Saturday, September 30, 2000
T H I S  A B O V E  A L L

Indian concept of beauty
By Khushwant Singh

SIMILES and metaphors our poets used to describe different parts of a beautiful woman’s anatomy leave me bewildered.Her long black tresses are usually compared to naagins — she cobras — or a hive of black bees. Except for both being pitch black in colour, there is nothing attractive about a cluster of snakes and a swarm of bees, both of them capable of stinging with fatal results. Eyebrows are compared to an archer’s bow —dhanush. Nothing very wrong in that because many attractive women do have arched eyebrows.

Eyes are usually compared to a deer’s eyes and sometimes to lotus blossoms. Young deer do have larger limpid eyes, but among animals by far, the most beautiful eyes belong to giraffes — long eyebrows and almond-shaped, lustrous eyes. We never had giraffes in India and when visualising them it would be impossible to ignore their long necks. The same applies to ostriches: they, too, have beautiful eyes but their long necks put them out of reckoning. A woman with too long a neck is often dismissed as shaturmurg — camel-fowl. I find comparing beautiful eyes to still-waters like the pools of Hebron more appealing. Comparing cheeks and lips to rose petals is acceptable but find Indian obsession with lower lip somewhat baffling. A hanging lower lip is far from attractive as it often bares the gums which is not a pleasant sight. Comparing teeth to a string of pearls or jasmine buds is conventional and acceptable. When it came to bosoms, our poets were clearly out of their depth: they thought of doves or pigeons caught in a net, or half-ripe mangoes. Surely domes of some of our ancient monuments which I am sure were inspired by them would have made better models. A flat belly with a cute belly-button has been lauded by poets all over the world. But elephant’s (hastini’s) walk evoked paeans of praise from Sanskrit poets. I have followed elephants in processions and wondered what they found so engaging in their posterior or gait.

To forgive and forget
September 23, 2000
Memoirs of Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit
September 9, 2000
Times are out of joint
September 2, 2000
His voice is immortal
August 26, 2000
No end to hostility
August 19,2000
Visit to a once peaceful metropolis
August 12, 2000
The most abominable crime
August 5, 2000
Unveiling Indian women
July 29, 2000
A spiritually incorrect mystic
July 22, 2000
India without Pilot
July 15, 2000
Young millionaires of Pakistan
July 8, 2000
Lamenting old age
July 1, 2000
Maharaja Dalip Singh
June 10, 2000
Writers’ code of honour
May 27, 2000
A lyricist & revolutionary
May 20, 2000

The little I found common between them and fat women was dispelled by the cannon-ball-sized dung they dropped every few minutes.

Our king of poets, Kalidas (4th & 5th century A.D.), paid fulsome compliments to his beloved in the following words:

"In dark girls I saw your body;
In the startled looks of does your eyes,
In the moon your cheeks,
In liquid peacock plumes your hair;
The play of eyebrows,
In the bright rippling of rivers,
But never, O fiery one,
Did I find these

In the same place before (Translated by Tambimuttu and G.V. Vaidya)

Telegu poet Kodali Anjaneyalu has given a very sensitive description of a bride decked up for her first love-encounter with her groom:

"With the silky lashes of your eyes which your mother
Has painted with collyrium, with utmost tenderness,
You thrust forth tendrils of silk-soft dependence:
Heavenly bride when you lean your looks
Full of blushes as flowers, liquid as their honey
Towards your wedded husband, how canI help blessing you
And your groom! May the night of spring
Come on swift wings and bring for you swoons of voluptuousness!

(Translated by Tambimuttu and R. Appalaswamy)

In his preface to India Love Poems, Tambimuttu has beautifully summed up the dilemma created by the Creator when He made, "woman as man’s companion".

"In the beginning Brahma created man.But when he came to the fashioning of woman, he found that he had no more solid materials left. So Brahma took: ‘The clustering of rows of bees, and the joyous gaiety of sunbeams, and the weeping of clouds, and the fickleness of winds, and the timidity of the hare, and the vanity of the peacock, and the hardness of adamant, and the sweetness of honey, and the cruelty of the tiger, and the warm glow of fire, and the coldness of snow, and the chattering of jays, and the cooing of the kokila, and the hypocrisy of the crane, and the fidelity of the chakravaka, and compounding all these together, Brahma made woman and gave her to man.

"Eight days later the man returned to Brahma: ‘My Lord, the creature you gave me poisons my existence. She chatters without rest, she takes all my time, she laments for nothing at all, and is always ill, take her back,’ and Brahma took the woman back.

"But eight days later the man came again to the God and said: ‘My Lord, my life is very solitary since I returned this creature. I remember she danced before me, singing. I recall how she glanced at me from the corner of her eye, how she played with me, clung to me. Give her back to me,’ and Brahma returned the woman to him. Three days only passed and Brahma saw the man coming to him again. ‘My Lord,’ said he, ‘I do not understand exactly how it is, but I am sure that the woman causes me more annoyance than pleasure. I beg you to relieve me of her!’

"But Brahma cried, ‘ Go your way and do the best you can.’ And the man cried: ‘I cannot live with her!’ ‘Neither can you live without her!" replied Brahma.

"And the man went away sorrowful, murmuring: ‘Woe is me, I can neither live with her nor without her’."

Elusive novelist

I read Indrajit Hazra’s first novel The Burnt Forehead of Max Saul (Ravi Dayal) in one go: it is only 152 pages. I enjoyed reading it because it is well-written, the episodes about which he writes are entirely fanciful and rib-tickingly comic. However, at the end I was left with an uneasy feeling that I had perhaps missed the message, if there was one, that the author wished to convey.

Since most first novels are partly autobiographical, I tried to find clues from his life. Hazra is 30 years old. He was born in Calcutta and for a while was a musician with The Great Elastic Rubber Band. He migrated to Delhi and is currently on the editorial staff of The Hindustan Times. One of the characters in the novel plays the Jew’s Harp and Water bowls in a band. Another, the narrator in the novel is, like Hazra, a journalist. Hazra is married: his wife Diya to whom the novel is dedicated works with Viking-Penguin. Max of the novel is also married. But for some obscure reason he sets out of his home to look for a woman named Sarai who leaves his home never to return. He goes looking for her but loses interest in the pursuit and gets involved in a series of escapades which include pilfering books from a bookstore and getting nabbed, helping a friend escape from the clutches of the police by putting him inside a derelict grand piano lying in the police station, leading an abortive revolution in which many people are killed, bashing in the skull of the owner of a band with an iron rod for no other reason than that he fired his friend the Jew’s Harp and Water bowls player and getting away with it. Ultimately he is left with a mongrel pi dog which attaches itself to him as a companion in preference to his wife — reminiscent of Yudhishthira refusing to enter paradise without his pet dog.

I admit a second time I was not able to decipher what Indrajit Hazra was driving at. What kept me going was the likelihood of a secret design which eluded me of a refreshingly new style of writing. I can give many illustrations but will limit myself to one which may elucidate what I mean:

"As a child, it was a matter of great joy and pride the day I came to know that 5.45 was the same thing as a quarter to six. It was divine knowledge and it made the whole exercise of timing oneself easy and wonderful. A greater breakthrough was made when I came to realise that when one touches one’s lips to another set, babies don’t happen. In fact, even the tongue isn’t the carrier of life."

Car phenomenon

When the vehicle is brand new,

It will be Muqadar ka Sikandar

And when it is a bit old,

It becomes Miley Ga Muqadar

And, when it becomes Khachar (too old),

It is Chal Rani Tera Rabb Rakha

(Contributed by Yashpal, Panchkula)