Saturday, December 15, 2001
T H I S  A B O V E  A L L

An exercise in futility
Khushwant Singh

THERE is a popular saying in Persian that you may say anything against Allah but beware of saying a word against the Prophet. Bengalis have somewhat the same reverential attitude towards Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore. In his preface to Terrorism & Tagore by Sisir Kar (Teachersí Book Agency), Geetesh Sharna writes: "We Bengalis, when we talk about Tagore, we tend to glorify him as a flawless super human being. We are so sensitive and intolerant that we may hear the criticism of God but not of Tagore."

Apparently this was not so during the lifetime of Rabi Babu. There was a group of writers known as Kallol which criticised him severely before and after he won the Nobel Prize for Literature. Tagore took their criticism seriously and wrote back in his defence.

In Terrorism & Tagore, Dr Sisir Kar has picked on two of Tagoreís novels Ghare Baire (Home and Abroad) and Char Adhyay (Four chapters) in which Tagore expressed disapproval of terrorism as a means of achieving Independence. Consequently while Sarat Chandraís Pather Dabi, Nazrul Islamís Bisher Banshi, Bhangar Gan Pralay Shikha, Chandra Bindu and prose writings were banned by the British Government, it bought copies of Tagoreís Char Adhyay to distribute free among detinues and encouraged the author to convert the novel into a play to be staged and screened. One letter dated February 25, 1925, from M.M. Stuart, District Magistrate of Burdwan, admits: "We are never likely to produce a Rabi Babu in the publicity department and that coming from this source it is automatically a great advantage."

The power of self-destruction
December 1, 2001
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

Terrorism & Tagore
is a disappointing book. For one Gurudev Tagore never made a secret of his disapproval of use of violence to achieve political goals, nor did Gandhi and the vast majority of national leaders. So ferreting out classified material to prove a point that does not need proving is of little consequence. For another, for lack of material Sisir Kar has padded up his text with lists of Tagoreís other works, articles and opinions on terrorism which are not strictly relevant to the topic.

Tamarind tongue

Some time ago I wrote about a discovery I had made: a new Indian novelist of unusual talent named Anita Rao Badami. I read her second novel The Heroís Walk which impressed me profoundly. Its jacket did not say anything about her nor carried her photograph. I could not find her first novel in any of the bookstores. Then Ravi Singh of Penguin-Viking lent me a copy he had and told me it was not doing as well as anticipated. I read this first novel Tamarind Mem (Viking) and suspect that it is the elusive title that did not give it a fair chance in the book market. Though not as impressive as The Heroís Walk it is as well-written and a prelude to what followed. It also tells you a little more about the author. She is a Kannadiga living in Canada. It also has her photograph. She appears to be in her early thirties, attractive with a broad smiling face.

Both her novels are part autobiographical, part fictional. Tamarind Mem is named after her mother Saroja who has an acerbic tongue as sharp as the taste of raw imli (tamarind). She came to be so named by her neighbours who were at the receiving end of her ill-tempered outbursts. She was married off to an officer in the Railways who was 15 years older than her. It was a mis-match from the very start. She was a garrulous woman anxious to talk and get into arguments. He was a dour man of few words, a pipe-smoker given to hiding his face behind a newspaper when his wife wanted to engage him in a conversation. Also a poor lover. They had two daughters. He was more devoted to them than to his wife. They reciprocated his affection. From their mother they got tongue-lashing for not doing their school-work, not being properly dressed, not eating what was laid out for them. The father spent half of his time travelling to distant sites where new rail lines had to be laid or old ones needed checking. Every three years, he was transferred to another town and they had to set up a new home in a railway colony and settled equations with new neighbours. A very bored Saroja, saddled with an indifferent husband, had an affair with an Anglo-Indian car mechanic who came periodically to repair her husbandís car. He fell in love with her and tried to persuade her to leave her husband and daughters to elope with him to Australia or Canada. She was unwilling to break up her loveless life. The poor fellow committed suicide.

Heavy smoking took a toll of her husbandís health. He got lung cancer and died. The days of living in large bungalows with hordes of servants were over. Her daughters migrated to foreign lands. The elder (obviously the author) to Canada, the younger perhaps to the States. Saroja returned to her small apartment in Madras to spend the rest of her days day-dreaming of past days.

Badamiís characters come alive, everyone of them. She recreates scenes of towns and cities in which she lived with the skill of a master-painter in lyrical prose. This girl has a great future as a novelist.

Making of a godman

About 10 years ago, Girish Khurana of Ludhiana came to see me. He was a tall, strapping, handsome young man in his early thirties. He told me he taught yoga and meditation and had quite a following in the industrial town. He was also into spiritualism (whatever that means). He had read Gurdijeff and Blavatsky theosophy and psychology. Since I had a few books on these subjects, which were of no interest to me, I passed them on to him. I could not understand why a young man bursting with good health was not in service or was not an entrepreneur. He told me he had only passed his school finals and had never gone to college: so any kind of government or private service had to be ruled out. His consuming interest in esoteric subjects distanced him from his family. He drew inspiration from the Bhagavadgita and the Bible while other members of his family were into ceremonial religious rituals.

Besides giving lectures on spiritual values, Girish began to counsel people. He helped them gain confidence in themselves by assuring them of the good days that would come. So he added the study of astrology, palmistry and other methods of forecasting the future. His following increased and he has now become a cult figure in Ludhiana. All that remains for him to do is to start wearing saffron clothes, take a vow of celibacy, build an ashram and change his name from Girish Khurana to swami something and then the metamorphosis will be complete. Instead of coming to see me, I will have to go to Ludhiana to have his darshan.


In a Gallup Poll, 1,000 women were asked if they would have sex with Bill Clinton. Seventy per cent of them said: "Never again".

(Contributed by Judson K. Cornelius, Hyderabad)