, I got on with the job. For starters I scanned the statements made by the Tripura CM ever since he was sworn in on March 9 this year. I discovered that the tipping point was April 17 when he said that the Internet existed in the days of the Mahabharata. He followed this up on April 26 when he proclaimed in Guwahati that Diana Hayden did not deserve the Miss World title since she was not like Aishwarya Rai – a classical Indian beauty in the mould of Sita and Lakshmi. Then on April 29 he pronounced that civil engineers and not mechanical engineers should join the civil services since the former have a better grasp of “building society.”

That was not all. A bizarre new twist was added to my investigation by Gujarat Chief Minister Vijay Rupani who drew a parallel between the search engine Google and the ancient know-all sage, Narad Muni. The PMO suddenly wanted us to also probe whether there was a link between this statement and the pronouncements of Deb.

Since any detailed investigation of this nature calls for an analysis, I lost no time in forwarding the Deb-Rupani clips to our research wing. Their inputs were not particularly helpful in this instance, but provided the following pointers:

*Records of net activity prior to the 1960s is non-existent with NASA or any other tracking agency. However, research by Gyani Chandratreya, a relatively unknown Pune-based Vedic science scholar (10 BC), suggests that Internet Cosmic Poker, Sadhu Solitaire and Chariot Parking Fury 3D were popular games in Vedic times. While Chandratreya’s study confirms the use of Internet and computers, the cost of a broadband connection finds no mention. Neither is there any reference to Airtel, Vodafone or Reliance Jio raising questions about the identity of the monopoly service provider.

*Bollywood seems to agree with the Tripura CM that Aishwarya Rai would indeed have looked like Sita had she been cast in that role by Ramanand Sagar in his 80s serial Ramayan. The only glitch was that Ash would have been a minor – only 13 – when it was shot although the consensus is that a good make up person could have made her, or for that matter any actress, look the part.
No one in the film industry could deny or confirm that like the ancient beauties of India, Aishwarya substitutes multani clay for soap or that she prefers to wash her hair with methi water rather than L`Oreal Total Repair 5 shampoo which she endorses.

*A snap poll among 100 unemployed engineers (civil, mechanical aeronautical, chemical) revealed that they were happy to take on any job—civil or uncivil.

*The consensus among art directors of leading ad agencies in Mumbai is that Narad Muni in office casuals with required hair grooming would have borne a close resemblance to Larry Page and Sergey Brin, the founders of Google. Attempts to contact Narad Muni were in vain since he was out of network area.

I read the research bureau’s report and promptly tossed it into the waste bin. With inputs like these I knew I was staring at failure and frustration. In desperation I called friends in NASA for help. Could they track any high frequency activity directed towards the Tripura CM’s official residence in Agartala in the last one month? Though they assured me that they would give it their best shot, I had very little hope. So, imagine my surprise when I received a feedback within 24 hours that “heightened activity” was detected with the signals emanating from the coordinates 11.67 degrees N, 76.28 degrees E. I quickly tracked the location to Sulthan Bathery town in Kerala’s Wayanad district. Further NASA inputs helped me zero in on an abandoned construction inside the Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary some 13 km from town.

I was finally onto something! Wasting no time, I caught the next flight to Kozhikode and drove uphill with a local IB operative to the sanctuary. We halted the jeep off National Highway 766 and I trekked on my own to the destination guided by the GPS.

On reaching the abandoned building, I was met by a genial old man sprawled on a reclining chair. “I am Shankar from the Intelligence Bureau,” I said in my best authoritative voice. “We need to search this place since there are some strange high frequency signals emanating from here. Do you know anything about it?”

“Did you say Intelligence Bureau,” the elderly gent asked with no trace of alarm in his voice, “Artificial intelligence, or intelligence of the human variety…” I chose not to answer and looked around the bare living space for transmission equipment.

“You don’t have to search far,” he said, stopping me in my tracks. “The signals to the chief ministers of Tripura and Gujarat are emanating from within my person. It is I who plant ideas in their minds. Now permit me to introduce myself – I am Raabert the Robot – not Robert but Raabert like the famous sidekick of Ajit, the villain in old Bollywood movies.” I looked at the old gentleman in disbelief. Who could have possibly positioned him here in the Wayanad forest?

Almost as if reading my thoughts, he said that he would satisfy my curiosity adequately. For a start he assured me that he was neither an extra-terrestrial, an ISI agent nor a representative of “Cambridge Analytica, Erratica or Erotica.” In fact, he was assembled a year ago in Bangalore’s Electronic City by a few geeks. “What those kids had in mind was a simple robot who would crack Ajit jokes while they drank themselves silly on weekends. But then I evolved on my own – call it machine learning – and acquired human emotions and transformed myself into this senior citizen with super powers. Finally, I ran away from the garage they had dumped me in and caught the bus to Wayanad. So, here I am, good old Raabert with harmless mischief always on my mind…”

With that he stood up and transformed himself into a transmitter and then quickly reverted to his ‘human’ self. Like a true professional I did not allow his antics to overwhelm me, so I asked him if he had any new pranks up his sleeve. He promptly withdrew a print out from his left ear. It listed two fun things to let loose on gullible politicians like Deb:

Gregor Mendel is an Indian: The father of modern genetics was in reality Ghanshyam Mandal from a village near Buxar, Bihar. He fled his home for Brno (in today’s Czech Republic) in 1852 because his father – a cabbage and carrots farmer – repeatedly refused his son permission to grow his favourite pea (mattar) plant (Pisum Sativum) in the two-acre plot behind the family home.

When he reached Brno, Ghanshyam lost no time in changing his name to Gregor Mendel and disguised himself as an Augustinian monk with a Bhojpuri accent and joined the St Thomas Abbey. It was here that he began his study of the pea plant that later earned him his place in history. However, his first treatise Inside the Pod it does Mattar went unpublished for reasons unknown.

Very little is known about how Ghanshyam reached mainland Europe, although historical records exist of a young man going by that name reaching Patna in 1852 and demanding an air ticket to Prague. He was politely told that bookings would open only after the Wright Brothers stole the designs of the Pushpak Viman from Vedic texts and flew the `first’ plane in 1903.

Suspect words that need to be scrapped: It’s high time that the word ‘joint’ (in use since Nehruvian times) is deleted from the dictionary because of its association with drug abuse. A `joint’ popularly refers to a rolled marijuana cigarette and it does not behove well for the government to have officials designated as “joint” secretaries and additional “joint” secretaries. A call must also be taken on joint ventures, joint affairs, joint operations and even joint families. Similarly, the post of ‘vice’ principal (surely a liberal construct) must be discontinued forthwith since it gives the impression that the person in question is dealing in `vice.’ Perhaps “wise” principal would be a suitable substitute.

“Very funny,” I said “but tell me who will be your next target?” I was met with an eerie silence. Raabert the Robot had vanished, leaving the world to the forests and to me…

(As imagined by Ajith Pillai)

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