|Saturday, December 2, 2000||
AT Hardwar begins the milking of the Ganga. Canals take off in different directions, leaving a trickle in the mainstream. One canal is used to produce electric power, another goes to irrigate thirsty flat lands of Uttar Pradesh. The water of these canals or that running in taps is not sacred: that privilege is reserved for the water running past Har-ki-Pauri. People fill bottles of this water to take home. Thousands of people make a living carrying matkas full of Gangajal slung on bamboo poles on their shoulders; they walk hundreds of miles without letting the pots touch the earth till they reach their destination. Legend has that unlike water of lesser rivers, Gangajal has medicinal properties and never stales. If faith can move mountains, faith keeps alive Ganga’s supremacy over other rivers of the world.
The further upstream
you go the more spectacular becomes the mountain scenery through which
the Ganga flows. Its crystal clear and cold waters assume different
colours: green, blue and silver white. This time I only got as far as
Rishikesh and spent some time in the garden of a spacious guesthouse,
belonging to the Somanis. Steps that led down to the river were too
steep for my aged legs. So I sat on the lawn breathing the freshest air
I’ve known over the years. Parents of children in the Ranipur D.P.S.
joined me. All of them were Punjabis, Jains, Aroras and Sahnis who had
settled in this sylvan town in the mountains along the right bank of the
sacred river. "You must stay here next time you visit Ranipur,"
they said. "We assure you our aarti is more beautiful than
the one you saw at Hardwar’s Har-ki-Pauri. We will make all the bandobast."
I readily agreed.
Taming of the shrew
One night as I lay reading in bed, I felt a gentle rustling near my pillow. As I turned round I sensed something had brushed passed me and disappeared. It could have been a moth because it felt very smooth. I resumed reading. A few minutes later I felt the same thing move over my legs. I looked down. It was gone. It could have been a poltergeist or a malevolent spirit. I thought it best to switch on the air-conditioner and cover myself from head to foot under a sheet to thwart any further onslaughts on my body. Its third visitation was not so gentle. It scampered over the sheet above my face. I got up with a start and switched on the bed light. It was an ugly little rat-like creature which often entered my flat, squeezing itself through the minutest of openings under the doors. I had assumed it was a bandicoot. I was wrong. I had a closer look at it as I tried to chase it out of my room. It was a dark grey creature with a long snout and unlike rats or mice which run, it glided on its belly and seemed to have poor eyesight as it came charging towards me a number of times. Our battle continued intermittently till 2 a.m. till I got my walking stick to hammer the daylight out of the little pest.
I consulted my book on Indian fauna. Since it resembles a rodent, it is commonly known as a musk rat because of the musky odour it emits. It is in fact the grey musk shrew (suncus caeruleus) known as chechoondar or ghoose in northern India, kandeli in Malayalam, and sondeli in Kannada. It can be identified by its piercing call keek, keek, keek when it is on the run and an inch long turd it deposits. I often wondered why God created this ugly, smelly little pest which haunts our homes at night for no apparent purpose except to disturb our sleep. Apparently there is a purpose behind its creation. This shrew lives on tiny insects like cockroaches. It also frightens off mice and rats. My night visitor did not know I have rid my flat of cockroaches and rodents. Perhaps it was on a reconnaissance expedition and finding no other victims, decided to pester me. I will set a rat-trap baited with a bit of rotten cheese to catch it. Being a Jaini in belief, I will not harm it but let it loose in the garden of a Member of Parliament who lives in my vicinity. Politicians have lots of cockroaches around them.
A British newspaper sponsored a contest for the best answer to this dilemma: "Assume that in a balloon there are three famous men who have made invaluable contributions to mankind. The first one made an important medical breakthrough, the second invented a youth serum and the third is a renowned nuclear physicist. The balloon runs into a storm and can be saved only if one of the passengers is thrown overboard. Which man should be sacrificed ?"
The newspaper received innumerable lengthy replies citing the merits of each man. But the judges awarded the first prize to a 12-year-old whose answer was: "The fattest one."
(Contributed by Reeten Ganguly, Silchar)
Comrade Sunil Rai of Ludhiana rang me up to express his anguish at the performance of our cricket team (Ganguly, Tendulkar, Yuvraj, Robin Singh et al) against the Sri Lankan team. He composed the following lines as ‘tribute’ to our team:
Sharm unko aatee hai, jo sharm say sharmaatey hain
Hum to itney be-sharm hain kay sharm hum say sharmaatee hai
(Only those who know what shame is can face it
We have become so shameless that shame itself hides from us.)