Saturday, January 29, 2000

Flying with bigwigs

VISHAKHAPATNAM, as I said before, is in my opinion the most attractive city in India, with green hills around and a deep blue sea in front. A road runs along the coast. Rich people and corrupt politicians have built beautiful weekend bungalows on both sides of the road. There are also many fishing villages and a few factories where fish and crustaces are processed for export. Fish are also spread out to dry in the sun before being powdered to make chicken feed. The road ends at a small township where the Dutch had a small fortress and a lighthouse. Little remains of their sojourn except a cemetry where their dead sleep to the sound of sea waves. Their graves were later plundered by villagers to take gold rings and tooth fillings.


  My flight back to Delhi was delayed by an hour. From Vizag to Bhubaneswar the plane was almost empty. There was I.P.S. Malhotra and a pretty Tamil girl, Rajeshwari Iyer who helped me to take my travel bag to the aircraft. I took the window seat in front. I did not realise that I had made a lucky choice. At Bhubaneswar the first to enter were security personnel. They examined every seat. One man started placing "reserved" cards on the front seats. They did not ask me to shift to the rear. The plane began to fill up. Every seat was taken except the front rows alongside mine. Then trooped in people I recognised: Naveen Patnaik, Madhavrao Scindia, and last of all, Sonia Gandhi. I stood up to greet her. I was not sure if she recognised me. She had been to my home once with her mother-in-law, Mrs Indira Gandhi, Sanjay and Maneka. Even if she had recognised me, I was not sure she would want to talk to me, as for years I was regarded as someone on Maneka Gandhi’s side. It is only after Madhavrao greeted me warmly, and she had taken side-long glances at me that recognition dawned on her. She gave me a gracious smile, took out a small silver box and offered me ‘saung’ — aniseed. At my age, I should not have been so excited by the gesture: I was almost like a teenage boy being offered a lollypop by the best looking girl of the school. We got talking. She told me of the scenes of devastation caused by the cyclone. She estimated that at least 30,000 human and many more of live-stock had been lost. Corpses which had escaped sharks were found floating as far as the Andamans, and one near the Burmese Coast. What the victims needed most was cover from the elements in the form of tarpaulin sheets. During winter months from the cold, from the sun on the coming summer as all trees have been uprooted and there will be no shade. I did a little makkhan lagaoing: I told her how her speech about coming to India as a bahoo, (daughter-in-law) and her mother-in-law breathing her last in her lap had moved me. Had she drafted the speech herself? She smiled without giving me an answer. Madhavrao replied on her behalf: "She was assisted by Priyanka." She went back to what she had seen in Orissa and the vast amount of assistance spread over years to come, it would need to help Oriyas to get back to their feet.

It was my lucky day. After I bade farewell to Madhavrao and Sonia, Justice Ranganath Mishra, against whom I had harboured some ill-will, offered to drop me home: My ill-will disappeared. The first thing I did on getting home was to write a note to my brothers and sister that we should donate money from the family charitable trust for the Orissa Relief Fund. I suggested a handsome donation. My brothers and sister decided to double the figure. That is my advice to you. Decide what you should give to your Oriya brothers in distress, then double it.

Hindu poet of Urdu

There is a gross misconception that Urdu is the language of Muslims. There were, and are today, many good poets of Urdu, who are Hindus. The greatest amongst them was Raghupat Sahai (1896-1982), better known as Firaq Gorakhpuri. He was a Kayastha from Gorakhpur, Uttar Pradesh. Besides being a good poet, he had other claims to fame. He had a good academic record, qualified for the Civil Service, resigned it to join the freedom movement, and spent some months in jail with Pandit Nehru. For four years he was Under Secretary of the Indian National Congress. He topped the list in the MA examination in English, taught English in Allahabad University and retired as Reader in 1958. In 1961 he won the Sahitya Akademy Jnanpith. He wrote in Hindi, Urdu and English, but finally opted for Urdu as a better medium of putting across his ideas. He moved in Urdu literary circles, and soon came to be sought after for mushairas — poetic symposia. His closest rival and friend was an equally good poet, the Muslim Josh Malihabadi. Besides the love of poetry, they shared a lot more much in common. Both were patriots, loved the good things of life, were connoisseurs of liquor, admirers of good-looking women and handsome men, and were celebrated pederasts. Many bawdy stories were told about them. Both had high opinion of their looks and talents, and boasted of their prowess as poets and lovers. Firaq made a disastrous marriage, and wrote a lot of nasty things about the poor woman who bore him two children. Their daughter died young, their son took his own life.

Firaq was one Urdu poet who instead of turning to Arabic and Persian vocabulary and imagery, as most other poets of the language did, injected a lot of Hindi words in his poems and instead of using Laila Majnun, bulbul and the rose, moth and the flame as symbols of eternal love used Radha and Krishna. Being a professor of English literature, he used a lot of the imagery of Keats, Shelley, Wordsworth, and Tennyson in his compositions. All those aspects of Firaq’s poetry have been highlighted by R.C. Kaunda in his introduction to ‘Firaq Gorakhpuri:Selected Poetry’ (Sterling). Kaunda has also given examples of many other aspects of Firaq’s love poetry from the delicate allusions to female beauty to the erotic and the consummation of sex during nights spent making love: dishevelled hair but radiant smiles of fulfilment.

Firaq’s ideal of a female companion was as follows:
Maan aur behen bhee, Aur chehetee bhee
Ghar kee raani bhee aur jeewan saathee
Phir bhee voh kamini sarasar Devi
Aur Seyj par voh beswa kee putlee

(Mother, sister and a daughter I adore

Queen of my home, life-companion and more

Also much desired as a goddess as well

But when in bed, a voluptuous whore)

When Josh Malihabadi decided to migrate to Pakistan because he could not find suitable husbands for his daughters in India, Firaq was a desolate being deprived of friend and rival with whom he could cross swords. When he heard of Malihabadi’s death, he is said to have made a wisecrack "Once again the fellow has beaten me to it". Firaq died a few days later.

K.C. Kaunda, a teacher of English, with a passion for Urdu poetry has done a lot to introduce eminent Urdu poets to people who cannot read Urdu. His translations are accurate but very often his rhyming is laboured. Firaq admits that at times it took him weeks to perfect a couple of lines of poetry. I am sure if Kaunda took as much pain to render them into English, his translations would read a lot better.

Nothing wrong

Perhaps the drollest figure in the annals of American law was Judge Ben Lindsay. A story ascribed to him is about a woman who had worked for him and his wife as a servant for some years, and came one day asking that the Judge might recommend her son for a job.

"Why Maggie", said Judge Lindsay, "I had no idea you were married. You never mentioned this lad of yours before."

"Well," the woman replied, "I’m not married, that’s true. But I haven’t been entirely neglected."