|E D I T O R I A L
P A G E
Sunday, November 1, 1998
Hankering for the good, old times
THE prices of daily necessities have found some way to circumvent the law of gravity. Romesh Sharmas alleged sins have become a staple feature on the front page as politicians rush to distance themselves from him. Given all this and every Indian can add his pet items to that list is it any surprise that so many senior citizens are sighing for the good, old days?
Even the British Raj was better! is a familiar lament from many of those old enough to remember it. Cant we get them to come back?
Well, I have news for all of them. Even Britain, once a bastion of civility and simple human decency, is falling to the forces of yobbism. The fabled stiff upper-lip seems to have melted like ice in a Delhi summer and even the pillars of the establishment are not immune.
The British royal family, having had a brief holiday from the headlines, is back doing what it does best making news for the wrong reasons. The latest rumpus is over a muckraking book which claims the late Diana, Princess of Wales, committed adultery long before her husband broke the marriage vows. (Considering her position in the British pantheon, this is tantamount to heresy over there!)
The publication of this scurrilous work led to a public statement that neither the Prince of Wales nor his mistress were responsible for the appearance of such a story. They werent denying the accuracy of such a tale, merely saying that they hadnt leaked it.
This could be dismissed as the usual tabloid fodder, not a symptom of a graver disease if it werent for the fact that other members of the establishment are also wobbling. Britains elected rulers find it just as easy to mire themselves in scandals as that nations hereditary princes.
Ron Davies, Secretary of State for Wales in the Blair administration, has quit for murky reasons. By his own admission he was wandering out in a bad side of town when he was robbed of his car. The unstated implication is that Davies is a homosexual. And you can safely say that the uncomfortable questions wont stop with his resignation.
By the way, when I spoke of an unstated implication, I should clarify that it is just the politicians who are content to hint without saying anything openly. As you may have seen, even the hitherto prim and proper BBC was speaking quite openly of sexual misconduct.
But that is quite in keeping with the BBCs new image. It is taking its cue from the once-despised tabloid press. On the sound principle that If you cant beat them, join them!, the BBCs latest production, tentatively titled The Full Monica, is on the sordid Clinton-Lewinsky affair. (Film buffs will undoubtedly catch the reference to The Full Monty, a recent cult film on strippers.)
For the record, I should point out that the unexpurgated text of the Ken Starr report on the affair is seen as nothing better than pavement trash in Delhi. (No decent bookstore wants to keep such a thing but you can pick it up easily enough from the streetside merchants.) But in England, The Times, taking its cue from the BBC, has chosen to print the best bits all over again.
It can be claimed, of course, that none of this gossip affect the ordinary Briton. But I also read some news that should worry the fabled man on the street. There are more violent crimes on average in Britain than in the United States. And in the place that invented railways, efficiency is so low that Indian Railways beats its British counterpart in almost every sector!
India may have more than
its fair share of faults (and sheer bad luck) but it must
be admitted that standards have fallen everywhere. And
having seen Britain, warts and all, I think we are better
off as an independent republic.
Sending ripples in Pak society
EIGHT years have elapsed since Tehmina Durrani published her first book, My Feudal Lord, sending ripples in Pakistans male-dominated and women-baiting society. Like thousands of Pakistani women who have silently and perpetually suffered pain and dishonour, Tehmina too had undergone traumatic experience of a feudal society, motivated by dogmas of religious fundamentalism. Thirteen years of married life with a politically powerful man, 22 years older to her, bearing four children and indignities heaped on her, had turned the young woman into a rebel. Her divorced husband, Malik Ghulam Mustafa Khar, a Chief Minister and later Governor of Punjab, imprisoned by the military dictator Zia, was in her own words a tyrant, debauch and womaniser.
Tehminas latest book Blasphemy has just hit the stands in Pakistan and may soon be available in India. Eyebrows are being raised at the book as, it is feared, that the well-researched and well-documented novel, has the potential to turn her into another Tasleema Nasreen or may push her into a Salman Rushdie-like situation. The work reportedly exposes the moral degradation of the clergies Muslims, Maulvis and Pirs whom she portrays as those following two hues of Islam; one for haves and another for the have nots. One Islam is disseminated by the rich and the powerful with the objective of furthering their domination and the other is the real one, the spiritual Islam, as expounded in the Quran.
The novel, perhaps, reflects her own exploitation at the young age by her feudal lord and his other former wives who were subjected to male monstrosity. She dedicated the first book to six ex-wives of Mustafa Khar who have silently suffered pain and dishonour, and seen him get away with impunity. This time one of them is holding him accountable.
The plot of Blasphemy revolves round a 15-year-old girl who is forced into marriage to a much older Pir and her subsequent trauma as she undergoes torture and sexual perversion. The holy man has already killed his two previous wives of tender age by sexual excesses. Tehmina is, perhaps, questioning the practice of Islam in Pakistan in her own way as she has herself seen and experienced. The exposure of clerics rips open their moral and spiritual facade and their claim of superiority over the people in general.
The clerics have yet to react to the book but the work has been fast emerging as a big hit in Pakistan within barely three weeks of its publication. Reports say that the book is in the fourth print and the most sought after in bookshops and sold in grocery shops and petrol pumps. Its Urdu translation is also on the way. Could it be that women in Nawaz Sharifs 100 per cent Islamic Pakistan have been breaking through their oppressive silence. No longer are they prepared to accept the virtuous role thrust upon them by society. Time has come when they must speak out and Blasphemy is a living example.
