Saturday, January 22, 2000

Living long the hard way

IN his book Death Deferred, Dr H. Carrington argues cogently that human beings should be able to live in good health for a 100 years before they fade out without suffering like persons who have done a full day’s work fall asleep. An unknown well-wisher sent me a summary of the book published in the April issue of the magazine Naturopathy. Dr Carrington’s thesis makes good sense provided one can be sure that the air one breathes is clean, the water one drinks is pure and the food one eats is wholesome. The doctor does not guarantee longevity against malarial mosquitoes, dengue flies and other vermin which infest our land. His emphasis is on eating proper food — wholesome mix of proteins which form muscles, fats which produce heat-forming elements and carbohydrates like starches and sugar which produce both heat and energy. In addition, there must be organic salts such as lime, iron, phosphates and calcium. The learned doctor argues that it is food, and only food, we eat and nothing else which produces blood which is the vital essence which give the body all it needs to keep it in good shape. On the other hand if you eat unbalanced, unwholesome food, you are deliberately inviting trouble in the form of stomach-related ailments which can afflict the liver, kidneys, pancreas, the lungs and the heart. In short your stomach becomes the storehouse of diseases, you will live in pain and die in agony.

  If one follows Carrington’s prescriptions to their logical conclusions, one would have to live far away from noise, clouds of gases emitted and buses, cars and three-wheelers, eat bland food in measured proportions, eschew alcohol and tobacco, take gentle exercise and retire to bed early. I am not sure if even then you may be able to live to a 100 years and depart like a thistle-down blown away by a gentle breeze but I can guarantee that one year of such a dull existence will seem like ten, life will not be worth living and you will yearn for death. Take your choice.


At 6 a.m., I came out on the balcony with a hot cup of over-sugared tea to watch the sun rise over the sea. My only companions were a dozen dogs of different sizes, colours and amorous dispositions. Most of the time they sat peacefully on the approach road to the bungalow. Then suddenly they began growling and snapping at each other to settle the order of leadership.

A few crows visited me to find out if I could spare something for them. I had nothing to give so they flew away. A pied king-fisher darted from tree to tree, making shrill cries. A gold-blue kingfisher alighted on a tap in the garden to see if there was a frog for picking. Then flew away disappointed. The eastern horizon turned pink and an orange ball of fire forced its way upwards through the lines of coconut palms and flooded sea and land with warm sunshine. A new day had dawned over Vishakhapatnam.

P. Adeswara Rao, Professor of Hindi literature, and Dr Parvathi, Professor of English, drop in for a chat. He has translated poems of the Telugu-Hindi poet Aluri Bairagi. She got her doctorate for a thesis on the novels and short stories of R.K. Narayan. I will tell you of Bairagi’s translated poems at another time.

I had a breakfast invitation from P.C. Madhava Rao, Divisional Manager of the South-Eastern Railways. Ashok Kumar’s family was with me as we drove to Rao’s spacious bungalow close to the railway station. Madhava Rao and P. Vijayalaxmi have three daughters of whom the eldest is married and was not in Vizag. The other two — P. Natasha, P. Spandona (heart-throb) — stepped down the park to help me up the stairs to their dining room. I joined the two families at the breakfast table. The idlis were very soft, the coconut chutney and sambhar reminiscent of the fiery qualities. I had sampled at Daspalla the day before. Soon my mouth was on fire and eyes streaming with tears, Natasha noticed my plight and gave me a glass of iced coffee. I noticed how good looking the entire family was: the father a strapping tall man with gold rings in his ears, the mother had delicate features and their two daughters were petite and vivacious. They looked like school girls. Both had finished college and were working. I asked them if they would let their parents arrange their marriages or find their own husbands. Both were happy to let their parents find them their life-mates.

Before leaving Vizag, I paid homage to the presiding deity of the region, Simhachalam. His temple stands high in the mountain amidst a dense jungle infested with wild bears and tigers. It is at a distance of 20 km from the city. Our guide to the temple went by the title Havildar. The priest, Sri Satinlur Gopalkrishna Acharya (B.A. Commerce), was a light-skinned portly man, bare above his waist except for his sacred thread. His forehead smeared with sandal paste had both Vaishnavite and Shivite markings. He wore gold rings on five fingers and large diamond earrings. Not much is known of the antiquity of the temple but legend has it that it was built round 6th century B.C. The maharajas of Viziagram gave it 14,000 acres of hilly, afforested land. It generates an income of Rs 10 crore a year, runs a few schools and colleges and feeds 300 to 400 pilgrims every day. It is after this deity known in Telugu as Simhadri Appadu that so many men take the name as Appa Rao.

I was escorted to the inner sanctum and went through the motions of receiving tulsi prasad (basil leaves), and having my head covered with a silver cap. I was asked my gotra and received blessings of the deity. The deity is encrusted under layers of sandal-wood paste which are scraped away once a year. The pilgrimage took most of the morning.

I was not on a holiday: I had to sing for my supper. Singing is a euphemism for having to answer questions (often rude) flung at me by irate readers. Before meeting the Press, I had another "meet the author" session on the roof-top of Ashoka Book Centre. Once again it was presided by Shankar Melkote and his theatre group reading extracts from my novels and a couple of short stories. They did it infinitely better than I could have done. I almost came to believe I was a reasonably good writer. They took the wind out of the sails of my traducers: No one asked me any questions. We proceeded to Hotel Despalla to whet my whistle and eat my supper.

The meeting with the Press on my last engagement in Vizag was not so smooth. One fellow asked me why indulged in obscene writing. I was taken aback. I protested angrily and challenged him to give one example of anything I had written which was obscene. Fortunately his memory failed him and we went to pleasanter subjects.

Back in the rest house, a sardar family awaited me. They were Captain I.P.S. Malhotra, his wife and daughter. He had been in the Merchant Navy and now had his own ship which was engaged dredging fishing boats which went down in the cyclonic storm. He was on the flight to Bhubaneshwar. For me the homeward flight from Bhubaneshwar to Delhi was the most memorable part of my mini-Bharat darshan tour. In the flight were over a dozen national netas including Naveen Patnaik, Madhav Rao Scindia and, believe it or not, Sonia Gandhi. Of these two hours of the final leg of my journey, I will tell you next week.

A quick remedy

To Dr Banta Singh’s clinic came a lady with her seven-year-old son. She said, "Doctor, my son has this embarrassing habit of sucking his thumb."

Dr Banta gave him a thorough check-up and then pronounced "Behanji, get him new half pants which are loose for him."

The lady was astonished and asked how that would help?

Dr Banta Singh hastened to explain, "With loose half pants, he will always be busy using his hands to prevent them from slipping down. His thumb sucking will stop!"

(Contributed by A.S. Deepak, Chandigarh)