118 years of Trust This above all
THE TRIBUNEsaturday plus
Saturday, December 26, 1998

Regional Vignettes



A befitting tribute to Israel

By Khushwant Singh

FIFTY years ago when Israel was recognised as a sovereign state, Indians who rejoiced over the event were immediately condemned for being anti-Muslims. When I, who prided myself for being very pro-Muslim, set up a society called The Indian Friends of Israel, I was denounced by some Muslim friends. "Anti-Muslim venom manifests itself in different ways. One of them is supporting Israel against its Arab neighbours," they said. This was absolute hogwash (orthodox Jews and Muslims will forgive me for using an expression offensive to both religions). However, I concede that many who agreed to become members of the society did not do so for any love for Israel but because they harboured some grudge against Muslims. I wound up the organisation. For four decades, our government followed an anti-Israel policy dictated by Arab nations.

Since we had accorded recognition to Israel and allowed them to open a consulate in Bombay, our government continued accepting dictates of the Arabs and the Israeli Consul was not allowed to visit Delhi. Our government persisted in this folly till Morarji Desai took over as Prime Minister. Then we opened full diplomatic relations with Israel. India has an embassy in Jerusalem; Israel has one in Delhi. Now our ministers attend receptions given by the Israeli Ambassador.

One instance of the changed Indo-Israeli relations was the celebrations of Israel’s 50th birthday in Delhi’s Inter-Continental Hotel (old Holiday Inn). An Israeli Jazz band, Dan Gottfried Quintet, represented its country. Ustad Zakir, the tabla maestro represented India. My friend Akram Fahmi, Chairman of Seagram and his lovely Chinese wife supplied the beverage.

The auditorium of the hotel was packed. What made the occasion memorable was the jugalbandi between Zakir and the Jazz band. I have heard Zakir perform with our top sitar, sarod and santoor players: he was always a delight to watch and to hear. He excelled himself in his musical dialogue with the Israelis: he was superb. A more befitting tribute to Israel on attaining half-a-century could not have been paid than by our young ustad, the greatest tabla player of all times.

Passion for dance

I have not met anyone quite like her: young, good looking and more animated than any woman I have known. Dancer, scholar of dance forms — Indian and western — and playwright. Her mother tongue is Telugu but she writes in English. Her dance-drama God has changed His name has been staged in different cities of India, Europe and the USA. It is the outcome of eight years of research in the institution of devadasis which earned her a doctorate and got her a lecturer’s job in Northwestern University near Chicago.

The first time she came to see me, she was a torrent of impassioned monologue about her play: "Devadasis are married to God; God is immortal; therefore, devadasis can never become widows. God has no libido, so they remain virgins, no matter how many men they sleep with or how many children they have through them. People call them temple prostitutes: they are and they are not. They dance for temple deities and serve their priests. But for them Bharatnatyam and other styles of South Indian dances would have been lost." And so on. She jumped up from her chair, stood facing me, turned round to examine herself in the wall mirror, sat down on another chair, stood up again, turned about and took the seat from where she started. I was like one watching a tennis match turning my face from one side to the other, following the flight of a tennis ball. What restless energy the girl had! I was enchanted. She paused and asked me if I wanted to know any more about her. I replied I did but she had not given me a chance to ask her any questions. She laughed and said, "Okay, I agree I did not. Next time we meet you can ask about all you want to know about me." A date was fixed.

This time it was different Avanthi was subdued and cautious in her answers. She is the grand-daughter of T. Prakasam, the Andhra leader. She was born in Madras; but would not give me her date of birth. Her father, Murali Krishna, was an engineer with a firm manufacturing motor cycles. Her mother, Shyamala, was a dancer and is now a housewife looking after her husband and home in Bangalore. She did her schooling in Holy Angels Convent and took her degree from Madras University. She started dancing at the age of three — and has been dancing ever since. It was after she went abroad, she realised that there was nothing static about classical forms of Indian dances and they were undergoing subtle changes after exposure to western ballet and modern rock-n-roll. It became the thesis of her doctorate. She has amassed several awards as a dancer and playwright.

How did you come by the name Avanthi? I haven’t known anyone else with that name? I asked her.

"When I was born, my father happened to be in Italy. He was much taken by the road sign Avanti and wrote to grandfather that it would be a nice name for his daughter. My grandfather added the letter ‘h’ after the ‘t’ to make it sound authentically South Indian, Avanthi."

"Didn’t your parents arrange a marriage for you?"

She hesitated before she replied: "I was married for two years. I realised I could not continue my career as a dancer with my obligations as a wife. So I called it off. Domesticity and motherhood don’t go with creativity."

"You are an uncommonly attractive woman. You must be much sought after as a companion?"

"A creative person needs his or her own space to find full expression. Marriage does not provide for that kind of space."

Avanthi means to return to India next year for good. She has not decided whether she will live in Bangalore or Delhi. I hope she opts for Delhi.

The perfect robot

Indian puppetry compares well with the best

Available in countries of the west.

In robotics though

India appeared to be rather slow,

Until a mere Indian Laloo,

Using purely Indian knowhow

Could create

A robot that can walk, cook and mate,

Can even talk, though in private;

And amazing still,

Can even run a state!

The west may take a century to catch up

To create something to match up.

But, what a tragic tale;

The Indian inventor was sent to jail.

(Contributed by J.C. Mehta, Delhi)

Add to vocabulary

Banta took a crash course in English. After a few days, he told his friend, "Santa, I have mastered the English language. I can say idhar aao in English and the fellow will come to me."

"That’s good," replied Santa, "but can you also say udhar jao in English?"

Banta paused for a while and replied, "In that case I will go over there and say ‘come here’."

Contributed by Shivtar Singh Dalla, Ludhiana)

Note: This feature was published on November 19, 1998.back

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