Saturday, April 29, 2000
T H I S  A B O V E  A L L

A better poet than novelist
By Khushwant Singh

SHE was working in a college run by a dargah, in all probability located in Hyderabad. Her husband Srinivas Ranganathan dealt in real estate and looked for patronage from the family which managed the dargah. Their son Ganesh was in school and was a close friend of the grandson of the Imam. Most important, Prema was a stunning beauty. She became the mistress of the Imam’s eldest son, Murtaza. One day Murtaza left one of Prema’s love letters in his unlocked table-drawer. It was found by the lady principal of the college who strongly resented Prema’s hold on the boss’s son and passed it on to the Imam. Prema got the sack. A day later the Imam died of a stroke and Murtaza succeeded him as the Imam. Much to the chagrin of Murtaza’s wife her husband resumed his liaison with Prema. Some days later Prema was abducted and taken to a far-away farmhouse. The ransom of Rs 1 lakh was paid by her husband (assisted by Murtaza) and Prema was back home. Once again she was kidnapped, this time by Murtaza’s younger brother Shakil who was a nutcase. He took her in the farmhouse murdered and buried her. A snooper who had spied the burial of the Prema’s corpse informed the police. Shakil was arrested and tried for murder. Under his lawyer’s advice, he pleaded guilty but insane and enacted a scene of a fit of madness in court. All he got was six months in a lunatic asylum. In the asylum, he befriended a young, beautiful Hindu girl . Murtaza’s wife rejoined her errant husband. Prema’s widowed husband found another wife. Shakil no doubt managed to get his nutty girl out of the nuthouse to live with him. All’s well that ends well.

  Out of this contrived story Shiv Kumar has churned out a novella Infatuation: The Crescent and the Vermilion (UBSPD). He is described a novelist, short-story writer, poet, playwright, translator and critic. His academic achievements are formidable: a doctorate in English Literature from Cambridge, a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature (London) and winner of the Sahitya Akademi Award for his collection of poems Trap Falls in the Sky. He was professor of English at Osmania University, Hyderabad, and lives in comfortable retirement in the city.

Shiv Kumar is a gifted poet — poetry is a gift given by the gods. They have not been as generous in gifting him qualities that go towards making of a good novelist. Apart from cooking up an unlikely plot around which he has weaved his story, his characters use the same sort of language and their profiles are stereotyped. He should stick to doing what he is best at — composing poetry and translating Urdu poetry into English.

Goa: Last visit

For the past many years I have spent my Christmas and New Year’s Day in Goa in the same hotel on the same beach, Bogmalo. The hotel changed ownership and names, managers came and went, but most of the staff stayed and gave it a sense of continuity. I got to know many of them by name as I did those of a few restaurant owners in Bogmalo village. I was hoping to spend the Christmas of 1999 and New Year’s Day of 2000 in the same hotel. Despite a booking made a year earlier, the management expressed its inability to offer me a room during the peak season as they expected an invasion of foreign tourists for the millennium celebrations. For the same reason none of the airlines were willing to give me confirmed seats on the Delhi-Goa-Delhi flights.

But the millennium celebrations turned out to be a flop: all Goa hotels had lots of vacancies and there were plenty of seats available in flights to and out of Goa. That was little consolation for me and I reconciled myself to the notion that I’d never see Goa again.

The Guru heard my prayer. He made the Punjab Government bestow the Nishan-e-Khalsa on me at Anandpur Sahib on Baisakhi of 1999; I had to participate in a seminar to mark the end of tercentenary celebrations of the founding of the Khalsa on Baisakhi day in Goa. So I found myself aboard on the Sahara Airways flight under the command of Captain Bakshi who I had met earlier. I regaled the crew with the latest Punjabi jokes: the two-and-a-half-hour journey seemed to be over in 20 minutes. At Dabolim Airport, I walked into a floral welcome given by a group of Sardar families. Ten minutes later I was in Hotel Park Plaza: same smiling faces, to welcome back.

Though the peak tourist season was over, the hotel was full of foreigners with a sprinkling of Indians. In the lobby I heard English, French, German, Portuguese, Italian and lots of Gujarati. I heard the roar of the sea and breathed air as fresh as the day God created the world. Never before did I see fatter men and women in the hotel than this year.

It occurred to me that ungainly people attract more attention than those of normal form and shape. There they lay sprawled round the bathing pool. How could I keep my mind from straying from the novel I was reading to these splendid specimens of globular flesh?

I have yet to learn to be moderate about some things: one is coconut milk. No sooner I find myself in a coastal town where coconuts are plentiful, I go for them like a camel which fills its belly with water before setting out on a long journey across the waterless desert. I consume three to four coconuts a daywith the usual intake of tea, coffee, beer before lunch, soda with scotch and wine with dinner.


Commander Niranjan Singh is a formidable character; short, stocky with a commanding voice. After he retired from the Navy, he decided to make his home in Goa. It is a large double-storeyed house commanding a view of the sea. There he lives with his wife, four sons, four daughters-in-law and many grandchildren. They live in considerable style as he supplements his pension with income generated by two dredgers. His abiding passion is to spread the message of his Gurus. He is president of the two gurdwaras in Goa. He refused to have paid granthis but has honorary sevadars (caretakers) to look after them. All akhand paths, and keertans are performed by volunteers. He was the moving spirit behind the decision of the government to finance a seminar on Guru Gobind Singh. I could sense his missionary zeal on the way to the venue of the meeting. With us in the car was his seven-year-old grandson. "Recite the Mool Mantra", he ordered. The boy dutifully recited the opening lines of the Sikhs’ morning prayer. "Now name the ten Gurus," he ordered. The boy dutifully named them.

I had prepared my speech for a non-Sikh audience. Facing me was a hall packed with Sardars and their wives. I was disappointed. The only non-Sikhs I could notice was the young minister, Subhash Shirodkar, Archana Arora (IAS) and perhaps a couple of others. I made a brief and listless speech. I did not stay for the second half of the seminar and got a lift from Naval Airforce Commodore R. Gupta and his lovely Goan wife Helen who lived close to my hotel.

The most important event in Goa was on April 15,2000. It was the 54th birthday of its Chief Minister Francisco Sardinha. I counted the number of insertions, boxed with photographs, wishing him many happy returns in The Navhind Times. A large one on page one showing him with his finger pointing towards a great future. Page three had only one; page four had five; page five one but a large one; page seven was entirely devoted to him and his family comprising wife and three children, his pictures with the President and the Prime Minister; page 12 had four which occupied three-fourth of the page; page 13 had 22 leaving only quarter of the page for other news; page 15 had seven. There was also an announcement that after attending mass the Chief Minister will be available to the public for darshan: He has been given the title of ‘silent performer. He may be. But in no other state have I met this form of shameless sycophancy; panchayats, youth clubs, gas stations, shop keepers, jewellers, professionals vying with each other to pay homage to their Chief Minister. I wonder if they did so before he became the CM or will do so after he ceases to be CM.

A clear conscience

One of the MLAs in Lucknow at a commission enquiring into a case of alleged bribery in the recent Rajya Sabha election stated that he received Rs 5 lakh from the BJP candidate. On cross-examination, it was revealed that he had also received Rs 5 lakh to vote for the Congress candidate.

The Chairman of the inquiry commission then asked the MLA: For whom did you actually vote?"

The MLA replied, "I voted, sir, according to my conscience."

(Contributed by Judson K. Cornelius, Hyderabad)