Saturday, July 21, 2001
T H I S  A B O V E  A L L

No escape from pain and sorrow

Khushwant Singh

ONCE a woman brought the body of her dead child to Gautam Buddha and asked him to put life back into it. Buddha replied that he would do so if the woman showed him one house in the town where no death had taken place. The woman went round from door to door without finding a single house where someone or the other had not died earlier. She got the Buddha’s message: death, and the sorrow that follows it, are universal phenomena from which there is no escape. The Buddha went on to say that the world is full of dukh (grief).

Many other sages take an equally gloomy view of life, as portrayed in this couplet in Punjabi:

Main jaaneya dukh mujh ko

Dukh sabhiyaya jug

Kotthey charh kay dekhiya

Ghar ghar iho agg

(I thought I was the only one afflicted with sorrow

That is not true I have learnt;

I climbed to my roof-top and saw

In every home fires of sorrow burnt)

A penny for Jagjit Chohan
July 14, 2001
The importance of bathing
July 7, 2001
An astral encounter
June 30, 2001
Footloose with Ghalib
June 23, 2001
Sangam of religions
June 16, 2001
What makes a man great?
June 9, 2001
Malgudi no more
May 26, 2001
Call of the papeeha
May 19, 2001
Exporting erotica to France
May 12, 2001
Celebrating old age
May 5, 2001
Guru-chela parampara
April 28, 2001
What the world owes to Jainism
April 21, 2001
Exercising the mind with books
April 14, 2001
The great Maharaja of Punjab
April 7, 2001
Storm in a chat show
March 31, 2001

A Christian classic on the subject is the Book of Job in the Old Testament. It is a strange story of a bet between God and Satan over the fate of Job whom God had given prosperity, sons and daughters and trusted to remain ever faithful to Him. Satan tried to subvert Job’s attachment to God by inflicting pain and sorrow on him. So he deprived Job of his wealth and children, one after another, and finally inflicted body sores on him. Job’s wife and friends pleaded with him to give up looking to God for help. He remained unshaken in his faith. Presumably God won the wager for whatever it was worth. Though beautifully told, I found the story unconvincing.

There is no denying that pain and sorrow are integral to life on earth. But so are freedom from pain and joy of living. It would not be an unfair assessment to say that in one’s younger years, life is more fun than in the later years when different kinds of ailments set in: senses of sight, smell, hearing, taste and touch are impaired. They lose their sharpness. Then comes impotence. It could be said that as far as nature is concerned, women fulfill the purpose for which they were created when they cease to be able to bear children. And men when they become impotent. They may continue to make their contribution to society but as far as nature is concerned, they live on borrowed time; and it gradually deprives them of the means of enjoying life. It forewarns them of their uselessness and prepares them for death.

How should human beings make their equation with these ups and downs in their lives? Buddha prescribed total detachment from life. Following him Tegh Bahadur, the ninth Sikh Guru, defined the ideal man as one who did not grieve when sorrows afflicted him, who was indifferent to joy, attachment and fear and regarded gold as dust:

Jo nar dukh mein dukh nahin maani

Sukh, sneh aur bhai nahin jakai

Kanchan maatee maanai

Detachment is a lofty ideal, which is difficult to achieve. It is also a negative concept inasmuch as it denies enjoying the good things of life while you can enjoy them. There are other antidotes to combat pain and suffering. I can suggest three. First is to look around and meet people who have more of both pain and grief than yourself. You will feel you have been let off comparatively lightly and thank powers that be for having been kinder to you. A useful therapy I recommend is when you are in low spirits, have a setback in life, been treated harshly by people, spend an hour at a cremation ground. There you will see real pain and grief: parents mourning the loss of their only child, young women grieving over the death of their husbands. Your own grief and pain will appear trivial by comparison and you will be purged of them. Another therapy is to go out of your way to share pain and grief of those who have been stricken. I advocate calling on friends and relations who are sick or old and lonely; I advocate calling on people who have lost their loved ones. It lessens their grief and you know they will stand by you when your turn comes. And finally, I advocate prayer. You do not have to believe in God to realise the efficacy of prayer. A prayer is essentially addressed to your inner self to give you courage to face adversity. Just close your eyes, go over what has hurt you and repeat to yourself "I will not let this get the better of me." Try it out: Vijayee bhava!

English as it is spoken

English is no longer one language spoken in the country of its origin, England. It has many different vocabularies and accents which are hard to recognise. Even in England you have Scottish-English, Irish-English, Yorkshire and Lancashire dialects, and cockney spoken in the east end of London. It was in America and Canada, colonised by the British, that the language met its nemesis. In Hong Kong and colonies of the Far East, it evolved into pidgin English which became the national language of Papua-New Guinea. In the Philippines, the national language Tagalog and Spanish of their one time rulers mixed with Yankee lingo to evolve its own brand of English called Taglish. Fillipino poet Gemino Abad said: "The English language is now ours. We have colonised it."

Singapore has Singlish. Seth Mydan, writing for The New York Times, gives some amusing examples of Singlish. "Wah, government say Singlish no good; must learn to speak propah English. It is bit the difficult. How can?"

And the following dialogue in a Singapore cafe:

Got coffee or not? Got!

You have milk is it, is it? Also have.

Join me don’t shy!

Mydan has little or nothing to say about English as it is spoken in Sri Lanka, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh where English remains the language of the bureaucracy, high courts and supreme courts. And yet is spoken and written with natural characteristics of their own manufacture. Some characteristics, a legacy left by their British rulers, they share in common e.g. out of station (not in town) and not in his seat (elsewhere), do the needful (do what is proper); others are hybrid products of regional languages’ copulation with English. They are more than Hinglish, Hindish or Indo-Anglian, there is Punjabi English, Bongish, Madrasi, Gujarati, Marathi and Bihari English. Most of it is in the way we pronounce English words: a school becomes sakool to a Punjabi, an iskool to Urdu-Hindi-speaking people in the rest of India. Some remnants of Raj days can be seen in our bazaars: a toy shop is usually called emporium, a haberdasher, a cloth house, a chemist remains a medical hall. Suitings for suit lengths is another anachronism.

Recently I came across yet another Indianism. My wife’s dog nurse was taken sick. Her husband rang me up late in the evening to inform me that she would not be reporting for duty the next morning. "Sir, she is getting too much latrine. I have to take her to hospital." I understood what he meant but I doubt if Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II would understand that the woman had a loose stomach and needed to repair to the loo very often. If we are finding it increasingly difficult to understand English spoken by her English subjects, they are finding it almost impossible to understand us when we speak their language.

Trust betrayed

On the day the United Trust of India announced a six-month freeze on the sale or repurchase of US-64, a wag scribbled the following verse on the notice board of its Delhi office:-

Humein poora bharosa tha

Tumhari dil nawazi par

Yeh hairat hai ki, Unit Trust,

Tum bhi bewafa nikle!

(We had full faith in you.

And your open heartedness.

It comes as an unpleasant surprise.

That Unit Trust is untrustworthy.)

(Contributed by G.C. Bhandari, Meerut)