While the citizens of Assam are happy that Prime Minister V.P. Singh is visiting their state today, they have a small problem.
Mr. Guman Borooah, my friend from Assam, was telling me about it: "It is a great honour that the prime minister has selected our state for his first real visit outside Delhi, but we do not know to greet him."
"What do you mean you don't know to greet him!" I said. "You greet him exactly like you used to greet the former prime minister, Mr. Rajiv Gandhi, who used to visit you and all other states, except Punjab and Kashmir, so often."
"That is exactly the problem," my friend explained. "Mr. Gandhi, it was easy to greet. All we had to do was put one of our tribal hats on his head and he would pose for Doordarshan in it and join us in our folk-dance and everything would be fine."
"Why can't you do that with Mr. Singh?" I asked.
"Because he is already wearing his fancy fur cap. You can't remove one fancy cap and put on another, it is not done," my friend said. "Apart from everything else, it is not a very hospitable thing to do."
"Ah, you have a problem," I said.
"Yes," said my friend. "And it is also a great responsibility that has been thrust on us. We will be setting a precedent. Since we are the first state he is visiting, whatever we do about his fur cap, other states will be doing after us. I wish he had gone to Madhya Pradesh first."
"Or Rajasthan, where they would have had to decide whether to remove his fur cap and put a red pugree on his head," I said. "Why don't you let him wear his fancy cap and you wear your fancy caps. I think that should be all right."
"What are you saying!" said my friend. "That would be the ultimate unsult, Mr. Singh would think we are with the Congress-I still. No, we will have to think of some other way."
"The only other thing I can think of is that instead of Mr. Singh changing his cap, you change you caps. Instead of you traditional tribal headgear, all of you wear fur caps."
"How many karakual lambs we would have to slaughter to do that, have you that of that!" my friend said. "Mrs. Maneka Gandhi would not approve of that. Besides, it is too late to prepare so many fur caps now."
"There is one other way," I said. "You let him wear his fur cap, but you don't wear anything. You be absolutely normal, no folk-dances, nothing. Just a formal, though nevertheless warm, welcome."
"If there is no colourful greeting, like we used to have for Mr. Gandhi, Doordarshan will never cover it, my friend said.
"Aah!" I said. "Doordarshan will not be covering it in any case. Have you forgotten, it is autonomous now."