Saturday, November 11, 2000
T H I S  A B O V E  A L L


A priceless Divali gift
by Khushwant Singh

THE common practice is to send packets of sweets or dryfruit. Some people add candles, oil lamps, sparklers and crackers. Knowing my tastes, my friends occasionally gift me with a bottle of Scotch. So far I have never received a book as a Divali gift. This time I got not one but two. They came on Dasehra, a fortnight before the festival of lights. One was Vedas: an essence and the other Bhagwad Gita: an essence. Both coffee-table books comprising photographs of Himalayan peaks on one page and selections from sacred texts on the facing page. They are the handiwork of Ashok Dilwali who was in Modern School, a generation after me. He is a chartered accountant but has photography in his blood: his father owns Kinsey Studios, perhaps the oldest in New Delhi. When not examining account books, Ashok spends his time in the mountains. He has some of the most spectacular pictures of snow-covered ranges with their peaks lit by the rising sun and the setting sun and in moonlight; he has wild flowers and cattle grazing in the valleys. He has not missed out anything.

One may well ask what has mountain scenery to do with the Vedas or the Bhagwad Gita? Both were composed in the hot, dusty places of Punjab and Haryana. The only explanation I can think of for Dilwali putting them together is that perhaps sages who took vanprastha in mountain caves meditated over their contents as they gazed on snowcapped mountains ó a very tenuous link. However, besides gushing over the photographs I refreshed my memory of the sacred texts. One, my favourite, struck me most because of the way ambitious people, mostly politicians, read it in reverse.

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Karmanyev adhikarstey ma phaleshu kadachana

(Your only privilege is to work, not to look for the fruits of your labour.)

As it happens, all ambitious people think of the rewards they can reap before they start to work towards it.

Ashok Dilwali has many illustrated books to his credit. These two books make ideal Divali gifts. No price has been put on them, presumably he thinks they are priceless. I agree.

Dancing dervish

For many centuries the language of the educated elite extending from Turkey across the Middle East to the eastern most part of India was Farsi ó Persian: proceedings of royal courts were recorded in it till the time of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. It created a gulf between the sophisticated rich and the rustic poor. Ultimately it was the literati who realised they were restricting their audience by not writing in the language the masses could understand. Poets like Amir Khusrao, Mir Taqi Meer, Ghalib down to Allama Iqbal, whose first choice was Persian, turned to Urdu so that the man in the street could appreciate their compositions. Gradually Persian went the way of Sanskrit and Latin ó as basic languages studied only to comprehend how languages of India and Europe evolved out of them.

It was the same with Persian. Classical Farsi is a near-dead language used only by scholars specialising in it. How many people today read anything by Rumi, Saadi or Haafiz? Some will be able to quote a couplet or two by rote, no more. A thousand pities because there were many pearls of wisdom in these classics which now only gather dust. For instance, all I knew of Rumi was that he founded an order of dervishes who wear long fez caps and chogas down to their ankles and pirouette like musical tops as they chant their masterís compositions. Then Anees Jung lent me a small booklet with selections from Rumiís writings translated by Annemarie Schimmel. Annemarie is without doubt, the most erudite scholar of Persian and Urdu. She, a German, is fluent in English and Hindustani as well. In her brief introduction she gives Rumiís background.

Maulana Jamaluddin Rumi was born in 1207 in Afghanistan where his father had an established reputation of a Sufi saint and writer on mysticism. When Mongol hordes began to ravage Muslim countries, the family migrated to Konya in Turkey. He came under the influence of wandering dervish Shams-i-Tabriz, the Sun of Tabriz. He was hounded out of Konya by religious bigots. The separation sparked off the muse of poetry in Jamaluddin. "Without your word the soul has no ear; without your ear, the soul has no tongue," he wrote of the master.

Shams was murdered by people envious of his popularity. Jamaluddin was shattered. Then he realised that Shams still lived in his heart, couplets on love came pouring out of his heart till he died on December 17, 1273. His masnavi comprising 25,000 rhyming distichs was completed later. The theme of all of them is love, divine love. Annemarie Schimmelís translations bear the word ishq (love) on every page.

"What is the loverís state !" Thus asked a man

I said to him "Donít ask such a question dear !

When you become like me, youíll know for sure!

The moment who he calls you, you will call."

Our swastika & theirs

A recent issue of The New York Times has a very informative article by Sarah Boxer on the origin of the swastika, its distortion, use and misuse in Europe.

Swastika derives from the Sanskrit svastika, meaning well-being and good fortune. Relics found in India dating back to 3000 B.C. have the emblem on them. The Buddhaís footprints were said to have swastikas on them. Their arms were anti-clockwise and often had dots at four ends. From India it travelled to Central Asia, Persia, Greek, Italy and Germany. Jewish synagogues in North Africa had swastikas on their walls. In the 1830s, German archaeologist Heinrich Schlimann found artefacts with swastikas near Dardanelles resembling those he had found near the Oder river in Germany and proclaimed it to be an ancient German symbol. In World War I an anti-Semitic group made it its emblem. In 1920, the Nazis claimed it for themselves. A dentist, Friedrich Krohn, redesigned the emblem reversing its arms to make them appear clockwise. The Nazis made it a hated symbol. After their defeat it was banned in Germany and the USA.

The swastika was used as a logo by Coca Cola, Carlsberg beer and even by the American Division fighting the Nazis, as a shoulder badge. It never lost its popularity in India and some other Asian countries. You can see it painted on temple walls. We have a brand of soap named Swastik; the Falun Gong of China also used the Indian style of the emblem.

In 1995, an organisation "Friends of the Swastika" was set up in the USA to retrieve it from the morass of its Nazi past, and "detoxify" and "re-sanctify" it. It produces T-shirts, stamps, postcards. Its motto is "to hell with Hitler". Its leader who goes under the unisex name Manwoman has 200 swastikas tattooed on his body. It is not known whether they are anti-clockwise in the original Indian style or the perverted form used by Adolf Hitlerís goons.

Zero-corruption certificate

Since air is pure and water is clean

Since what we say we really mean

Since we are honest and our dealings fair

Dubious means arenít found anywhere

Truth is our motto and service our creed

We are free from the virus of greed.

Money ó the government officials do not make

As bribe they do not a paise take.

Without graft, like an Arabian steed,

The files race at tremendous speed.

Head of department! donít be shy

Without any hesitation, certify

"In my department, I say with conviction,

There is absolutely zero corruption."

(Contributed by G.C. Bhandari, Meerut)