|Saturday, September 22, 2001||
THOSE of us who live north of the Godavari are only vaguely aware of the land that lies south of the river and the kind of people who live there. The luckier ones go as tourists, visit ancient caves and temples but rarely bother to learn their languages or try to befriend them. A great pity, because the southern half of India is richer than the northern, for it has preserved its ancient traditions, language and literature. Every time I read a book by a South Indian, I learn something new. My latest find is Ranga Raoís The River is Three-quarters Full (Penguin). I have read Rangaís earlier publications: there was nothing southish about them. He has been living in Delhi for the last 40 years, teaching English at Venkateswara College: I assumed he was a Dilliwala.
Ranga Rao is from
Andhra, from an eastern district adjoining Tamil Nadu that was once
known as Coromandel, where the Krishna drains into the Bay of Bengal.
For reasons best known to him, he has chosen to write of this region as
it was in the 1830s. The East India Company had then just established
itself in Madras and Bengal. From a trading company, it was gradually
becoming the ruler of the country. White sahibs still mixed with the
natives, and enjoyed smoking hookas, watching nautch girls
perform and keeping harems. Most of them were into making quick money:
shaking the pagoda tree which dropped gold and returning to Ole Blighty
to live in luxury on their ill-gotten gains. However, there were some
who took the White Manís burden as a sacred duty and behaved with
rectitude. Apart from shooting tigers, bears and elephants, and spearing
wild boars, the only indulgence they allowed themselves was a black
mistress or two in their servant quarters or visits to local brothels.
By then English girls looking for well-placed men as husbands had
started arriving in droves (they were dubbed, the fishing fleet) and
severed White menís relations with Indian women. This is the setting
of Ranga Raoís latest novel. He takes you through depredations by
Pindari hordes, and talks of the return to prosperity and devastation
caused by famine. The uncertainty of the times is summed up in the
refrain "who knows tomorrow?"
They have no illusions about Indians wanting to keep their distance from the beef-eating, wine-swilling sahibs. "The Hindu will walk with us, talk with us, but like Shylock, he will not eat with us ó forget about drinking with us ó or go to church with us, or pray with us."
Apparently sarkari babus were as much of a headache then as they are today: "All the matters do the papier mache heads packed with yellow paper and red-tape is revenue", says one of the characters. The River is Three-quarters Full is a highly readable and informative novel. It made me fall in love with Telugu-speaking people.
I met Surjit Singh Kandhari very briefly in Oslo (Norway) about 10 years ago when I was there on a week-long lecture tour. After visiting a few universities and towns in snow-bound north, I returned to Oslo for a couple of days before proceeding on my journey homewards. Kandhari was away on a business trip but his Norwegian wife invited me over to spend a day in her home which was in a village over a hundred miles away from the capital. It was a big house full of books and Indian artifacts. Thereafter I lost contact with the Kandharis.
Surjit Singh was back in India early September to offer the government historical documents he had acquired on a visit to Pakistan in the 1970s. He was in Karachi when someone told him that a dealer in antique books had many ancient manuscripts looted from Hindu and Sikh families when they migrated to India in 1947. Kandhari went to the house of the antique dealer and found a huge pile of hand-written granths. He bought the lot for Rs 20,000. He had to square Pakistani Custom officials before being allowed to take them out of the country. Back in Norway, he had the granths examined by oriental scholars. They are two handwritten copies of Adi Granth, sacred scripture of the Sikhs, and a copy of Bhagavata Purana. The most valuable of his collection is a copy of Dasam Granth, compiled by last Sikh Guru Gobind Singh. The original was lost in 1705. A compilation was made again by the Guruís closest disciple and scribe, Bhai Mani Singh, between 1724 and 1726. It is likely that this is what Kandhari has deposited in the vaults of the Bank of Norway for safe custody. Kandhari is willing to give away his treasure to any institution, museum or archive provided it is used for historical research. His contact address in India is 81, Hargobind Enclave, Delhi-92.
Not living happily ever afterwards
Amir C. Tuteja from Washington has compiled some observations on the institution of marriage. Few take a kindly look at life-long bonding. To wit:
Getting married is very much like going to a restaurant with friends. You order what you want, then when you see what the other fellow has, you wish you had ordered that.
At the cocktail party, one woman said to the other, "Arenít you wearing your wedding ring on the wrong finger? The other replied, "Yes, I am. I married the wrong man."
Man is incomplete until he is married. Then he is really finished.
Marriage is an institution in which a man loses his bachelor degree and the woman gets her master.
Young son: "Is it true, Dad, I heard that in some parts of the world, a man doesnít know his wife until he marries her?"
Dad: "That happens in most countries, son."
Then there was a woman who said, "I never knew what real happiness was until I got married, and then it was too late."
A happy marriage is a matter of give and take; the husband gives and the wife takes.
Married life is very frustrating. In the first year of marriage, the man speaks and the woman listens. In the second year, the woman speaks and the man listens. In the third year, they both speak and the neighbours listen.
After a quarrel, a wife said to her husband, "You know, I was a fool when I married you." And the husband replied, "Yes, dear, but I was in love and didnít notice it."
A man inserted an Ďadí in the classifieds:
"Wife wanted." The next day, he received hundreds of letters. They all
said the same thing, "You can have mine."