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How the Cheetah Changed its Spots

Once upon a time, there was a king. He was noble and wise, and brilliant and handsome. After solving intractable political problems during the day, he would attack the hardest undeciphered math problems known to humanity every night. And without a pen and paper!

Sometimes, to clear his mind after a grueling day of hugging foreign dignitaries, the king swam with crocodiles. As he slowly did the breast stroke from end to end of the pond, his turban-crested head perfectly still above the surface, the reptiles cleared a path for him out of respect. On a few occasions, they shed tears together for BJP leaders long gone from leadership, Sinha and Gadkari, Advani and Rajnath. With his deputy, a gentle rotund man incapable of hurting a fly, he ruled firmly and kindly, bringing peace to a restive land, enabling followers of all faiths to flourish. A man of great simplicity, he reluctantly wore a few opulent outfits from distant lands like that his devotees had thrust upon him.

Embarrassed by attention—so much so that he practically begged his ardent admirers from acting troupes and gladiatorial sports teams not to wish him on his birthday—-he reluctantly accepted that nature had put him on top of the food chain. Agile, lithe, astute, nimble, he floated above mere mortals, whether in his flying chariot as it moved from land to land whose leaders awaited him eagerly to grace their presence, or from billboards, at train stations, and public toilet walls plastered all across the country.

Reluctantly, the king used his battalions to bring rogues, male and female, in line across the nation, from the slothful Eastern province of Bengal to the rich Western city of traders on the Arabian Sea, long held by local satraps. These private armies went by mysterious acronyms, such as ED and CBI, or had specialized names, like Republic TV, Aaj Tak, and FirstPost. Thanks to the efforts of the king's private militias, stubborn local rulers who did not submit to the king’s sovereignty were thrust into dungeons, left to mull about the folly of their ways.

All the gods of old— Dharmendra, Jeetendra, Asrani, Advani— finally had to admit there was a new sheriff in town.

The king’s rule ushered in a time of great intellectual, scientific, and spiritual achievement in the land. During this era, Chetan Bhagat captured the restless spirit of an age with his unique, turbulent grammar. Vivek Agnigotri produced cinematic masterpiece after masterpiece with the king’s blessings. Performance artist Arnab Goswami bravely screamed unpalatable truths at the populace each day. Traders managed to make money out of sand and soil.

Sages like Ramdev, Sadhguru, and Sri Sri Ravi Shankar shared their remarkable knowledge with the ignorant masses, sometimes for a small fee, discoursing about the powers of cow urine, the ability to bend time through chanting mantras, and the necessity of blind devotion to kings and their priests. Courtier Kangana Ranaut uncovered deep dark truths about both Indian history and Bollywood. Madhu Kishwar regaled India with her childlike wonder at Photoshop.

Among his many unreal and surreal accomplishments, such as changing the color of all the currency of the nation, gifting lands to the ancient kingdom of China, and sending an uran khatola to annihilate a crow in Pakistan, it is the remarkable story of the cheetahs that the king will be most remembered for.

On the occasion of his 70th birthday, the king of Africa decided to gift our king four cheetahs, proud, swift animals that had once roamed his own lands.

“I am Lion of Gir,” he said, as befitted a ruler, facing the animals that had been brought to meet him in his palace.

Meow, purred the still jet-lagged cheetahs, for evolution had robbed the big cats of their roar and they were a bit bewildered at being relocated out of the blue. The cheetahs were a bit worried too. The King’s Janissaries, known as bhakts, were demanding on Twitter that the big cats should turn vegetarian. How can we change our nature, they said? We are carnivores.

The king rolled up his gold-laced pajamas above his knee, like the fair fishermaidens of the restive provinces of Maharashtra, and burst into laughter. He clapped his hands, and in entered his favorite ambassador, Sri Sri Jaishankar, focused, grim of visage, face crested with the fierce determination of a mongoose warding off a cobra.

The room darkened and Jaishankar began sharing a PowerPoint presentation. There was no text on any of the slides, just image after image of countless Indians: industrialists, celebrities, self-professed intellectuals, CEOs, media personalities, athletes, neighborhood uncles and aunties, authors, founders of literary festivals, journalists, politicians, dancers, people from all walks of life.

The cheetahs watched in puzzlement. After the presentation, the king paused for effect before he spoke.

Beta, he said, these were all prominent, liberal secularists before 2014. And now, each one is a dyed-in-the-wool bhakt and hard-core Hindutva type. If they can change completely at warp speed, you can easily turn vegetarian.

Since that day, the legend goes, the cheetahs have never touched meat. Indeed, on some evenings, lucky visitors to Kuno can spot the animals eating cheese sandwiches or nibbling on dhokla. And, though still unconfirmed, rumors say that the crocodiles of the land too now subsist entirely on dal chawaal.

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