Saturday, June 22, 2002
T H I S  A B O V E  A L L

Daughters of the earth get a raw deal
Khushwant Singh

GO anywhere in India from North to South, East to West and see peasants at work in their fields. The pattern is the same: the men plough the land — you will never see a woman driving a pair of bullocks with a plough or driving a tractor. Both men and women sow the seeds. Thereafter women do most of the transplanting, tending the crops, harvesting, winnowing and carrying the harvest to their homes. Men waste many hours in chaupals, smoking hookahs and gossiping. They come into their own when it comes to taking fruits of their labour (mostly women’s labour) to mandies to sell. To celebrate the occasion they go to thekas and consume vast quantities of hard liquor, return home, drink late into the night, beat up their wives because by then their daal-roti is cold. After giving them a sound thrashing they impregnate them no matter how many children they already have.

How to handle compulsive talkers
June 8, 2002
The Bible as literature
June 1, 2002
Marriage on the rocks
May 25, 2002
Have you ever thought of death?
May 18, 2002
Experiencing the writer’s itch
April 27, 2002
Faiz: A revolutionary Urdu poet
April 20, 2002
Tikka Khan was dubbed the ‘Butcher of Bangladesh’
April 13, 2002
What the Sahibs thought of natives
April 6, 2002
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

Things are beginning to change but far too slowly. Women are elected to village panchayats and zila parishads. But this has brought only marginal change in their lives. Until and unless women are given the right to own land and the right to dispose it as they wish, they will not achieve equal rights with men. They form over 60 per cent of the population engaged in agriculture, do much more work than their menfolk, bear children and keep the home fires burning. What they get in return for the drudgery is abuse. This is the theme of a very-well-researched thesis Daughters of The Earth: Women and Land in Uttar Pradesh by Smita Tewari Jassal (Manohar). The book is evidently the outcome of a doctoral thesis because it is replete with academic jargon and composite words like socio-economic, socio-legal, socio-historical. It is however redeemed by apt quotations of folk songs in Bhojpuri, Avadhi and rhymed dialogues between Pandit Ghag and his mistress Bhadduri.

All that the dust jacket of the book reveals of the author is that she is a sociologist working as a Senior Fellow at the Centre for Women’s Development Studies. Her name reveals she is a Brahmin, Tiwari, married to a Sikh, Jassal, currently India’s Ambassador to Israel.

Mating season

It begins in spring when young people’s thoughts turn to love. Nature renews itself. Withered leaves fall, new ones take their place. Animals and birds pair up to mate. Their metabolism specifies when females come into heat and become receptive to advances of the male of their species. The only exceptions are humans. They remain on heat round the year: for them all seasons are mating seasons.

By the time spring turns to summer, birds have prepared their nests to lay eggs. Females of the animal species are pregnant and ready to deliver as soon as nature is ready to provide them sustenance. Come the monsoon and the parched land turns green. Trees bear fruit. Insects multiply by the millions to assure adequate food for birds and their hatchlings. Rains renew life by providing food for all living creatures.

I see this process of regeneration round my little apartment. Some years ago my neighbours drove away dozens of cats that had made my home their own. They said cats spread disease. This was at the height of bubonic plague in Surat. My cats were removed to a cats’ home. They never came back. A couple of months ago two strays decided to move into my backyard. They refused to befriend me. Then one of them had a litter of three kittens behind a bush. I tried to make friends with the kittens. Every time I saw them playing on the patch of green, I approached them with friendly noises. They simply glowered at me with their large questioning eyes. If I took a step forward, they disappeared behind the bushes.

But there was my granddaughter’s cat Billo who spent a lot of her time purring in my lap when no one else was around. We looked forward to her having a litter because she was often missing from the home and evidently cohabiting with a Tom who prowled around in the backyard. At times Billo’s belly looked swollen. We surmised she was pregnant. Then equally suddenly the swelling disappeared. It was probably a false pregnancy — or just surplus gas.

However, I did notice that she frequently visited the linen cupboard at the farthest end of my flat. It was in the lowest shelf of this cupboard that most cats I had, had given birth to their litter. Then one day without warning Billo hid itself in the linen cupboard and emerged after an hour or so mewing incessantly. She wanted to draw my attention to something. She led me to the linen cupboard. I peered inside. I could not see anything but distinctly heard a tiny mew. We celebrated the arrival of Billo’s progeny. I still do not know if it is just one, or as is usual with cats, two or three. I look forward to having them play in my lap. There are few other things as endearing as kittens at play.

During the mating season in the animal world, sex is compulsive. That poses a problem for humans who are particular about the pedigrees of their pets. They take great pains to keep their pedigreed bitches from mating with aira-ghaira animals till they have found an equally high-pedigreed mate for them.

One such person is my friend Claire Dutt who keeps three Labradors. Two are now past breeding: only one, Zoe, is still of the age to breed and Claire is on the lookout for a suitable match for her. She sends her dogs out for an airing in the park with her servant. Apparently she sensed that while her servant was enjoying his bidi, Zoe had been up to no good with some stray dog. She was understandably upset and questioned her servant about it. His reply was charmingly naive: "Mem Sahib, the two old dogs behave very well but this Zoe: is ka chaal challan kharaab ho gayaa hai — whenever she meets a male dog, she says hello, hello, hello to him."

Gresham’s Law

In Economics

There is the

Gresham’s Law

Which says

Bad coins push out

Good coins,

So, there is a


of counterfeits.

It is the same with people

Good guys are given the


Bad ones rule the roost

Mundane matters

Casual chores

Always score

Prime issues

Live concerns

Keep languishing

As before.

(Courtesy: Vishwa Nath, New Delhi)


Power of natural gas

Indian defence ministers are notorious for their lack of familiarity with military weapons and skills.

There was a time when the Army was under attack by the enemy, which was using chemical weapons in the form of gas. The Indian Army was drastically short of gas masks.

The General telephoned the Indian defence minister and said: "I am running drastically short of means to fight the gas attack:"

And the defence minister promptly said: "Try using two tablets of soda bicarb dissolved in a glass of water. That should take care of the gas."

(Contributed by Priya Nath Mehta, Gurgaon)