Saturday, July 13, 2002
T H I S  A B O V E  A L L

Why bother to work hard
Khushwant Singh

DURING the years I was an Editor of some journal or the other, I had to contend with people on my staff who had a very lackadaisical attitude towards the work assigned to them. Their motto was sab chalta hai (all goes, why bother too much). It used to get my hackles up. There was a very attractive and talented young lady who I had picked up myself in the hope that she would make her mark as a writer and a poet and bring credit to The Illustrated Weekly of India. After a few weeks of diligent work, she became slack: came late to the office, was slipshod in her work, went out for lunch for long hours with some admirer or the other, and was the first to leave — even before the office closed. I told her as gently as I could that she was not pulling her weight. She tossed her head disdainfully and replied: "Cheh! why do you get so worked up about small errors. Tomorrow whatever you or I write will be sold to the raddiwallah." I lost my cool and spoke sharply, "You say that once more, I will sack you." She stormed out of my room daring me to do so. A few days later she again made a faux pas correcting proofs. When I reprimanded her, she repeated her formula of life, saying sab chalta hai. I lost my temper: all her looks and gifts were diminished in my eyes. I gave her the ultimatum as strongly as I could. "Either you put in your resignation by tomorrow or I will send a note to the management to order your dismissal." She resigned. She could have made a name for herself. Hardly anyone knows about her today except as someone with great promise who came to nothing. But she is at peace with herself as a contented, fulfilled housewife. That is more than I can say for myself.

What do different religions say about drinking
July 6, 2002
You don’t always reap as you sow
June 29, 2002
Daughters of the earth get a raw deal
June 22, 2002
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

Should one really bother too much about what one has to do to earn one’s living? If a modicum of work can earn enough for us to live in modest comfort, why should we strive for excellence? It is instilled in us from childhood that we should put our heart and soul into what we are doing, it becomes our dharma, our religion. The Bhagavadgita exhorts us to put in our best without bothering about the fruit. The opposite point of view is spelt out in passages of Ecclesiastes in the Old Testament: "Vanity of vanities, all is vanity. What profit has a man from all his labours in which he toils under the sun? One generation passes away and another generation comes; but the earth abides for ever." It goes on to add: "That which has been what will be, that which is done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun." It is true that little or nothing remains of our worldly toil: "There is no remembrance of former things, nor will there be remembrance of things that are to come by those who will come after... all is vanity, and grasping for the wind." The holy book assures us, "The sleep of the labouring man is sweet whether he eats little or much, but the abundance of the rich will not permit him to sleep." So why struggle hard to amass wealth? More disturbing is the statement that goodness has no rewards nor wickedness any punishment. "There is a just man who perishes in his righteousness; and there is a wicked man who prolongs life in wickedness." The inevitable conclusion is relax and enjoy life. Says the holy book: "I recommend enjoyment; because a man has nothing better under the sun than to eat, drink and be merry, for this will remain with him in his labour all the days of his life which God gives him under the sun.... Go eat your bread with joy and drink your wine with a merry heart." There is no guarantee that the deserving win the battle of life for "the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to men of understanding, nor favour to men of skill, but time and chance happen to them all."

The choice is yours to make: if you strive for excellence, your only reward may be the satisfaction of knowing you did your best, or if you say why bother, it will make no difference.

American mod poetry

America spawns poets like fish spawn roe. What they churn out may not sound like poetry to ears attuned to rhyme and meter observed by classical poets and in an inscrutable way it is not prose but it is surprisingly fresh. One such poet is Ron Koertge, Professor of English at Pasadena City College in California. An American critic describes him as "the wisest, most entertaining wise guy in American poetry." My rakhi sister, Prema Subramaniam, who is a saleswoman with Barnes and Noble in New York, sent me Koertge's latest offering, Geography of the Forehead (University of Arkansas Press). The poem with that title made little sense to me. But some others did. For example a series of questions and answers:

What exactly is a thesaurus?

A thesaurus is like a thousand family

reunions, all in the same hotel, but each

one in a separate ballroom. A dictionary,

on the other hand, is like the Army where

everyone lines up for roll call.

I was particularly charmed by a child's prayer on Christmas Eve:

"If you exist," I said, "send me

a pony."

Immediately Jesus appeared

in my bedroom.

I got off my knees. "You heard

my prayer!"

He quoted himself: "Except ye

see signs and miracles, you will not believe."

"Be reasonable, Jesus. It's hard

to just take your word for it."

"But I'm here. In your bedroom.

Isn't that enough?"

"So is the pony outside?"

Koertge's irreverence is most refreshing:

I never liked being a Baptist: all those commandments, a fiery pit, and a heaven that — for all its glories — doesn't have pari-mutuel wagering.

But my Catholic friends aren't any happier. Ditto the Lutherans and the Methodists. I know too many uphappy Jews and Buddhists and one absolutely miserable Sufi."

Where are the vultures?

Where have all the vultures gone?

Concerned are the environmentalists

as dwindles fast the population

of the birds of prey.

In a scatter of putrefied carcasses

lying unattended, stench and decay

looms large the health hazard

the spread of epidemics for sure.....

But comes a piece of a good news

in the midst of such grim scenario:

In droves, of late, have been sighted the vultures

Perched as they are on the barbed wire fence

all along the border of the rival countries

Thanks to the armies put on the alert

on the either side of the border

poised for a bloody confrontation.

(Courtesy: Dr K.C. Prashar, Kulu)


The printer's devil almost created a diplomatic crisis when the German Crown Prince visited England in the 19th century. The London Times carried on its front page the headline: 'Visit of German Clown Prince.' The outraged German Ambassador demanded an immediate apology and a correction. The next day The London Times published: "We regret the error in the report of the German Crow Prince". Obviously the printer's devil was at work again but the German Ambassador wisely thought it best not to ask for another apology and a correction.

(Contributed by Roshni Johar, Shimla)