Saturday, November 27, 2004

Khushwant SinghTHIS ABOVE ALL
Of matters religious and erotic
Khushwant Singh

Faith should unite
November 20, 2004
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

Whenever young people toying with the idea of starting a publishing house come to consult me, I tell them "If you do not have government patronage to publish text-books for schools or colleges, your safest bets to start with are books on religion and sex. Begin with, the Bhagavadgita and stories from the Mahabharata and Ramayana. It will earn you respectability and since there is no copyright nor royalties to pay to anyone, the profits will come to you." There will always be buyers for religious texts. Though few read them, they like keeping them lying about their homes so that visitors think they are God-fearing, good people. The same is true of ancient texts on sex — Indian, Chinese, Japanese or Arabic. No copyright, no hassles with authors dead and gone over the centuries. They are pretty unreadable but since they have assumed the status of classics or shastras men will buy them to appear learned. They are without exception poor erotica and throw-away garbage. It is quite different with writings of recent times beginning with Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer, D.H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterly’s Lover. Both were banned for many years as pornographic. In the last 20 years erotica and pornography have lost their under-cover appeal: just about every other novel, has plenty of both. And if it is lucky enough to be banned by the government, it will become a bestseller.

From extensive reading of this genre of literature (if it can be so called), I have come to the conclusion that women are better at erotic writing than men. Quite a few of them were prostitutes with a flair of writing. They put together their day to day (that should read night by night) experience, which made compelling reading. Two stay in my mind: The Adventures of Fanny Hill and Suzie Wong a Hong Kong professional. Their main shortcomings were they were semi-literate women unable to handle the language with finesse. It is different with the latest on the literary scene: Call Girl: A true Account by Jeanette Angell (Unistar). Here we have a lady with a doctorate in social anthropology and professor at a university who decided on her own to become a part-time prostitute. A couple of assignments a week earn her more money than her month’s salary as a professor. And there were no emotional hassles of any kind. She proves that sex can be fun without love being any part of it.

Society has double standards in judging men and women who engage in sex for money. Men who pay for it go unscathed: women who receive it are condemned as harlots. I go along with Angell’s opinion printed on the jacket: "I am appalled, even now, at the ideas and misconceptions concerning prostitution and women’s participation in it. I am baffled by and angry at the common assertion that men who enjoy prostitution are normal but that the women who engage in the trade somehow are not." In short, here is nothing to choose between the whore and the whore-monger.

Call Girl is readable pornography. When you go to buy the book, be sure to take some brown paper to wrap it in. You won’t want to let your wife, children and friends see what you are so engrossed in reading.

Scholar extraordinaire

Bhai Kahn Singh
Bhai Kahn Singh

He never went to school or college; instead he sat at the feet of pandits, maulvis, ustads, lawyers and other men of learning and became a scholar of Sanskrit, Persian, Gurmukhi, law and musicology. His genius was recognised by Maharaja Hira Singh of Nabha whom he served for 32 years in different capacities — from private secretary, minister and judge of the High Court. He appeared as the State’s Counsel before the Privy Council in London and was the chief collaborator and mentor of Max Arthur Macauliffe, whom he helped to understand and translate hymns in the Guru Granth Sahib. The hymns were published under the title "The Sikh Religion in six volumes, by Oxford University Press in 1907. Macauliffe assigned the copy-right of his volumes to him. This extraordinary man was Bhai Sahib Bhai Kahn Singh of Nabha (1861-1938) whose 60th death anniversary falls on November 23.

Kahn Singh’s four volume Mahankosh Encyclopaedia of Sikhism was published in Gurmukhi in 1930. It took him 15 years to compile it and it remains the standard book of reference on all aspects of Sikh history and religion. Since then it was never translated into English, nor brought uptodate. This was the principal reason for Professor Harbans Singh to produce his four volumes: The Encyclopaedia of Sikhism (Punjabi University, Patiala) in English in 1998. He relied heavily on Kahn Singh’s work.

Another work of Kahn Singh which remains untranslated is Guru Martand on Sikh ritual (Maryada) in two volumes published in 1938. For good reasons the one book associated with his name is a slender volume entitled "Ham Hindu Nahi Hain — We are not Hindus, published in 1898. He took great pains to establish that Sikhs were not simply keshdhari Hindus but a community apart from the Hindus. It was a daunting task since the Sikh sacred scripture, the Adi Granth, is largely devoted to the praises of God mostly with Hindu names: Hari, Ram, Govind, Madhava, Murari, Prabhu, Bhagwan, Vitthal and others. The same is true of the Dasam Granth, compiled by the last Guru, Gobind Singh. In it, apart from invoking Lord Shiva to grant him the boon of courage, Day Shiva bar moi ehai there are praises of Chandi and Durga. What Sikh scholars of today are unwilling to accept is that while Sikh theology is basically Hindu, it evolved a parallel tradition of the militant Khalsa which is the only thing which gives it a seemingly separate identity. As long as the debate on whether or not Sikhs are Hindus goes on, the name of Bhai Sahib Bhai Kahn Singh of Nabha will remain in peoples’ minds.

Holy coke

Banta: "Why do you consume so many bottles of soft drinks?"

Santa: "Because I want to be an expert on Coke shastra."

* * *

Banti: How is your dhaba doing?

Santi: It’s not a dhaba, I am running a big fast-food joint.

Banti: How come you are into the fast food business suddenly?

Santi: I managed to get a ‘frenchie’ of "Mr Burger".

(Courtesy: Viney VedVyas, Chandigarh)


Free service

My friend and his brother gave their 92-year-old mother a cordless portable phone for her birthday. Soon thereafter they began to get an unusual number of casual long-distance calls from their ordinarily frugal mother. When they asked her about it, she replied, "Why not? It doesn’t cost a rupee. The phone’s not attached to anything."

(Contributed by Reeten Ganguly, Tezpur)