Saturday, August 4, 2001
T H I S  A B O V E  A L L

A case for moderate drinking
by Khushwant Singh

RETIRED Chief Justice of the Punjab and Haryana High Court Ranjit Singh Narula tells me as gently as he can to give up drinking. He is a gentle person, he does not disapprove of me except that he dislikes my addiction to hard liquor. Despite my assurance that I have never been drunk in my life (I am 87, a few months older than Narula), he insists it is a bad habit forbidden by the Sikh faith. As proof he gave me an article written by Professor Pyara Singh Padam entitled Sharab. The learned Professor quotes several Sikh Gurus condemning drinking but admits it is not forbidden in any of the codes of conduct (rahatnamas) as is the intake of tobacco in any form. He also rues the fact that despite the Gurus strongly censuring it, Sikhs are about the hardest drinkers in the country. Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s brandy was specially prepared by a Hungarian, Dr Honigberger, who also mixed gunpowder for the Maharaja’s artillery.

The word sharab is derived from the Persian aab for water and sharr mischief, hence the water of mischief. Prophet Mohammed condemned it; the Koran denounces it as haraam — unlawful — but holds out promise to the faithful that they will have plenty of it in Paradise with houris thrown in. Almost all my Muslim friends, men and women, Indian and Pakistani, can’t wait to die and enjoy their drinks while on earth.

A dangerous twist to a harmless practice
July 28, 2001
No escape from pain and sorrow
July 21, 2001
A penny for Jagjit Chohan
July 14, 2001
The importance of bathing
July 7, 2001
An astral encounter
June 30, 2001
Footloose with Ghalib
June 23, 2001
Sangam of religions
June 16, 2001
What makes a man great?
June 9, 2001
Malgudi no more
May 26, 2001
Call of the papeeha
May 19, 2001
Exporting erotica to France
May 12, 2001
Celebrating old age
May 5, 2001
Guru-chela parampara
April 28, 2001
What the world owes to Jainism
April 21, 2001
Exercising the mind with books
April 14, 2001
The great Maharaja of Punjab
April 7, 2001
Storm in a chat show
March 31, 2001

They may ask:

Jannat mein ja kar tahooran peeogay

To yahaan peena kyon gunaah ho gaya?

Vahaan hoorein milney ka hai hukum,

Yahaan kyon zinah ka gunaah ho gaya?

(If drinking will be legal in Paradise

Why is it declared on earth a crime?

If virgins are provided in Paradise

Why is womanising on earth declared a crime?)

Hinduism has an ambivalent attitude towards drinking. Madira, sura or somras were ingredient of the cocktail the gods churned out of the ocean. Ancient Sanskrit texts list 11 kinds of hard liquor of which three were top favourites of our ancestors: one distilled from the mahua flower (madhuca indica), one made of honey like the English mead and one made from gur. These were often offered to gods. Some yogi orders prescribe use of liquor to enhance mystical experiences.

Wine is used in Jewish and Christian religious rituals. It is forbidden by Jain and Buddhist religious tenets. However, love of liquor overcame all religious taboos and attempts by governments to enforce prohibition. Neither Mahatma Gandhi nor Morarji Desai succeeded in persuading their countrymen that drinking liquor was harmful and impoverished families. Aldous Huxley rightly pointed out that more people lose their lives to drink than they do in wars fought for their country, King or the Church.

Drinking in moderation creates social bonding. Drinking in excess creates social problems. A drunk man is a sorry sight. He becomes garrulous and aggressive before he passes out. A woman drinking to excess is pitiable. She becomes maudlin and loses the will to say no to men who make advances. A lady poet summed up her plight:

I hope I drink like a lady,

One or two at the most;

Three puts me under the table,

Fourth puts me under the host.

I envy men who can drink endlessly but never get drunk. One such was the eminent Urdu poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz. He could drink from morning to late in the night without showing any traces of drunkenness. Another was the calligraphist Sadqain who made beautiful floral reproductions of the verses of the Koran after putting a bottle of hard liquor in his stomach. As for miserable me, I like two or three in the evening; more make me groggy. However, I mean to enjoy my modest intake for the rest of my life.

Justice Narula has not given up his endeavour to make me a teetotaller. Being a godfearing and kindly man with a silver-white beard flowing down to his navel, I have no doubt he will have a luxury apartment booked for him in Paradise. I am equally certain I will be consigned to the fires of hell. I hope once in a while he will visit me and bring with him as gifts what he disdains; some good liquor and a couple of houris.

Sex workers of South Asia

Fallen Angels is a shame-making and distressing book because it is about sex workers of South Asia: India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. It has revealing photographs of children, both male and female, who are forced into selling their bodies. Many are pushed into it when they are barely 12 years old, many are enticed by pimps with promises of jobs as maid servants and sold to brothels in big cities; they become bonded labourers of kothawali madams and in their younger years service up to a dozen men in one night. By the time they reach 30, they are disease-ridden old women and die before they are 50. One thing that comes through the text is that poorer the country, the more sordid the tale of exploitation of its poor children. All countries dealt with in the book are among the poorest 10 in the world. Consequently, Nepal and Bangladesh top the list of child exploiters. Young Nepalese girls stock brothels in Kolkata, Mumbai and Delhi. Girls from Bangladesh walk across the porous border, some are absorbed in Kolkata’s Sonagachi, some in Mumbai’s Kamathipura, the remaining find employment in Karachi’s brothels. Pakistan and Sri Lanka cater to pederasts. In Pakistan, lusty men prefer young boys to girls; foreigners inclined the same way go to cheaper outlets in Sri Lanka. Then there are open air whore houses along all major highways where truck-drivers break journey for the night at dhabas, which besides tandoori roti, daal-gosht and desi sharaab they get women to share their charpoys. So HIV and AIDS is carried across the length and breadth of our countries.

The book is not available in bookstores, for reasons only comprehensible to the publisher Pramod Kapoor of Roli Books. You can place your order for it and any bookseller will get it for you. At the same time Pramod wants it to be publicised: so that people concerned take the trouble of acquiring it. This may be a clever sales gimmick to attract the prurient. They will be disappointed because there is nothing titillating in it — only shame-making.

Prostitution exists in every country of the world, including the richest like America, Canada, England, Germany, France — name it, it has it. But with us it has touched unheard depths of degradation. It is time we realised we cannot stamp out prostitution. If legalised, it can prevent exploitation of underage girls, eliminate pimps and reduce harassment and blackmailing by the police.

Too many refugees

A Pakistani girl from Karachi on a visit to India with her school mates got a call from her mother who asked how she was enjoying her trip to Bharat. "Very much", replied the girl enthusiastically, "we spent a few days in Delhi and saw the Qutab Minar and the Red Fort. Then we went to Agra and saw the Taj Mahal. Now we are in Lucknow. Mummy, this city is like Karachi; it is full of Mohajirs."

Her mother explained, "Beti, they are Mohajirs (refugees) in Karachi but in Lucknow they are Lakhnawis.