Saturday, September 2, 2006

Reap what you sow
Khushwant Singh

Khushwant SinghPrem Kumar, son of my Dahi Bhalla friend late Kishen Lall, founder-proprietor of Hotel Rajdoot, is a very fat man. And like most fat people, very jovial. He breezed in one evening carrying a bouquet and as usual sat down on the floor: my antique chairs are too fragile to bear his weight and not big enough to accommodate his massive buttocks. He began to sing lines of a well-known qawwaliwalla:

Jaissee karnee, vaisee bharnee

Na maaney to kar kay deykh

Jannat bhee hai, aur dozakh bhee

Na maaney to mar key dekh.

(As you do so will your reward be

Try it out if you don’t agree;

There is heaven and there is also hell

If you don’t believe me

Try out death, and you will see.)

There was good reason for Prem Kumar’s jubilation. Some months ago his hotel was raided by the police. Twelve girls who danced in its El Dorado ballroom were arrested for being scantily dressed and making lewd gestures. The restaurant was closed down; the girls and the other staff employed there were deprived of their livelihood. A few weeks later, the police officer who organised the whole tamasha was charged with corruption and suspended from his job. It was found that the fellow had been doing such things before, including deliberately botching up cases of murder against men who had bribed him.

Maxwell Periera, once a Senior Police Officer, wrote about him. And how officers like him confirmed the general opinion that the police was the most corrupt in our country. Prem Kumar had good reason to gloat over the downfall of the man who had done him so much harm. His belief in jaisee karnee vaisee bharnee had been vindicated.

It is good to believe that one pays for one’s sins either in one’s lifetime or after death. But it is only true for those who have a conscience to keep on the straight and narrow path of rectitude. Unfortunately, people who stray from this path and indulge in corruption, falsehood and crime do not have a conscience and do not suffer from pangs of guilt or ill-health. They manage to put aside all scruples, enjoy good health, live long and enjoy the good things of life. No one knows whether or not they pay for their sins after death. Heaven and hell are not creations of God, if there is heaven and hell, they are creations of human imagination to keep people frightened of the consequences of evil-doings. It does not always work.

Abdullahs of Kashmir

I have known them down three generations: Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah (Sher-e-Kashmir) and his wife, a Nedou, described as Mader-e-millat (mother of the people), their son Farooq and his sister Suraiya, Farooq’s son Omar and now Suraiya’s daughter Nyla Ali Khan settled in the United States. They have three things in common: good looks, gift of the gab and Kashmiriyat free from religious prejudices. I got to know them better as Suraiya and her mother asked me to help with the English translation of Sheikh Sahib’s autobiography Aatish-e-Chinar (Chinars on fire). At a function held later in Srinagar I quoted an Urdu couplet which I thought summed up the dilemma of Kashmiri Muslims:

Farishtay bhee aayen to ijazat say aayen

Yeh mera vatan hai, koee jannat nahin hai.

(Even if angels wish to come, they must await my permission

This is my homeland not just some kind of paradise.)

This is how Muslims of the Valley view their future. It is not shared by the majority of inhabitants of Jammu who are Hindus nor by Ladakhis who are largely Buddhists or Kashmiri Pandits, many were forced out of the Valley, or the Sikhs who remain. Like it or not, the bitter truth is that Jammu and Kashmir was regarded as one unit under the Dogra rule, whereas in fact it was three divided along religious lines. As long as we remain blind to this ugly reality, we will not find a solution to the Kashmir problem.

The Abdullah family is divided into two: male descendants, Farooq and his son Omar went into politics, female descendants Suraiya and her daughter Nyla took the path to academics. Suraiya is a professor in a Srinagar college. Nyla got a doctorate in English Literature from the University of Oklahoma and is currently Assistant Professor of English at the University of Nebraska-Kearney. She has published her first book The Fiction of Nationality in an era of transnationalising (Routledge).

Nyla examines the writings of V.S. Naipaul, Salman Rushdie, Amitav Ghosh and Anita Desai, all four living abroad to explain the aberrant behaviour of emigres from the Indian subcontinent to explain why they support religious fundamentalist groups in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Having settled abroad, they develop an exaggerated sense of belonging, swallow fabricated history of their glorious pasts and despite having no intention of returning to the lands of their nativity give emotional and monetary support to subversive elements. She is objective and despite the academic jargon she uses, highly readable.

Bun samosa

There are small towns which get known for some item of food they specialise in. On way to Shimla, there is a tiny village Jabli which was known for its pedas. Everyone going up by road or rail, bought a few because Jabli was known for this delicacy. Farther on, their was a family known for its achaars, both of fruit (mango or lime) and vegetables like carrot, cauliflower and turnips. They added pork and chicken to their achaars. Jabli’s pedawalas have shut shop. The achaarwalas fight a losing battle with big firms, mass producing pickles. Kasauli specialises in gulabjamuns, the best I have tasted. They added rasmalai as delectable as any you can find anywhere. Till recently I was not aware they were produced by a family of halwais who are third-generation descendants of Sahus of Varanasi. They have added two more to their menus, one bun samosa stuffed with potatoes and chana and enclosed in a sliced bun. It is India’s answer to hot-dog or burger; belly-filling, starchy, stodgy like any American junk food. It costs only Rs 5. I made my dinner out of one but do not recommend it to old people. It is the speciality of Narinder Sahu halwai known to the locals as Tannu. He also makes a dessert known as bun gulabjamun. For good reasons, I decided not to try it out.

Carry on, Sardar
Baljit Malik urges his uncle

Man of many seasons of many moods, iconoclastic guru, raconteur, connoisseur of literature, author, editor, a reservoir of old poetry, street humour, a has-been advisor-teacher to long-winded, long-bearded politicians in Punjab’s landscape. A disciplined bohemian, politically naive, a maverick oscillating between Sanjay, Indira Gandhi, KPS Gill, and Advani, a no-nonsense man when it comes to an evening meeting, an evening drink. It is impossible to write an unadulterated eulogy of the man even as he sits savouring the monsoon in his hot-pants waiting for a signal from a woman to sit on his lap! Such, then is my uncle Khushwant, a much likeable, wanted man, on earth, heaven, hell, wherever his next port of call.