Saturday, November 20, 2004

Khushwant SinghTHIS ABOVE ALL
Faith should unite
Khushwant Singh

Fine art of party hopping
November 6, 2004
Kiss and kismet
October 30, 2004
Food fads and filmi gods
October 23, 2004
Yesterday once more
October 16, 2004
Bose smart, Nehru smarter
October 9, 2004
Exploding myths
October 2, 2004
Candid confessions
September 19, 2004
Return to the hills for verse
September 18, 2004
The power of doubt
September 4, 2004
Trouble with the truth
August 28, 2004
What makes a perfect evening
August 21, 2004
Kasi yatra
August 14, 2004
Eat, drink and be merry
July 24, 2004

On November 12 was Divali. A few days later came Id-ul-Fitr. And on November 26 will be Guru Nanak’s birth anniversary. Ideally all the three communities — Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs — should be sharing these joyous occasions: Muslims lighting oil lamps in their homes and joining their Hindu and Sikh friends lighting sparklers, letting off crackers and tucking in mithai. On Id-ul-Fitr, Hindus and Sikhs greet their Muslim brethren after namaaz, embrace them twice and say Eid mubarak. And on Guru Nanak’s birthday, all communities partake in Guru-ka-langar and say Gurpurab dee vaddhaaee hovey (greetings on the Guru’s birthday). It was for good reason he is remembered as Nanak Shah Faqir — Hindu ka Guru, Mussalman ka peer — Nanak the King of holy men; Guru of the Hindus, mentor of the Muslims.

Far from this idealistic state became a reality, we became apprehensive when religious holidays of different communities coincide or are close to each other. Our prayers betray our fears: "I hope they will pass off peacefully and there is no danga-fasaad." I am convinced that if there are enough people who share my sentiments we could turn things round and make religious festivals events to emphasise Bapu Gandhi’s vision of Sarva Dharma Sambhava (equal respect for all religions).

All said and done, the three festivals I have referred to emphasise different ways of achieving the same goal i.e. of inculcating humanity in human beings. Divali is the festival of lights, symbolising the end of darkness of ignorance; the month of fasting during Ramadan is designed to purge evil thoughts from our minds and celebrate its culmination on Id-ul-Fitr by giving zakaat (charity). The festival is also known as Id-ul-Saghir, the minor feast, as well as feast for alms-giving to the deprived. Guru Nanak stressed the need to translate truthfulness into a way of life:

Sachon ore sabh ko (Truth above all)

Oopar sachh aachar (Above truth, truthful conduct).

One does not have to display one’s religiosity by renouncing the world, wearing saffron garments or turning into a sadhu. No need to call off the work one is doing and yet become a better human being.

Religion lieth not in the patched coat the Yogi wears

Not in the staff he bears

Nor in the ashes on his body.

Religion lieth not in rings in the ears,

Not in a shaven head,

Nor in the blowing of conch shells.

If thou must the path of true religion see,

Among the world’s impurities, be of

Impurities free.

Of all the impurities we collect in our dealings with peoples of other faith, the worst are prejudice and ill-will against them. Joint celebrations of religious festivals will go a long way in getting rid of them.


All-night vigil

A few days before Dasehra, a shamiana was put up alongside one of the walls of my garden. I assumed some wedding was in the offing because at times crackers exploded. But there were no coloured lights or sounds of brass bands. I was intrigued. One night while I got up at 3 am to go to the loo, I heard what sounded like bhajans being sung by a couple of very tired, sleepy voices. I peered over the wall. The audience consisted of about 10 people, half of them sprawled on the ground fast asleep. However, the loudspeaker was turned on full blast to disturb the sleep of the entire mohalla.

With some irritation, I recall this happening in Kasauli when the peace and quiet of starlit valleys was shattered by some remote village broadcasting badly sung bhajans over loud- speakers. Do all-night jagrans have any sanction in our sacred texts, the Vedas, Upanishads, epics like the Ramayana and Mahabharata? When and why did this ritual gain popularity? I consulted some of my learned Hindu friends; all of them assure me there is no reference to them in the sacred texts nor any mention of them in either of the two epics. I also looked up Benjamin Walker’s two-volume dictionary Hindu World. Neither jagran nor jagrata are mentioned

My own conjecture is that the practice of singing bhajans as means of approaching the divinity and bonding communities came with the Bhakti movement around the 16th century. I have no idea when all-night singing of bhajans came into vogue. I will be grateful if any of my readers could enlighten me on the subject.

However, loudspeakers were not heard of till late in the last century and have been more abused to create noise than used for legitimate purposes. We have been hearing about laws forbidding their use after 10 pm. No one, including the police, dares stop people who consider disturbing their neighbourhood, their birthright. Most of them are illiterate or semi-literate but that does not lessen their religious zeal. I think they indulge in it to spite the better educated and better off. Meanwhile, I have also come to the conclusion that there’s something to be said in the favour of my growing deafness.


Free parking

A blonde walks into a bank in New York City and asks for the loan officer. She says she’s going to Europe on business for two weeks and needs to borrow $5,000. The bank officer says the bank will need some kind of security for the loan, so the blonde hands over the keys of a new Rolls Royce. The car is parked on the street in front of the bank, she has the title and everything checked out. The bank agrees to accept the car as collateral for the loan. The bank’s president and its officers all enjoy a good laugh at the blonde for using a $ 250,000 Rolls as collateral against a $ 5,000 loan. An employee of the bank then proceeds to drive the Rolls into the bank’s underground garage and parks it there.

Two weeks later, the blonde returns, repays the $ 5,000 and the interest, which comes to $ 15.41. The loan officer says: "Miss, we are very happy to have had your business, and this transaction has worked out very nicely, but we are a little puzzled. While you were away, we checked you out and found that you are a multimillionaire. What puzzles us is, why would you bother to borrow $ 5,000?"

The blonde replies: "Where else in New York can I park my car for two weeks for only $ 15.41 and expect it to be there when I return?"

(Contributed by Vipin Buckshey, N. Delhi)