Saturday, February 9, 2002
T H I S  A B O V E  A L L

Beer came before bread
Khushwant Singh

RECENT archaeological discoveries conclusively prove that before learning to bake bread, human beings learnt to brew beer. According to an article in The Economist, a 3800-year-old clay tablet shows that during King Hammurabi’s reign in Mesopotamia (1720 BC), beer was recognised for its medical properties and consumed by all members of society, male and female. The tablet in question depicts Ninkasi, a Sumerian goddess brewing beer. It has been conjectured that the earliest cereal to be farmed was barley growing wild. It was difficult to knead it into bread but mixed with water and fruit it fermented quickly and turned into a light potable alcoholic drink. At one time no distinction was made between beer brewed from barley and wine made of grapes or mead made from honey.

In the second century AD, famous physician Galen used wine to disinfect wounds. Beers and wines were favoured by the Romans. They discovered that the presence of alcohol made water safe to drink. They often diluted their wines and beers with brackish sea-water to give them smoothness. England discovered wine with a bang on April 19, 1587, when Sir Francis Drake attacked the Spanish port of Cadiz where the Spanish navy was assembling its fleet to invade England. Besides sinking all Spanish warships, Drake captured 2,900 barrels of Sherry (so named after the Jerez region of Spain). The high English society took to sherry like fish takes to water. Before Drake, navigators like Columbus (1490) and Megellan (1519) had discovered that sherry remained drinkable longer than other wines and took many barrels of it on their long sea voyages.

Getting away from the world... to be in Goa
February 2, 2002
Coping with the death of a loved one
January 26, 2002
Count the blessings of old age
January 19, 2002
Vajpayee, the poet
January 12, 2002
When Indian writers meet
January 5, 2002
Behind the mask of a terrorist
December 29, 2001
An exercise in futility
December 15, 2001
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

William Shakespeare was an ardent patron of sherry, then known in England as sack. He makes his character Falstaff his mouth-piece to proclaim, "If I had a thousand sons, the first human principle I would teach them is to forswear thin potations and to addict themselves to sack."

How is it that our ancestors did not learn to brew beer till the sahib log landed on our hospitable shores? They made Som ras, arrack, toddy and heady brandies. The only thing that passed for beer was made of fermented rice which still remains a part of the ration of our tribal brethren. Lest I be accused of subverting the morals of Indian youth, I quote the last two lines from article in The Economist: "....There is now strong scientific evidence that alcohol, taken in moderation, can help you travel forward in time too, by reducing the risk of heart disease by as much as 40 per cent. Cheers!"

Getting away ... II

When I have nothing better to do, I sit in the hotel lounge, watching people check-in and check-out. A lot of people come to Goa to attend conferences and savour a little of the relaxed atmosphere that pervades, inhale fresh sea breeze or stroll on the beach. They spend their days in conference halls, listen to boring speeches and read learned papers. Their evenings are wasted in pointless tittle-tattle in cocktail parties. They make no Goan friends; the Goanese take little interest in them. For me it is the regulars who matter because they give me a sense of belonging. There is the Spanish Maria Delora, she spends some months every year in Goa. She is thin, wispy, grey-haired and unsmiling. She is always carping about something or the other but is back every winter. The Krusners from Dusseldorf came and left before I got here. But the portly, paunchy Fredi Schorn from Mulheim never fails to turn up. He makes his presence known by blowing his nose several times like a trumpet. His pockets are full of ball-point pens which he gives away as gifts to anyone he likes. "You write, Jah?" he asks me and puts one in my pocket. I try to write with it; no ink flows. "Fredi, your good German pen is no good," I complain to him. He takes the pen out of my hand and scratches vigorously on my notebook till ink begins to flow. "See," he says, "try, try, try again." To make up for its earlier failure, Fredi plants three more pens in my pocket. Four Indians join me. Two I recognise and presume are man and wife. I am wrong. The lady reminds me we had met over 30 years ago in Kasauli. She was then the young wife of the aged General Gurbaksh Singh, PSO, OBE, Padma Shri. And much else. In a gush of words she fills in her curriculum vitae — Miss Simla, Binaca Toothpaste Smile Champion, because of her pearly white teeth, President of War Widows Association.And much else. She comes back to me. I had seen her as a busty young lass striding the hill along with an enormous-sized German shepherd. At that time she did not exchange a word with me; now there is not a pause in her self-re-introduction. She ends by presenting me with her visiting card which has our national emblem above her name, Mrs Sudesh G.B. Singh (Sandy), Bharat Gaurav Award Recipient. "The rest of what I do is at the back of the card," she says. She orders tea for five, makes a gesture to pay for it and then take leave. "We have already taken a lot of your precious time," she says as she departs.


Pyar Bharaa Valentine

I regard celebrating St Valentines Day, sending cards declaring love or inserting amorous messages in newspapers as adolescent and silly. But making an issue of this harmless pastime by organising demonstrations against it, I consider even sillier. Why don’t people like Bal Thackeray learn to mind their own business and let others do what they like? I know card manufacturers and newspapers make huge profits on St Valentine’s Day but what right has anyone in a democratic society to dictate to others how they should spend their money? I am tempted to buy a St Valentine’s Day card full of mushy love messages and sent it to the Shiv Sena supremo who I do not love at all. He is a rabble-rouser. When he cannot find anything better, he picks on artists and film producers who he thinks hurt Hindu sentiments to rouse his followers to frenzy. Of all the meaningless issues, every February he picks up St Valentine’s Day, said to be sacred to lovers. He says it is un-Indian. Indeed it is as un-Indian as All Fools Day (April 1). He probably also thinks it’s of Christian origin, hence doubly reprehensible. He should know it has nothing Christian about it; it is a pagan festival to mark the advent of spring when young people’s minds turn to thoughts of love.


Medical conundrums

The following answers were given by an applicant for admission to a medical college:

Antibody — against everyone, artery — the study of fine paintings; bacteria — back door to a cafeteria; benign — what you be after you be eight; bowel — letters like a,e,i,o,u; caesarian section — a district in Rome; cardiology — advanced study of poker playing; cat scan — searching for lost kitty; chronic — neck of a crow; coma — punctuation mark; cyst — short form of sister; diagnosis — person with slanted nose; dilate — the late British Princess Diana; dislocation — in this place; duodenum — couple in blue jeans; genes — blue denim; enema — not a friend; false labour — pretending to work; impotent — distinguished/well-known; labour pain — hurt at work; lactose — people without feet; obesity — City of Obe; pacemaker — winner of Nobel Peace Prize; tablet —small table; vein — at what time? urine — opposite of you’re out; ultrasound — radical noise; tumour — extra pair/you die.

(Contributed by Niloufer Bilimoria, Mumbai)


Eye ball to eye ball

India and Pak are bhai bhai

Who never saw eye to eye

Thanks to j-e-m, l-e-t, hizb and all,

they now see eye ball to eye ball.

Imagine two kids in a long such posture,

one breaks into smile, the other into laughter.

Musharraf was the first to shy,

So the first round goes to Vajpayee.

Courtesy: Lt. Col. R.D.S. Gurm (retd), Ludhiana.