Saturday, December 2, 2000
T H I S  A B O V E  A L L

Going for Ganga darshan
by Khushwant Singh

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.

To be among celebrities
November 25, 2000
The dawn chorus at Santiniketan
November 18, 2000
A priceless Divali gift
November 11, 2000

Making documentaries is her forte
November 4, 2000

The Indo-Malaysian connection
October 28, 2000
Lessons terrorism taught us
October 21, 2000
Blood-letting in Punjab
October 14, 2000
Translating the Japji Sahib
October 7, 2000
Indian concept of beauty
September 30, 2000
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

We set off from Rishikesh soon after noon, along the main road to Hardwar. A few miles down the road we were stopped by the police. "Chakka jam!" they explained. "You better take the other road." So we went to Rishikesh and took the road we had come by along the canal through the Rajaji National Park — dense forest with an occasional farm house. We were back in Hardwar. We took leave of the Pandeys and took the road to Delhi. The first lap was not so bad. We were on Cheetal Grand by 2 p.m. After a sandwich and a cup of coffee, we continued our journey. Then our troubles began. The number of buffalo-carts loaded with sugarcane increased.So did tractors, trucks, tempos and private cars. We came to a railway crossing. The bars came down a second before we could cross over. On either side lines of vehicles built up like troops lining up for battle. Cyclists and scooterists escaped by ducking under the bars and getting to the other side. A passenger train with siren blowing full blast rattled by. The lifting of the bars on its both sides was the signal for the battle to commence. From both sides, the charge was led by buffalo-carts: they stopped buffalo nose to buffalo nose. Neither side would budge. There was much hurling of abuse from either side, but there was no giving way to the other. We were stuck in the middle of the rail tracks for half an hour. I don’t know how the impasse was broken. From our side two buffalo-carts charged through the enemy lines. Our car followed them and crossed over. We passed a mile long line of trucks and cars. We thought the road would be clear for the rest of our journey. But hunooz Delhi door ast. At every town we ran into processions organised in favour of some candidate or the other fighting zila parishad elections. The only stretches where we could pick up some speed were Muzaffarnagar and Meerut bypasses. From Modinagar onwards, we were ourselves in a procession of cars and buses. We crossed the Hindon and Yamuna bridges. Near the Pragati Maidan there was another wall of humanity to block our way. By the time I got home it was late evening. It was nine hours in the car, my knees needed Vajpayee surgery. My legs were stiff. I asked myself why I had to go on living in this semi-civilised country where everyone asserts his right of way and no one is willing to yield to another. But I will not run away. Perhaps I will rent a small villa in Rishikesh and spend the rest of my days on the banks of Ganga Matey.

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.

Best answer

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.)