Saturday, December 9, 2000
T H I S  A B O V E  A L L

Metros bursting at the seams
by Khushwant Singh

THE deterioration of our metropolitan cities and large towns should be a matter of serious concern to all of us. They appear to be choking on their own vomit. Even new cities like Chandigarh have jhuggi-jhompri settlements coming up around it. Calcutta has been dying for many decades. Only its citizens remain chronically optimistic. Mumbai has gone to the dogs; Chennai is only marginally better off. Patna has become a cesspool of filth. Hyderabad is valiantly trying to defeat the forces of destruction. Delhi has, at long last, realised that unless remedial methods are adopted immediately, it is doomed.

The primary causes of the deterioration of the quality of life in our cities is our exploding population and the belief that cities provide more opportunities to earn a livelihood than small towns and villages. Consequently, a constant stream of the poor and the unemployed flows from the countryside into the cities, creating slums and making life for everyone increasingly unliveable. We are neither likely to be able to significantly reduce the rate at which our population is increasing nor provide opportunities of good living in rural areas. So the process of destroying cities will continue.

Going for Ganga darshan
December 2, 2000
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

I am more concerned with the fate of Delhi than of other cities because Delhi is where I have lived for most of the 87 years of my life and it is to Delhi I belong. I have watched with dismay this oldest and monument-wise one of the richest cities of the world gradually sink under the weight of slums, encouraged by politicians of different parties. All of them are guilty of ruining my beloved city. There was a time, not so very long ago, when I used to cycle from Safdarjang to the Kutub Minar and beyond just to gaze at the ruins of ancient monuments on both sides of the road. It was the same on the road from the Kutub Minar to massive ramparts of the Tughlakabad Fort and beyond to Rajput temples at Surajkund. Now everything has been obliterated from view by houses and shops — most of them built in defiance of the city’s Master Plan and encroaching on public land. Every department of the government concerned with housing and preservation of historical monuments colluded in this criminal act of robbing the city of its heritage.

Is there any chance of restoring the Capital to its pristine glory? I pin my hopes on Jagmohan. He knows his Delhi better than most Delhiwallahs. He is both a destroyer of slums and a builder of alternative accommodations. When convinced that he is in the right, he can be ruthless. He showed his mettle during the Emergency when he bulldozed whole streets on which houses and shops had been illegally built. At the same time he provided new housing for those he had displaced. I heard him speak in the Rajya Sabha on Delhi’s Master Plan and how successive governments had connived with builders to ignore its provisions. Vijay Kumar Malhtora, Madan Lal Khurana and Ambika Soni made lots of noise because their political future depends on encroachers and slum- dwellers. I count on Jagmohan to rid Delhi of polluting industrial units and encroachments on our historic monuments. He did not get much applause in the Upper House but I cheered him as I heard his speech on my TV set.

New diseases, new medicines

Americans are people of great ingenuity. Every few years they discover a new disease and persuade millions the world over that they are afflicted with it. Some time later they announce a breakthrough in research and prescribe medicines to cure it. Their pharmaceutical companies make vast fortunes selling new medicines. Twenty years ago the only venereal diseases we knew were gonorrhea and syphillis. They were wiped out by the introduction of Penicillin. Then Americans discovered new venereal diseases HIV (positive) leading to AIDS and warned everyone it would spread like bushfire. So thousands the world over are dying of it. And will go on dying till some American drug company announces it has found a cure and makes billions of dollars in profits. Male impotence, after a certain age, has been with us since the days of Adam and Eve. Americans gave it a new name, penile dysfunctioning — as if that was all to impotence. Now the manufacturers of Viagra assure ageing males that all they have to do is to pop a pill in their mouths and presto! Then we have depression, loss of memory and senile dementia. Those two have been with us since Adam and Eve were expelled from Paradise, Americans found a name for this chemical imbalance in the brain — Alzheimer’s disease. First they marketed Prozac; it did not do anyone much good. Now they have put out a murderously expensive drug called Exelon. It earns huge profits for its manufacturers. Its efficacy can be judged from the fact that its most distinguished user Ronald Reagan cannot remember he was President of the USA and lived in the White House.

The latest disease discovered by American doctors goes under the name Fibromyalgia. The word is made up of Greek and Latin: algia (pain) myo (muscle) are Greek, fibro meaning connective tissue of tendons and ligaments is from Latin. The three put together mean acute pain in all parts of the body. American doctors discovered it in 1987. Since then they have organised many seminars attended by rheumatologists and others specialising in pains from different causes. Many such gatherings are financed by pharmaceutical companies. Soon fibromyalgia will spread all over the globe and we will hear of cures: homeopathic, ayurvedic, yunani, acupuncture, reiki — and whatever. They will be dismissed as placebos. The winners and fortune-makers will be American pharmaceutical companies.

In memory of Sakhi

M. G. Narasimha Murthy, a retired Principal who lives in Hyderabad, has sent me this elegy on the death of the tigress Sakhi in the local zoo on Durgashtami (October 4) this year:

Sakhi, darling tigress of our famous zoo,

Bright-eyed princess of royal mien,

Graceful figure and flowing stripes

On fascinating golden brown,

Moved with perfect ease, feeling free,

Unaware of her captivity,

Without a thought of her tragic end

Until her throat was slit by human hands!

Callous humans, worse than beasts,

Torture and kill their fellow-beings,

Abuse children, burn their brides,

Commit heinous crimes wantonly,

Hunt helpless creatures for trade and sport,

Destroy habitats to build their homes

Sight of Sakhi, stripped of her skin,

A picture of horror, heart-rending!

Will this stir the conscience of evil gangs,

Fill every heart with compassion

And make human beings truly kind?

With love to Mamta

Moni: "I believe you are Mamta’s well-wisher."

Soni:"Yes, I wish she falls into a well."

(Contributed by Rajeshwari Singh, New Delhi)