Saturday, August 18, 2001
T H I S  A B O V E  A L L

Reflections on the brother-sister bond
Khushwant Singh

AMONG the scores of Pakistani mediapersons who came over to cover the Agra Summit was an unmarried girl in her twenties. She was more starry-eyed about everything she saw and the people she met in India than her elder companions. Like them she indulged in a lot of shopping: sarees, silver and gold jewellery, shoes, herbal cosmetics, etc. Among her many purchases were some raakhis and a mangalsutra. "I think this tying of raakhis round wrists of brothers and getting money or presents in return is a wonderful custom: I have lots of brothers and male cousins. I also like the idea of wearing a mangalsutra to signify you are married. When I have my nikaah, I’ll ask my husband to put it round my neck."

"What will your mullahs have to say about raakhis and mangalsutra? They will denounce them and pronounce a fatwa against you," I said.

"Mullahs can mind their own business," she replied emphatically.

A dacoit or a dasyu sundari?
August 11, 2001
A case for moderate drinking
August 4, 2001
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

This annual bonding between brothers and sisters on Raksha Bandhan is certainly a commendable tradition. But I do think it should not become a display of wealth. I recall starting off by giving my one and only sister Rs11; then I increased it to Rs 21 then Rs 51 and finally pegged it at Rs 101. Her other brothers give her a lot more: they have a lot more to give. Perhaps sisters needs should be kept in mind: if they are in need, give them more; if they are well off, a token sum will do. I know this consideration can be highly beneficial. Three years ago, Illoosh Ahluwalia was a struggling artist and found it difficult to pay her two daughters’ school fees. Then one of her male cousins married into a rich industrialists’ family. Raksha Bandhan gave him the opportunity to help her out without embarrassing her. He gave her Rs 11000. Besides paying her daughters’ school fees, it gave her breathing time to paint at leisure. Her exhibitions in Delhi and Mumbai were sell-outs. This year it was inaugurated by Madhavrao Scindia. The quality of her portraits of beautiful women has improved beyond recognition.

I am confused about the need for wearing emblems to signify marital status. Most married women (and some men) wear wedding rings. Mangalsutras are commonly wore by married women in South India. Then there is sindhoor in the parting of the hair. Not all women wear it. Some have a tiny red dot. But there is Sushma Swaraj whose sindhoor runs like a swathe of vermillion right across the parting. On top of that she wears a huge bindi (in her case binda would be closer to the mark). She is a good-looking woman. Why has she to disfigure her face simply to proclaim to males of the world that she is a happily married woman?

What happened to vanamahotsavas?

One doesn’t hear so much of vanamahotsavas, a regular feature of the summer monsoons, as one used to in the past. I had almost forgotten about this being the best time to plant trees till the Secretary of the Delhi Golf Club told me that he had got 10 saplings of Sandalwood trees from Mysore to plant along fairways and would I agree to plant one of them. Sandalwood is considered an exotic tree in northern India but it does take root and flourish. I have one in the tiny patch behind my flat. It has been there over 20 years. It is over 12 feet tall. But it has no fragrance. Sandalwood is a parasite: its roots suck juices from roots of neighbouring trees and convert them into aromatic stuff. My poor fellow has only bougainvillaea bushes near it and probably its roots do not relish the taste of roots whose flowers have no smell.

Three years ago I wrote with great enthusiasm about gurdwaras which were giving saplings as parshad instead of the traditional halwa. I do not know if the practice continues. I also learn that Tirupati Temple has also started giving saplings as prasadam. If all places of worship made this a regular practice, we might reverse the deadly pace of deforestation, and make our country green once again. My pleas to ban cremations of the dead by wood has fallen on deaf ears. We have no option but to plant more trees than we cut down to use as fuel, and for making furniture and disposing of dead humans.

There is also callous lack of concern about the health of trees that we have. Pushpa Bhatia drew my attention to trees planted along roads. Very often on the ground road the boles of trees are covered by bricks, stones or tarmac. This deprives roots of sustenance they derive from rain-water and earth warmed by the sun. Such trees become sickly, their leaves turn pale before their time, their flowers and fruit also do not flourish. Pushpa ascribes the noticeable decline in our bird life to the poor health of trees in urban areas. She may have a point.

Catchy signs

1. An anti-smoking slogan at a barber’s shop in Juhu, Mumbai — "Smoking helps you lose weight — one lung at a time!"

2. Discovered written on the door of a maternity ward in Aurangabad — "Push! Push!! Push!!!"

3. Seen written behind a Santro in Mumbai — "Make love not war — see driver for details."

4. A sticker on a Yamaha mobike — "If practise makes perfect, and nobody’s perfect, then why practise!!"

5. A graffito on a wall of a New Mumbai college — "Sex appeal: please donate generously!"

6. An ad for a guitar in a Mumbai eveninger — "Guitar for sale, cheap — no strings attached."

(Courtesy: Shashank Shekhar, Mumbai)

Complete Independence

Cheer up my chum, dance around the tree.

Now, all of us are absolutely free!

Dacoits do not commit the crime at night

They loot a bank in broad daylight!

MLAs don’t hold the governor in reverence

They go on shouting in his august presence!

Employees have no regard for the boss

Him, in the sky, they hurl and toss!

Students do not obey or respect their teacher

They treat him like a funny creature!

Children are not scared of their father

What he says they do not bother!

Policemen are so reckless and sinister

They can manhandle a Chief Minister!

Life is so safe that it can be said

"In a protected area, you can shoot an MP dead!"

(Contributed by G.C. Bhandari, Meerut)