Saturday, December 25, 2004


Khushwant SinghTHIS ABOVE ALL
Tomorrow yet to come
Khushwant Singh

EARLIER COLUMNS
The truth about lies
December 18, 2004
From Aryana to Afghanistan
December 11, 2004
Goings-on in the name of god
December 4, 2004
Of matters religious and erotic
November 27, 2004
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

I had the privilege of having Zohra Sehgal and her Pakistani sister Uzra Butt over for dinner. Zohra is two years older than me; Uzra two years my junior. Both sisters are fitter than I am both in mind and body. Zohra (92) has a phenomenal memory. She can recite reams of Urdu poetry by the hour without looking at a scrap of paper: I learnt Uzra (88) does much the same in Lahore. The two sisters conceived, concocted and enacted a dialogue between them Ek Tthee Nani (once there was a maternal grandmother) which draws packed houses in India and Pakistan. What is the secret of their physical and mental fitness? From Zohra I gathered she eats very little and lives largely on soups and broths.

Uzra Butt and Zohra Sehgal in Ek Tthee Nani Too sophisticated to be a hit
Sisterly act: Uzra Butt and Zohra Sehgal in Ek Tthee Nani A still from Kaya Taran: Too sophisticated to be a hit

She spends an hour every morning on the roof strolling about and refreshing her memory of Urdu poetry. She has cut down her social life to the minimum and refuses to give interviews either on the phone or in person unless it is paid for. I chided her when she came to wish me on my 90th birthday. I said, "Zohra, I hear you charge a fee for talking to anyone. Is that true? "She beamed a smile and put out an open palm of her hand "Haan ó yes, lao fees do, pay me at once."

From Uzra I picked up another clue to longevity. The sisters had been with Prithvi Theatres and then with Uday Shankerís dance troupe doing Bharatanatyam. I asked Uzra whether she was still dancing. "There are not many takers for Bharatanatyam in Pakistan. But this time in India I have been learning Odissi ó it is less mechanical and more sensuous. I find it more fulfilling." I was amazed: to learn a new form of dancing at the age of 88 is truly defying the passage of years. Moral: If you want to prolong your life, look forward to doing something in the tomorrows to come.

Two nightmares

Two happenings no Indian would like to recur were the one following the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and the other following the attack on the
Sabarmati Express at Godhra railway station. In both cases, for crimes committed by a handful of criminals the entire communities they belonged to were punished in the most diabolical ways. What made these pogroms sinister was that the administration took no steps to prevent them and was even suspect for having connived at them.

If the first had been put down with an iron hand, the second might not have occurred. Since those responsible for the first remain unpunished, those guilty of the second may also go scot-free as well. Both were reminiscent of Nadir Shahís order for a general massacre of the cityís population to teach it a lesson for the murders of a few of his soldiers. The main differences were that while Nadir Shah was a foreign marauder, our two pogroms were carried out by our own countrymen. Nadirís general massacre took place in the 18th century; ours two took place in the 20th and 21st centuries in independent India.

I never wanted to relive October 31, and November 1, 1984. I had to when I sat through Sashi Kumarís Kaya Taran meaning chrysalis or pupa of a moth or a butterfly. It is based on a short story in Malayalam by N.S. Madhavan entitled when big trees fall ó words borrowed from Rajiv Gandhiís explanation of the wide spread anti-Sikh violence of November, 1984. His story is based on a true incident in Meerut when a Sikh woman and her seven-year old son, running to escape a gang of murderers, were rescued and given shelter by nuns of a Convent. Sashi Kumar expanded his theme and linked the killings of Sikhs in northern India with the killings of Muslims in 2002 in Narendra Modiís Gujarat.

Among the stars are Seema Biswas who acted Phoolan Devi in Bandit Queen and cricketer Bishen Bediís son, Angad. It is a highly emotional film with the moral "Never allow such things to happen again in our country." Though the dialogue is in Hindi, it is far too sophisticated to make a box office hit; no songs, no dances but a tear-jerker.

Bedtime story

Santa always pronounced J for Y or U. Dialect-wise he substituted B for V. He would utter, "I am still Jung man of 70. I served in Junion Bank of India for 40 years. One day he invited Banta, "You are most heartily invited on our Bedding Anniversary." All the visualisation of Banta ended in smoke when he reached his home.

Courtesy: Madan Gupta ĎSapatuí, Chandigarh

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