An Afghan Pathan by descent, Tehmina is the grand-daughter of Sir Sikankar Hyat. Her father, Wasim Duranni, was Managing Director of Pakistan Airlines and Governor of the State Bank. He married Wasim, who had come to be known as a legendary Pathan beauty. Tehmina was married when she was barely 18. Three years later, she met the charismatic Mustafa Khar just after he resigned as Chief Minister of Punjab in 1974. Khar wooed the stunning beauty, as Tehmina was then, and they divorced their respective spouses. She became Khars seventh wife in 1975.
After Gen Zia-ul-Haqs coup in 1977, the couple fled into self-imposed exile in London. They spent nine years away from Pakistan. For her it was a period of homelessness, frustration, insecurity and pain. Khar was not an easy man to live with and shockingly he took the liberty of romancing her sister, Adila.
Tehmina thought that life with Khar would be easy after returning to Pakistan, but it was not to be so. Khar was arrested and charged with conspiring to engineer a coup against Zia. She fought relentlessly for his release. When Khar was released in 1988 just before the elections, she was jubilant but destiny took another turn. Within three months it became clear that Mustafa Khar had not changed as he was back to his tyrannical ways. Tehmina was thoroughly disillusioned and realised that Khar was not the man she could live with any longer.
Tehmina demanded a divorce
and Khar agreed but put down the condition that she
should give up the custody of her children and foresake
her property right. She agreed and in a bid to settle
scores with Khar joined the Muslim League and wrote her
first book My Feudal Lord. Years of struggle
has made Tehmina virtually a recluse but her children
understood the agony of their mother. Now only 45, she
lives with them. Her mission now is emancipation of women
The heroic battle of Zojila
DURING the 1947-48 Indo-Pakistan conflict, 1st Patiala (Rajindra Sikh) Infantry, (now 15 Punjab), under the then commanding officer, Lieut-Col Sukhdev Singh, MC, was inducted into the state of Jammu and Kashmir where it heroically fought successive battles in Chhamb, Nowshera and Jhanghar. On May 11, 1948, the unit was flown from Jammu to Srinagar for yet another operation. It was given the task of securing the vital and most strategic, 11,000-foot-high Zojila Pass over which ran the strategic highway linking Srinagar to Leh. The Zojila Pass was under immense threat, being an objective of the highly trained Gilgit Scouts battalion of the Pakistan army which had by now occupied dominating heights varying from 11,000 feet to 13,000 feet just behind and overlooking this pass, apart from a few other smaller features near the pass. Around this time the situation in the northern districts of Kargil-Skardu areas had deteriorated considerably and the enemy, which had broken through from there, was literally rushing to occupy the strategic Zojila Pass which was the only entrance into the valley from the north-easternly direction.
The Patialas, battle scarred Sikh troops, took on the challenge in spite of the lack of proper equipment and training in high altitude warfare. In fact, the troops had never seen snow before. The battalion advanced towards Zojila but met with stiff resistance. The brigade which had preceded it earlier could not make any headway either. First contact with the advancing enemy resulted in the death of 21 Pakistani soldiers. Thereafter, for over a month, the raiders made incessant attempts to gain control of the dominating areas immediately around Zojila Pass, but everytime the raiders were outmatched by the Indian troops.
At this stage, the then Prime Minister of India, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, visited the unit and was very impressed by the battleworthiness of the unit. He asked the commanding officer to personally convey his high appreciation to all ranks, and wished the Patialas good luck in their endeavour to capture Zojila. The weather by then had deteriorated considerably.
The weather, heavy snow and rugged terrain did not permit 7 Cavalry from advancing beyond the Machoi defile, which was well covered by the enemys observation and fire. Due to poor visibility the Air Force also could not support 7 Cavalry and 1st Patialas successive operations.
In the following couple of days the Patialas launched another attack on the enemy, which had by now taken up defences 15-km short of Dras. Subsequently, in yet another night attack involving the crossing of a frozen river while constantly under fire, a small party of 20 men under Naib-Subedar Lal Singh penetrated within 20 yards of the enemy defences and remained under constant but heavy small arms and automatic fire for the whole night. In spite of being hit seven times, and in a semi-conscious state due to loss of blood, the Junior Commissioned Officer (JCO) remained at his post and directed accurate return fire on the enemy until the next morning when another party put in an attack, crushing the enemy defences and forcing him to withdraw. This JCO earned the Maha Vir Chakra (MVC) in this battle.
From then onwards the Patialas went on relentlessly up to Dras, where they reorganised themselves and celebrated Guru Nanaks birthday on November 15, 1948. The next day two Patiala companies advanced towards Kargil brushing aside minor opposition and within a few days succeeded in effecting a link-up with Indian forces advancing from Leh. Brigadier Atal, the Brigade Commander, remarked that he had never seen such a fine set of soldiers who would go through the toughest times so cheerfully.
In a period of less than three weeks following the Zojila battle, the surprised enemy was not only evicted with heavy casualties from his chain of strong defences under most trying winter conditions, but also an area of 2000 square miles was cleared of the enemy and the threat to the valley from the east was removed once and for all.
In this battle, the fearless Patialas won seven MVCs, 17 VrCs (the CO himself was awarded a VrC) and various other awards, including the coveted battle honour Zojila.
BY the passing away of President Harding the world loses one of its most notable figures, notable not by virtue of his personality, but of the office he held.
The suddenness with which this calamity has fallen upon the United States is shown by the fact that only a day before his death, the report had been published all over the world that he was better and improving, that on the very day on which he died and until the moment of his death he had been free from discomfort, that the physicians who were in attendance upon him were feeling all the time that there was every justification for anticipating a prompt recovery and that he was actually conversing with the members of his family when he was seized with a stroke of apoplexy and died instantaneously.
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