Saturday, September 1, 2001
T H I S  A B O V E  A L L

Controlling the urge to backchat

FOR many years when I was young and believed in resolutions to improve myself, my New Year’s resolve used to be to not run people down behind their backs. I was in the habit of doing so and hated myself afterwards. Whatever I said somehow got known to the person I had maligned. When confronted by him or her, I had to deny what I had said and had reason to feel low in my self-estimation. I was able to check myself from talking about others behind their backs for a few days. I resumed the bad habit but somehow it got lesser and lesser on its own. I came to realise the truth of Guru Nanak’s admonition:

Nanak, phika boleeai

Tan man phikka hoi

(Nanak, if you speak ill of people

Your body and mind will fall sick.)

A tale of modern India
August 25, 2001
Reflections on the brother-sister bond
August 18, 2001
A dacoit or a dasyu sundari?
August 11, 2001
A case for moderate drinking
August 4, 2001
A dangerous twist to a harmless practice
July 28, 2001
No escape from pain and sorrow
July 21, 2001
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

The Guru’s words can also be interpreted to apply to saying nasty things to people on their faces. Many people make it a point to say hurtful things to others and justify themselves by saying that they are merely speaking their minds. When in return they get more than they gave, a slanging match results in which both participants get hurt while others enjoy the spectacle.

Another of my annual resolution was that no matter how grave the provocation I would not lose my temper. My father had a short temper; his father was even more ill-tempered. My father never used bad language but being overworked, he was impatient and inclined to snap at everyone. We were terrified of him and kept out of his way as much as we could. In later years of his life, he mellowed a great deal and I looked forward to joining him in the evenings for a sundowner. However, I could never get over my allergy towards people with short tempers. Incidents of people snubbing me still rankle in my mind. I have no forgiveness for them. I write off people who lose their temper with me forever and no amount of their trying to make amends makes any difference in my attitude towards them.

According to our ancient scriptures, Hindu and Sikh, krodh (anger) is as serious a short-coming as kama (lust), lobh (greed), moh (self-love) and ahankaar (arrogance). They exhort us to overcome them in order to achieve moksha (salvation). They do not tell us how we go about getting the better of them. As far as anger is concerned, people have their own formulae: "When roused to anger, count ten before answering" or "swallow the insult and keep your mouth shut". There is no doubt that a person who loses his cool, loses the argument. Another school of thought is that it is better to let off steam and get over with it because if you contain your anger, your blood-pressure will rise and you may get peptic ulcers. I have evolved my own formula to get anger out of my system. I say nothing to the person who has insulted or snubbed me but when I narrate the incident to my friends later, I let loose a torrent of the choices abuse in Punjabi and Hindustani — Ihave a large repertoire of filthy words in four languages — and purge myself of anger. I even feel exhilarated at having scored over my traducer by saying nothing to him or her and cleansing my system by letting out the accumulated venom in front of third parties who thoroughly enjoy my outburst.

Monsoon fevers

With the onset of the summer monsoon came mosquitoes and dengue flies ushering in malaria and dengue fever. Since drinking water also gets polluted there is an epidemic of cholera, intestinal disorders and unnamed water-borne diseases. Sore throats, colds and coughs afflict those prone to them. Doctors and chemists make more money than they do at any other time of the year. Every third person you know is down with something or the other. Some ailments are easy to diagnose. Malaria starts with fits of shivering followed by high fever and sweating. Dengue fever is accompanied by aches and pains, cholera with vomiting and loose motions. There are also subtle variations of these illnesses which are harder to diagnose. You are put through various tests: blood, sputum, urine etc. When nothing yields a positive clue, doctors wisely shake their heads and pronounce "viral fever" — whatever that means. In old times we used to call it miyadi bukhaar (which would run its course for a week or ten days with or without medication). Now they call it viral and prescribe antibiotics which make you feel worse without shortening the miyaad (period) by even a day.

People who believe in self-medication for monsoon ailments, dispense with doctors and chemists. In my younger days I knew young men who believed in sweating out mild fevers with vigorous exercise. In some cases it worked, in others the illness became worse. There were others who believed the best cure was to starve yourself, on the presumption that colds and fevers flourished on the food you ate. Harivansh Rai Bachchan in his autobiography In the Afternoon of Time (Penguin) has this to say on the subject:

"I was never one to make a fuss over being unwell; in fact, I was always quite firm with illnesses. I read in one of Gandhiji’s essays that to be ill is blameworthy; and if we cannot look after the body we have been given, then we are indeed at fault. I took this argument one stage further and felt that illness deserved punishment. Whenever I had any minor ailment such as a cold, a cough, or a headache, I would make myself work all the harder; people who worked for a living had no right to fall ill; illness was the wicked indulgence of the wealthy, and the poor should keep out of its clutches. I remember going out to my evening tuitions with a raging fever, when the heat within me would make me teach with even greater zeal; when I was writing, I would find a high fever a catalyst and an inspiration (Kipling too said that he wrote good stories when feverish), while a minor temperature would have no effect on the normal way I did things. If someone touched me and said Ihad a fever, I would reply: "Yes, I have a fever, and I have me too!"

Guns for Musharraf

"General Musharraf, General Musharraf what have you done?"

"I have made myself President as I am the son of a gun."

"But General Musharraf, General Musharraf we’ll have to give you a 21-gun salute!"

"Ya Allah! I became President because my Begum says, ‘the boom of guns will sound very cute.’"

(Courtesy: R.E. Canteenwala, Lucknow)

Brain trouble

Ninety-year-old Banta’s grandfather went into a coma and was taken to a government hospital. All Banta’s relations and friends thronged the hospital corridors and pestered the head surgeon with questions. The doctor lost his temper and shouted at them: "You are a brainless lot. Take your old man to another hospital for treatment."

Banta was very put out and took his bapu to a private hospital where he died. The family decided to give him a grand funeral led by a band and parties of singers. Someone accosted Banta and asked him why they were celebrating his bapu’s death instead of mourning it. Replied Banta: "that fool of a government doctor called all of us brainless. Bapu proved him wrong. He died of a brain tumour."

(Contributed by Madan Gupta, Spatu, Chandigarh)