118 years of Trust This above all
THE TRIBUNEsaturday plus
Saturday, September 12, 1998

Regional Vignettes



How far is Aksai Chin
from Ho Chi Min?

Memoirs of civil servants rarely make good reading. They follow a set pattern: how well they did in their studies and made it to the ICS, Foreign Service or the IAS, where they were posted and how they solved problems which had defied solutions. For them every new job was a challenge and they met it with skill, courage and determination. How they became subjantawallas, rubbed shoulders with the rich and the mighty and made world shattering decisions. And so on. Somewhere along their distinguished careers crammed with writing memos on official files and drafting speeches for their bosses they lost the art of writing readable prose. Unfortunately, most of them wrote their memoirs when they had almost lapsed into senile semi-literacy. However, there were many exceptions to the general run of tedious mediocrity. One is Rajeshwar Dayal. He has had as distinguished a career as any Indian civil servant living today. He made it to the ICS, served in many districts of Uttar Pradesh and on Independence joined the Foreign Service under Prime Minister Nehru. He served under Vijayalaxmi Pandit and Dr Radhakrishnan in our embassy in Moscow, with our Mission in the United Nations, was UN Envoy to Marshall Tito’s Yugoslavia and High Commissioner in Pakistan. Then back to UN jobs in Lebanon, Congo and Zimbabwe. He retired as Foreign Secretary in Mrs Gandhi’s government. He turned an academic, spent some time in Princeton University and the Wilson Centre. He was offered other diplomatic assignments and governorships. He turned them down in favour of tending his own garden and trout-fishing in Kashmir. He has put all this down in his autobiography A Life of Our Times (Orient Longman). It is a most readable book.

It is a lengthy memoir running into over 636 pages. The best I can do is to give a few spicy anecdotes which add to its readability. When Mrs Pandit was Ambassador in Moscow, a Mongolian envoy came to call on her. His first question was whether there were any camels in India. He went on to ask if Indians also had buffaloes, cattle and sheep. Mrs Pandit affirmed that India had them. "And horses?" asked the Mongol. A very irate Mrs Pandit told the interpreter to inform His Excellency that India also had lots of donkeys.

Stalin had refused to receive Mrs Pandit, but readily agreed to see her successor, Dr Radhakrishnan. His ignorance of India was abysmal. He asked Radhakrishnan whether Indian languages had alphabets or used hieroglyphics. He proceeded to ask him why after Independence, the Indian army was still under British command. He was surprised to learn that besides the Army, the Navy and the Air Force were also commanded by Indians. The Generalissimo went on to ask why Sri Lanka was not a part of India. The meeting was a great success

Dayal served with several Indian delegations to the United Nations and has a lot to say of the wrangling that went on between members of the Indian delegation. Krishna Menon was universally disliked. H.S. Malik could not get on with anyone, Girja Shankar Bajpai and Sheikh abdullah were not on talking terms. Nobody could understand Sardar Swaran Singh’s long monologues delivered in Jalandhari English. One of his colleagues spread the story that the Sardar Sahib had once asked him how far Aksai Chin was from Ho Chi Min. Dayal vouches for him asking in Paris if the Seine was the same as the Tiber.

Of the three Prime Ministers under whom Dayal served, he is full of praises for Pandit Nehru and Shastri but comes down heavily on Indira Gandhi. Almost everything that went wrong with India began with her: disregard of democratic norms, encouraging factionalism, condoning corruption and crime. For years she ran the government on the advice of her "kitchen cabinet" or the "Kashmiri Mafia". He blamed her and Giani Zail Singh for making a mess in the Punjab by first building up Bhindranwale and then storming the Golden Temple to get rid of him. He puts the blame for the massacre of Sikhs following Mrs Gandhi’s assassination on leaders of the Congress Party and the impotence of men at the top: Giani Zail Singh, Home Minister Narasimha Rao, Vice President Venkataraman and the Lt Governor of Delhi. I for one agree with whatever Rajeshwar Dayal has to say about Indo-Pak differences and the opportunities we missed of resolving them.

Panganwals of Pangi

Not many people outside Himachal Pradesh will have heard of Pangi and its inhabitants called Panganwals. They are not to be blamed as this remote area is a "world beyond civilisation". It is an inhospitable mountaneous region, snow-bound for half the year, picturesque because of its desolation of rock and forests inhabited by bears, snow-leopards and mountain goats. Clusters of hutments make hamlets. Panganwals live on the very little their land yields in the short spring and summer months. During winters they prefer to hibernate in drunken stupor produced by liberal intakes of home-made spirits. For city-bred babus it is regarded as a punishment post, a virtual kala pani like the Andamans of British times. But the Chandrabhaga (Chenab) flows through it; so do many fast-moving hill torrents making it a paradise for trekkers.

To Pangi came Minakshi Chaudhry. She had spent her childhood in Nigeria. Back in Delhi she took a diploma in mass communication and joined The Indian Express. She married an IAS officer of the Himachal cadre. She spent three years in Pangi with her husband. Whatever her husband thought of his being sent there, for Minakshi, far from being a punishment posting, it turned out to be the most fruitful three years of her life. She studied all there was available about the region and its people. The outcome is the publication Exploring Pangi Himalaya: A World Beyond Civilisation (Indus).

Panganwals are of two ethnic stocks, Aryan and Mongol. They are Hindus with an admixture of Buddhism. They have evolved social mores of their own and are free of inhibitions of Hindus of the plains. Boys and girls can choose their own spouses, divorce is easy, widdow remarriage is common. Whatever others may think of their region, they are convinced that there is no place on earth as lovey as Pangi.

Pangi Sunnday tilmila paanee, meyra dil laaga Pangi ho

Pangi Jinnanday uchay nehang pahra, meyra dil laga Pangi ho

They say Pangi is a land of sparkling waters, my heart belongs to Pangi;

They say Pangi is full of high mountains, my heart belongs to Pangi.

Chandigarh or Jalandhar

Santa was flying to Chandigarh from Pune. He was allotted a middle seat but he decided to take the window seat which had been allotted to an old lady. The old lady requested Santa to exchange seats with her. He refused, saying "I want to see the view from the window". The lady then complained to the air hostess. The air hostess made the same request. Santa was adamant and bluntly refused.

The air hostess told the Asstt Captain. He came and requested again to Santa, but in vain. Finally the Captain came. He whispered something in Santa’s ears. Santa immediately vacated the window seat and took the middle seat.

Astonished, the air hostess and the Asstt Captain asked the Captain what he had said to Santa. The captain replied: "Nothing, I just told him that only the middle seats will go to Chandigarh. All others will go to Jalandhar".

(Contributed by Jyotica Sikand, New Delhi)

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