Saturday, December 1, 2001
T H I S  A B O V E  A L L

The power of self-destruction
Khushwant Singh

PEOPLE of the locality in which I live donít have much respect for the law or judgements of law courts. Nor any concern for their neighbours. Most of them watch TV and some of them read newspapers. They hear appeals to make Divali less noisy, against letting of Ďbombsí and crackers; they also know they must stop making noise by 10 p.m. They wear wrist watches but ignore such injunctions as unwarranted interference in their freedom to do what they like ó make more noise and for longer hours. Consequently in our locality, celebrations begin a couple of days before Divali, reach their noisiest on the night of Lakshmi Pooja and go on till their stock of fireworks is exhausted. On Divali day the bang-bang started in the afternoon, it gathered momentum and by 10 p.m. it sounded like guns firing salvos on a battlefield. There was a mysterious silence for a few minutes ó undoubtedly a police car was passing by. Then the battle was resumed in all its fury and it only tapered off around midnight.

The next morning an eerie silence prevailed. No birds called. Dogs and cats which we have in plenty stayed hidden under beds and sofas, fearing guns would start exploding again. My patch of garden which is usually visited by flocks of pigeons and babblers had none. A smog spread like a pestilent cloud over our locality.

Jaipur and its Rajmata
November 24, 2001
Meting out humiliation as punishment
November 10, 2001
Women like her do not die...
November 3, 2001
The Karnataka-Canada connection
October 27, 2001
Making English an Indian language
October 20, 2001
Worshipping the mother of all rivers
October 13, 2001
Salman Rushdie: Genius or eccentric?
September 29, 2001
A Telugu saga set in 19th century
September 22, 2001
A blot on the face of Mother India
September 15, 2001
Leaving for the heavenly abode
September 8, 2001
Controlling the urge to backchat
September 1, 2001
A tale of modern India
August 25, 2001
Reflections on the brother-sister bond
August 18, 2001
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

Malavika Sarukkai
Malavika Sarukkai

In the afternoon I went as usual to Lodhi Gardens to take a stroll and see sparrows which have deserted our locality. There were no birds to be seen. Only parties of picnickers spread out on the lawns, guzzling pakoras and sandwiches out of paper plates which they then tossed on the grass. Every circle of humans left its litter of plastic plates, spoons and mineral water bottles where they had eaten and drunk.

I have two regulars in Lodhi Gardens, a stocky white-bearded Shastriji in kurta-dhoti who comes to do his vyayam every evening and Mr Raza, a slim man with wispy hair coloured with henna. There is also the handsome Surinder Singh (son of Chaudhary Bansi Lal) who only stops a second or two to touch my knees and ask for ashirwaad. Raza sits by me on a slab of stone but does not talk very much. Shastriji greets me with a loud namastey with both his hands raised above his head. Then launches on a long pravachan on the need to turn back the clock from old age to youth. At 76, he can expand his chest 5Ĺ inches. He tells me that when I rest between my strolls, I should do some deep breathing. "Fill your lungs with fresh air ó like this." I do as Shastriji tells me. But instead of fresh air, I fill my lungs with smog. By the time I return home, I have a mild cough. Most people of the locality in which I live suffer from bronchial ailments. This is largely due to the fact that we have made the most beautiful of our festivals into an occasion for spreading sickness.

It is the same with some of our other festivals. After Durga Puja and Ganapati Puja, we immerse idols of different sizes in our lakes and rivers. All these idols are painted with stuff which is poisonous to marine life. The Hussain Sagar Lake in Hyderabad which once teemed with fish is now woefully short of them. Most of our rivers and coastal seas are likewise polluted by human waste and effluent. Far from cleansing them we continue to dump poison in them in the guise of religion. It would appear that we have been overcome by a death-wish to destroy ourselves.

Cultural wasteland

Central and states academies set up to promote literature, music, dance and the visual arts have not made the sort of contribution that was expected of them. Apart from giving awards, often fiercely canvassed for, they have become like other government departments engaged in organising seminars, or publishing material which bookstores do not consider saleable. I do not know how much money they get from the government nor what their priorities are but I know what they should be doing but are not. I refer specifically to the Sangeet Natak Akademi. We have many talented dancers whose performances at the peak of their careers were never recorded and they remain faded memories in the minds of those who saw them. The first name that comes to my mind is that of Yamini Krishnamurthy. I saw her at her prime in Chennai. I often wish I could see her again and again without having to fantasise about her. I have seen other dancers: Uday Shankar, Ram Gopal, Sanyukta Panigrahi, Uma Sharma, Sonal Mansingh, Shovna Narayan, Ranjana Gohar, Malavika Sarukkai, the Reddys, Alarmel Valli and others. My current passion is Malavika Sarukkai. I go to see her dance whenever she performs in Delhi. The last time it was her new composition Uthkanta ó rendered with the help of her mother Saroja. It was riveting. She performed the same in Paris a month ago for four evenings before hall-packed audiences. She is at the apex of her dancing career. In a few years she will not be quite the same and like other dancers become a teacher of dancing. I asked her if someone had made a documentary on her which could be shown in cinema houses for years to come. "No," she replied, "I have often thought about it. It costs a lot of money and I do not have the means of making one on my own."

Isnít this something the Sangeet Natak Akademi should undertake as a priority? I am sure many industrial houses which patronise the arts would be more than willing to pitch in. Unlike singers who can be at the peak of their careers even in their 60s and 70s, dancers have a much shorter span in which they are at their best ó between the ages of 20 and 45. It is during this period that the best of them should be captured on films for posterity. Malavika Sarukkai is at her best now.

In support of terrorism

It is not for nothing that terrorism is my creed;

It has freed me from the drudgery of passing exam,

All that I have to do is to sing my psalsm,

It has saved me the hassles of finding a job,

All that I have to do is to lob

A visible thud on the head of a fob.

It is my friend, sheet anchor and guide

It fills mankind with a sense of pride

And gives me an opportunity

What with my idling, ignorance and illiteracy

To overnight a hero be;

You can see

The promotions here are quick and fast,

For your seniors do not very long last.

It is the bedrock of my ambition,

And if you donít tell the Indian, American and the Russian

I feel certain that Iíll be bin Laden

And six out of seven

Live by his side in heaven.

(Courtesy: Kuldip Salil, Delhi)

Note: Khushwant Singh is on leave. There will be no column next week.