|Saturday, April 13, 2002||
THE name may have faded out of the memories of most Indians but will remain tattooed in red in the minds of our Bangladeshi neighbours. He was sent out by General Yahya Khan of Pakistan to put down unrest swelling in East Pakistan. He did it in the only way he knew: let loose his predominantly Punjabi Army on hapless Bangladeshis with permission to loot, rape and kill anyone it suspected of being disloyal to Pakistan. His tenure in Dhaka was extensively covered by the world media. He was dubbed the Butcher of Bangladesh. He died in Islamabad a fortnight ago at the age of 86.
After Bangladesh won its Independence, I went to Pakistan on the invitation of its new ruler Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. I was anxious to meet (by then retired) General Tikka Khan to get his side of the story. He turned down my request for an interview. He did not want to see any Indian, least of all a Sikh journalist. I asked my friend Manzur Qadir to plead on my behalf. He assured Tikka Khan that I bore no ill-will towards Pakistan and I would faithfully report what he had to say about his role in the uprising in what was to become Bangladesh.
It turned out to be
quite a memorable interview. Tikka Khan received me in his bungalow. I
was surprised how unmartial he looked. He looked more like a bank clerk
than a soldier. He was short and stocky. Also gruff. With him in the
room where we sat was his orderly, a huge Pathan about 6 feet 6 inches
tall, but gentle as a lamb. I looked round the room cluttered with
family photographs and trophies one sees in homes of senior army
officers. On the walls were quotations from the Koran, including
one I could recognise prominently displayed on the mantelpiece.
"General Sahib, Allah granted victory to us Indians."
He felt I had hit him below the belt. "Sardar Sahib, I suspect you knew the quotation from the holy book."
I nodded my head, shook him by the hand and took my leave.
Dining out in Delhi
I don't much care about dining in restaurants: the food they dish out is seldom top quality in taste and too expensive. In any event, anything cooked in large quantities can rarely cater to individual tastes. For me it has to be a small party of no more than six to eight guests, the food must be cooked by the host or hostess and not by their khansamas; it should have the right wines to go with it, and above all, served on the dot because gourmet food had to be brought from the cooking utensil to the table exactly when it has the richest aroma and taste. Anything kept hot by spirit lamps burning under large silver-plated containers has little flavour left in it. These conditions are not observed in Delhi's elitist circles. So I rarely, if ever, accept an invitation to dine out. I am a very fussy eater.
There are a few notable exceptions to the general rule of unpunctuality and tasteless food in Delhi homes. One such in Rekha Puri. She is proud of her cooking and her husband knows about wines. They never invite more than eight guests. They remind their guests to be punctual as I would also be invited "and you know what a fusspot he is about time."
I arrived as expected at 8 p.m. Five minutes later another couple arrived. We were served scotch and soda; potato wafers and peanuts on tables beside our chairs. Twenty minutes later came the third couple full of apologies. "Traffic on Delhi's roads at this hour is chaotic," they explained. "We left our home more than half an hour ago. It was bumper-to-bumper all the way." They joined us for drinks and potato chips. It was coming close to nine. Rekha Puri noticed the irritation on my face. "I'll check up and see if they are on their way; otherwise we'll get along with our dinner," she said. She rang up. "Their servants say they left half an hour ago; they should be here any moment. No drinks for them. I'll get the dinner ready."
The dinner took half an hour. Still no sign of the remaining couple. It was now 9.30 p.m. I had had more than my quota of scotch and had filled my belly with potato chips, peanuts and cashew. My appetite for dinner I was looking forward to was gone. Rekha Puri was in a flap: the gourmet dishes she had prepared had to be taken as they are cooked, not allowed to cool and be reheated. The third couple arrived at 10 p.m. beaming with smiles: "Sorry, we are a bit late. We dropped in to see a couple of friends on our way here." I controlled my temper but could not help blurting out: "You kept eight people waiting. I've lost my appetite for dinner."
It was like at a feast following a funeral. All fun of dining together was gone. I gobbled up my food and left as soon as the dessert plates had been removed. I was in no mood to enjoy coffee and cognac in the company of the ill-mannered couple. I made a mental note of their names and swore that I would never go to any party where they were invited. Unfortunately this has become the pattern of social life in Delhi. Unpunctuality is the norm; being on time means you don't matter.
Tax his land, tax his wage,
Tax the bed in which he lays.
Tax his tractor, tax his mule,
Teach him taxes is the rule.
Tax his cow, tax his goat,
Tax his pants, tax his coat.
Tax his ties, tax his shirts,
Tax his work, tax his dirt.
Tax his chew, tax his smoke,
Teach him taxes are no joke,
Tax his car, tax his ass,
Tax the roads he must pass.
Tax his tobacco, tax his drink,
Tax him if he tries to think.
Tax his booze, tax his beers,
If he cries, tax his tears.
Tax his bills, tax his gas,
Tax his notes, tax his cash.
Tax him good and let him know
That after taxes, he has no dough.
If he hollers, tax him more,
Tax him until he's good and sore.
Tax his coffin, tax his grave,
Tax the sod in which he lays.
Put these words upon his tomb,
"Taxes drove me to my doom!"
And when he's gone, we won't relax,
We'll still be after inheritance tax.
(Contributed by D.N. Chaudhri, New Delhi)