Saturday, April 19, 2003
T H I S  A B O V E  A L L


Lies in the guise of war reports
Khushwant Singh

THE first casualty in any war is the truth. While rival armies fight each other on land, sea and air, war reporters fight each other with false reporting in their despatches on radio and TV. Blatant falsehood is a part of the war game. During World War I (1914-18) an Urdu poet summed it up in one line: ĎKabza German ka, Fateh Sarkar kee hotee hai". (The Germans take the territory, our (British) government claims victory.)

It was much the same during World War II. While the Axis powers were over-running Europe, North Africa and Asia, Allied propaganda talked of stout resistance and casualties inflicted on the enemy. When the tide of the war turned against the fascists, it was their turn to claim victories while the Allied powers were knocking on the gates of Berlin and Americans were pulverising Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Near comical was the Pakistani propaganda during the 1971 war for the liberation of Bangladesh. The Pakistani radio kept up a barrage of imaginary victories over the Mukti Bahini and the Indian Army, Air Force and Navy. Nobody except gullible Pakistanis believed it. They were in for a nasty surprise when they got the news that Dhaka had fallen and 93,000 Pakistanis had laid down arms before the Indians.

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Birthday celebrations that leave a bad taste
March 29, 2003
Why deny ourselves sensual pleasures?
March 15, 2003
Gaumata and the beef-eaters
March 8, 2003
Adopt the country that adopts you
March 1, 2003
When minds donít meet
February 22, 2003
Love in times of war
February 15, 2003
Intriguing facts about elephants
February 8, 2003


Lying during war is becoming more difficult and counter-productive. There are too many war correspondents on different fronts. Lies can be easily checked and are often admitted by agencies that first spread them. In the Iraq war, Coalition powers were represented by a network of reporters in and around Iraq. They started off with stories of mass surrenders by Iraqi troops and the eagerness of the common people to finish off Saddam Husseinís tyrannical regime. There were no mass surrenders nor any signs of Iraqis rebelling against the regime. Not even the Shias who, we were told wanted to get rid of Saddam who is a Sunni, joined the invading troops. Coalition mediamen changed their tune and admitted setbacks. Their reporting gained credibility. Saddamís information minister and army spokesman took up lying on a massive scale. While American tanks and armour rolled on towards Baghdad and their aircraft pulverised buildings, he talked of the heavy losses they were inflicting on the Americans and the victories they had gained. After a few days nobody took a word they said seriously: It was all empty bravado to boost their morale. Propaganda aside, it was the common Iraqis who won respect and admiration of the world for the stout resistance they put up against impossible odds.

Irritation, anger, rage

All the three are different stages of the same phenomenon we call anger. It starts with irritation (chirchirapan ó khichh, khichh develops into anger (ghussa) and explodes into a rage (prakop). It is the second on the list of cardinal sins in Indian tradition: kaam (lust), krodh, (anger), lobh (greed), moh (attachment) and ahankar (arrogance). More than the other four, it is krodh (anger) which destroys relationships, put sons and daughters against their parents, cause animosity between siblings, breaks up marriages and life-long friendships, leads to quarrels and fisticuffs, raises oneís blood pressure and brings on heart strokes.

One thing common to these five cardinal sins is that they are curable. You donít have to consult a doctor or go to a chemist to get a pill to get the better of your libido, desire or exaggerated self-esteem. You are your best doctor and can treat yourself without drugs of any kind. All you need is to become aware of these failings, think about the harm they have done to you and resolve to get rid of them.

However, there may be biological reasons for short-temperedness. When a child throws tantrums, his parents try to discover what causes them. Some children are more likely than others to fly off their handles, get into fights with their siblings or schoolmates. This may be caused by some stomach or brain malfunctioning. Parents are advised to have them medically checked up and once they have been cleared, counsel them on how to control their temper and warn them of the price they have to pay for not doing so. Thereafter every adult owes it to himself or herself to undertake this exercise by themselves. Some problems may persist in later life. The lady I dedicated my second novel to would lose her temper with me without any provocation. I dropped her from my life. So did many of her other friends and admirers. Later we learnt she had a tumour in her brain which ultimately took her life. By then it was too late to make amends.

I have some more observations on the subject. Ill-temper usually goes with authority. In families it is the monopoly of the parents, mainly the father. In school and college it is teachers who vent their ire against students; in jobs bosses against their underlings. Judges can be short-tempered with lawyers appearing before them, lawyers have to suffer their rudeness and wait till they are elevated to the Bench before they can talk down to lawyers. Ministers of government can be brusque and tick off people working under them or anyone who crosses their path. Can you imagine Sahib Singh Verma, a lowly paid librarian of a school abusing the crew of a flight? At one time he could not have afforded air travel. But as minister he became arrogant and rude towards people who could not hit back. See the same Sahib Singh Verma bowing low as he namaskars the Prime Minister. I used to see Krishna Menon behave the same way. When Prime Minister Nehru came to London for a conference, Menon was all over him, carrying his overcoat and briefcase and sir-ing him. No sooner was he back in India House he was ticking off members of the staff, throwing files at them and shouting at them to get out.

I also worked with Krishna Menon and many others like him who tended to be more ill-tempered in the mornings than in the afternoons. It may have something to do with bad digestion or poor flow of gastric juices. Too much alcohol in the evening can also make one short-tempered. Perhaps some doctor could enlighten us.

I have no specific remedies for bad temper besides becoming aware of it and keeping oneís mouth shut till it has subsided. Silence is the most powerful antidote to krodha. Swallow it with your spittle, never put it in words.

Tearful cookery

Husband: Why are you crying?

Wife: This TV show I am watching is so realistic.

Husband: I agree many soaps are extremely touching, but you are seeing a cookery demonstration.

Wife: Yes, I am, but canít you see that the chef is cutting onions.

(Rajeshwari Singh, Delhi)

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