The West, particularly the US and the EU are so hard to please and so is India. Ask China and its leader Xi Jinping. Indians break a coconut on a stone, spilling its liquid on every auspicious occasion, from launching a ship to entering a new house. The US and the EU do not have coconuts; they do import, but these are not homegrown. So they break wine bottles against the ships and spray the bubbly on the guests on happy occasions. The meaning might have been lost in translation; after all, Chinese language is so different for these outliers, and they cannot understand how a word spoken through the left nostril will mean differently if it is spoken through the right one and yet both will be right if you are hard on the left in China. So the world misunderstood and reacted with horror when Xi Jinping was merely trying to project these rituals onto the Chinese screen. Speaking at the ceremony to mark 100 years of founding of the Chinese Communist Party, Xi had innocently said, “The Chinese people will never allow any foreign forces to bully, oppress or enslave us. Anyone who dares try to do that will have their heads bashed bloody against a Great Wall of steel forged by over 1.4 billion Chinese people.” Xi Jinping is well versed in Hindu mythology and knows that coconut represents the trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh, being depicted mainly through their heads only. So coconut is the same as head and breaking is the same as bashing and liquid is spilled in both cases. Xi is still consulting the Confucian scholars where he went wrong. One of them sent him a slip with a quote from Confucius: “If you make a mistake and do not correct it, this is called a mistake.” Who said life is simple!

When Xi was in School, one of his teachers, who was a fan of Oscar Wilde, was fond of repeating this line ascribing it to the great writer: “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery that mediocrity can pay to greatness.” In Xi’s childhood, even as Mao’s Red Guards screamed profanities at the US, everyone in China had one dream; someday China will be like America and the impotent Americans will scream profanities at China. Since becoming like the West was going to take some time, Deng Xiaoping, Mao’s successor, decided that meanwhile a semblance of similarity could be given. The Party assiduously created replicas of the Statue of Liberty, Eiffel Tower, the Tower Bridge of London, the Leaning Tower of Pisa and everything else that had mocked China from the pages of glitzy Western magazines. The Communists flattened almost all traditional buildings and erected high-rise apartments and office spaces. Meanwhile, the West was getting disenchanted with high-rise and the trend was current only in the oil states. As everybody made fun of China, an exasperated Xi asked his advisors where China had gone wrong. They were silent and only scribbled something on paper without writing any names, “We are late comers at the party.” “Did the US have a Communist Party before us?” asked Xi. Since he was not getting any help, he directed that in Beijing, a replica of the Great Wall of China be made. Beijing’s Zhongnanhai, the leafy zone where the top brass of the Party lives, already existed from Mao’s days with a forbidding wall around it that kept the Party brass inside safe from the barbarians around, as had the Great Wall done in Imperial days. All that was required was a bit of renaming. Zhongnanhai is now the new “Forbidden City” where lesser mortals cannot even hope to step in, while the Forbidden City of Imperial China is choc-a-bloc with tourists.

The Party efforts at making China “like America” were not limited to replicating buildings and monuments; everything that was made in the West was replicated in China; Nike, Rolex, Mont Blanc, cars, laptops, toys. At least that should have convinced the Westerners that China is trying to become like them. Yet, it made them even more angry. They accused China of violating IPR, the so-called Intellectual Property Rights. The ungrateful West forgets that China’s fakes allowed the poor in the West as well as in China to wear Nike and flaunt Prada. It also allowed the Chinese to mimic another of the Western preserves – the rat race. But the capitalist emperors are more prone than even the Imperial ones to say, “We are not amused.” An exasperated China invited Walt Disney to build the ultimate symbol of American extravagance – A Disneyland. But even here, the Chinese were paying more attention to shopping than to Mickey Mouse. As a last desperate measure, last week, the Party locked it down when it was full of people. Videos emerged of the Chinese now doing the American thing; squatting on pavements and eating from brown bags, and then sprawling to catch the proverbial forty winks. The Americans still scoffed; it is not a free expression of the American way; it is because of the Chinese lockdown. We in America do it of our own free will.

Now, one thing that has defined the American way of life is the half-eaten Apple. Whether it was the desktop, the laptop, the phone or the watch, Americans are ashamed of being seen with its rival android. Apple’s apps are scanty, pricey, and it frequently locks out its owner, much as the Chinese lock out the owners of apartments if they happen to be outside when the lockdown is declared. Anyway, Xi was advised that one fool-proof way of becoming “like America” was to make China the home of the Apple. Tim Cook was too happy to have China’s Union-free 996 (nine AM to nine PM, six days a week) workers at one-fifth of the American wage and for once it appeared that China is the real America and the latter the pretender. Then, the Truth, which has the nasty habit of appearing when it is most inconvenient, shone on the Great Wall. The city and its apple of the eye, the Apple factory, were locked down. No problem, said Tim Cook. We shall keep you safe in the closed loop and provide you three meals a day. The workers smirked, “Our eyes are now open after working in an American Factory and we need six meals a day.” Tim had not heard of this ever, though Americans spend most of the time they can spare at a McDonald or KFC, but neither of them serves a meal. These provide only kilocalories for the perpetually famished hordes. The workers clarified that the three additional meals are freedom of speech, peace of mind and a few hours away from surveillance cameras. Tim video-recorded this complicated demand on his iPhone and said he will seek approval from the factory’s Party Committee. That is when the workers grabbed their bags, scaled the fence and headed home at a brisk pace, determined even to walk all the way, much as the Indian workers in megacities had done at the beginning of the pandemic.

China’s American dream has died. Whether America’s China dream should also be allowed a peaceful death is still an open question

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