Saturday, April 6, 2002
T H I S  A B O V E  A L L

What the Sahibs thought of natives
Khushwant Singh

GORAS who ruled over India for over two centuries had a very poor opinion of us Indians. Hardly any of them cared to make friends with the natives; their contacts were limited to offices, parade grounds, battlefields, and occasional visits to brothels. They insulated themselves in their well-appointed bungalows, "Whites only" clubs, where they issued staccato orders to their khansamas, masalchis, aabdars and chaprasis. Hardly any of them bothered to learn Indian languages and they had very limited vocabularies to issue orders. Most of them never bothered themselves with Indian classics; those who did, found them incomprehensible. There were undoubtedly a few who did and translated them into English and earned the gratitude of natives who had never read them in their original forms.

By World War II the white-brown relationship had changed beyond recognition. The two races were mixing more freely. "Whites only" citadels were crumbling. The younger generation of Brits far from being proud of their Imperial heritage were apologetic about it. In return many Indians conceded that the British rule had not been as black a period of Indian history as had been painted by their ultra-patriotic political leaders. Following the more relaxed Indo-British social relationship, Indians were able to read what British jingoists had written about their forefathers and their country. Top amongst them was Rudyard Kipling who they had dismissed as a bigot trumpeter of the Raj and an anti-Indian racist. They realised there was more to him than jingoism. He was also a good storyteller and a poet. Though he loathed Indians, most of all Bengali babus and nationalists, he loved India for its beautiful countryside and was nostalgic about the smell of spices and even the stench of sewers of Lahore, Allahabad and Calcutta. He had two sides to him: one extolled the white man’s burden bringing law, order and justice to "lesser breeds without the law", the other imbibed of India what he considered worth imbibing. In both cases, he put them in words that have the majestic ring of scriptural writing. The best example of his pride in his imperial legacy is The Recessional, specially composed for felicitating Queen Victoria in 1897. I quote a verse from it:

From herbs to haathis and tigers
March 23, 2002
Kashi: The oldest place of pilgrimage
March 16, 2002
When writers talk about themselves
March 9, 2002
Travelling in a women’s compartment
March 2, 2002
Glimpses of Urdu poetry
February 23, 2002
Stamping the police
February 16, 2002
Beer came before bread
February 9, 2002
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

God of our fathers, known of old,

Lord of our far-flung battle-line,

Beneath whose awful Hand we hold

Dominion over palm and pine —

Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,

Lest we forget — lest we forget!

Most Kipling scholars are of the opinion that Kipling’s most famous poem If was inspired by an Englishman he admired. I am equally convinced that his inspiration was the Bhagavadgita. He dismissed the Ramayana as an "infinity of trivialities" and the Mahabharata as "a monstrous midden, ... a lump of hopeless, aimless and diffuse dried tempered with puerile obscenity." He did not realise that the Bhagavadgita was a part of the second epic. I think most readers will agree with me that his poem carries the essence of our sacred classic.

If you can keep your head when all about you

Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,

If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,

But make allowance for their doubting too;

If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,

Or being lied about, don't deal in lies,

Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,

And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream — and not make dreams your master;

If you can think — and not make thoughts your aim;

If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster

And treat those two imposters just the same

If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken

Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,

Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,

And stoop and build ‘em up with worn out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings

And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,

And lose, and start again at your beginnings

And never breathe a word about your loss;

If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew

To serve your turn long after they are gone,

And so hold on when there is nothing in you

Except the will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,

Or walk with Kings — nor lose the common touch,

If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,

If all men count with you, but none too much;

If you can fill the unforgiving minute

With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,

Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,

And — which is more — you’ll be a Man, my son

Future of English in India

My friend P.R. Krishna Narayanan of Cochin sent me a photostat copy of an article by Nirad C. Chaudhuri entitled From Babu English to Indian English, published in The Illustrated Weekly of India in 1958. Nirad Babu clearly believed that the future of English writing in India was very bleak. He wrote: "The argument that English will be needed for maintaining India’s contacts with the outside world, political as well as commercial, has no force at all as a justification of Indian English. What will be needed for maintaining India’s contacts with the outside world will be good, current, idiomatic English and not a local Indian version of the language which will be unintelligible to the outside world."

How wrong could this great scholar be? He continued in the same vein:

"The fate of Indian English is already sealed. Every Indian writer of English knows that he is faced with a situation in which the choice before him is to write much better English than he has done so far, or go to the wall. If he is to survive, he will have to graft himself on the intellectual and literary life of the English-speaking world, and there will be no place for him in his own country. This will have, as its corollary, the disappearance not only of the writers of Indian English in the narrow sense of the term, but also of those Indians who write the usual current Indian English, undistinguished and pedestrian, grammatically correct, though interspersed with Indianisms, which till now has been the average educated Indian's English."

However, in the same article Nirad Babu cited a memorable example of two Indians who continued to think in their regional languages even when speaking or writing English. This was from an address presented to Pandit Nehru by the citizens of Avantika. The florid verbiage was obviously inspired by Sanskrit: "Most revered soul, most adorable politician, the father of the people, the creator of the age, exponent of universal peace, the eternal fountain of the world politics, and the enlightened veteran of the millions and millions of souls of India — universally adored Jawaharlalji, Jai Hind: The holy Ganges of the heart of the singer is the time of those sweet moments, at every throb of which there is rhythm, in every concord there is a bliss, and in every tune there is a vibration of affection."

A message for Modi

Gujarat is burning madly, the whole country is aflame

The Prime Minister says, we should hang our heads in shame

The police are inactive, politicians are only after power

So said George Fernandes, as invectives he did shower

'Nothing very wrong', the Chief Minister spoke his mind

Every action has reaction, that is what I find

With difficulty we made friends, in USA and Middle East

September, December horrors, did some good at least

Now we have lost all sympathy, are back to square one

You're as bad as your neighbour, having culture of the gun

Shed tears, O my countrymen, while you can see glorious Hind

Because an eye for eye policy, will soon make the country blind.

(Contributed by Rajeshwari Singh, Delhi)