Saturday, July 27, 2002
T H I S  A B O V E  A L L

On being alone but not lonely
Khushwant Singh

I cannot understand people who complain about being bored with life. They moan "nothing to do, nowhere to go, no one to talk to. There is nothing worse than being alone." I tell them, "I like being alone but never feel lonely"? There is so much to read, write and see. I never seem to get enough of the world without people. What I find boring is humans, chiefly those who complain of being bored. I put up with them for a few minutes and then politely ask them to depart as I have more interesting things to do — by which I mean to be left alone. I don’t think they mind my being blunt; if they do, I don’t care. I will be the master of my time not they.

Ihave so many dates to keep: I come out in the garden at 6 a.m. A Himalayan barbet perches itself on the top of a fir tree and begins to wail. It is a bit of a ventriloquist: its calls sounds as if they are from a long distance, whereas it is only a few yards away from me. Another barbet somewhere far down in the valley responds. Wailing and counter-wailing goes on for almost five minutes. Barbets depart, koels take over. They are followed by crows, white-cheeked bulbuls, mynahs, Simla tits and a whole variety of tiny birds my aged eyes fail to identify. If you have eyes to see and ears to hear, there is not a dull moment in any garden. If there are no birds, lie back, gaze at the sky and watch the clouds float by overhead. Why are some going from north to south and others from south to north? Evidently at different levels, winds move in different directions. Why do clouds assume different shapes and colours? Why are some dark, moisture-laiden and bring rain, while others are like fluffs of dry cotton and simply float about?

When rituals defy reason
July 20, 2002
Why bother to work hard
July 13, 2002
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

In the afternoons, particularly over weekends, people drop in uninvited. It is odd that over the years I find total strangers more interesting than those known to me. One afternoon two young men accompanied by two young ladies dropped in. They were from Bathinda and Chandigarh. I got the name of only one girl Aman.

"But she has very little aman (peace) in her," said a powerfully built young man who seemed to be the leader of the group. He had lived in Toronto for some time but having failed to have his visa extended was back in Chandigarh. "I am into yoga in a big way," he said. "It is the most perfect system of exercises for the mind and the body." When tea-coffee was served, he refused to take either. "I only drink water. Whether or not I am thirsty, I put down a couple of gallons every day. Water flushes out impurities in the system," he proclaimed. "Why do you torture your body with what it does not need?" I asked. I knew there was no point arguing with him and asked them to let me get on with my work. They departed but the yoga man came back. "I am studying a method of putting the clock back. We need you to be active and young in mind for some more years." I did not buy his offer. "You mean something like viagra? No, thanks. I’II age with the years and decline into senility with time." None of my friends would make such interesting suggestions.

Another afternoon a lady rang up. "I am Poonam (or Poornima) Raina. I teach English in Delhi College. Could I drop in to see you for a few minutes?" I invited her over. She turned up before I could cover my head. With her was her husband Mr Kalsi and son. Poonam (or Poornima) though married to a Punjabi was proud of her Kashmiri heritage. Unlike most Indians, she was interested in trees, and birds she had seen around Kasauli. Also knowledgeable. I took the family indoors and showed them a plague on which I have my motto spelt out "This Above All. To thine ownself be true, and it must follow as the night the day that then thou will not be false to any man."

"Can you tell where these lines come from?" IaskedPoonam.

Without any hesitation she replied, "Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar". So far she is the only one of the dozens who descend on me, who was able to identify the source of the quotation.

Then there were Major Doctor Gautam Chaudhry and his wife Saroj. He is head of Military Hospital in Kasauli and is due to be transferred to Mathura. He is a Bengali, his wife a Punjabi Mohiyal Brahmin and as strappingly attractive as any militant Mohiyal should be. They met in Dehra Dun. I told them of the many Bengali-Punjabi alliances in my family. It was not she but her husband who told me all about Mohiyal Brahmins’ martial traditions. Apparently some had even fought in the Battle of Karbala.

Wing Commander M.M. Singh is with the Indian Air Force. His wife Ruby, a product of some IIT, professor of something, rendered idle because of her husband’s posting in Kasauli. There are no colleges within commuting distance. She looks forward to his transfer to some city where she can resume teaching. Most recent of my visitors were three girls from Ludhiana. They had come up by bus to spend a few hours in Kasauli, which they loved. They had a little time to spare before catching their bus back, so they decided to descend on me. They were nervous of the reception they would get and stopped a few paces away and said, "Sir, can we disturb you for a few minutes? We have come from Ludhiana." I gave them a stern look before inviting them to sit down. They were in their early 20s, dressed in T-shirts and jeans, very mod and very giggly. "Come," I replied. "I don’t mind being disturbed by pretty girls." They broke out in happy laughter. "He thinks all of us are pretty." They insisted I got to know their names: Harpreet, Gagandeep and Amiraj. We talked about love and marriage. They were sure about love but had reservations about marrying. The two pointing to the third said, "She has just got engaged to an NRI living in California." "Love or bandobast?" I asked. "Well, we met twice as arranged by our parents. After the second meeting, I said yes."

"Did you kiss him?" I asked.

Without a blush, she replied, "Yes, after we got engaged." She held out her hand to show me her engagement ring: gold with the letter H set in diamonds. I guessed she must be Harpreet. Can old friends provide such excitement?

One Saturday a contingent of five arrived from Chandigarh to share their dinner with me. A.S. Deepak came a little earlier, bringing three bougainvillaea saplings to plant in my garden. He was followed by Nagina Singh Kohli of Aroma Hotel and her fiance Salil Gulati, scion of the Gulati chain of departmental stores. Nagina is a ravishly beautiful girl, the toast of Chandigarh.

So go the days. I spend the last hour of the day wrapped in a shawl against the evening chill and swarm of mosquitoes. I watch the sun disentangle itself from the branches of pine trees and go down over the hill. With twilight a strange calm descends on me.

I turn in, switch on the lights and pour myself a whisky. Then I order the greatest musicians in the world to entertain me. They come cheap Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, Bismillah Khan, Ravi Shankar, Mehdi Hassan, Farida Khanum, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Abida Parveen, Lata Mangeshkar, Asha Bhosle, Darshan Singh Ragi, Singh Bandhu — name them. I order them to sing or play at the press of a button. You can’t enjoy music or drink in company. To savour its fulness, you have to take scotch alone, feel it going down your throat and warm your entrails. Iget slightly tipsy, a bit of suroor and float at eye-level as I walk to the dinner table and then to bed. Boredom? Ido not have the time to get bored when I am all by myself.

Cure-all clinic

A Hindi loving doctor set up a clinic. Through tinted glass, he saw passersby looking at the clinic and smiling. No patient for three days. He looked at the board. It read: "Rogi nashak (patient destroyer) Aushdhalaya".

(Courtesy: V.N. Bhardwaj, Delhi)

Good job

Question: In what profession does one get full-time salary doing a part-time job?

Answer: Teaching.

(Contributed by K.J.S. Ahluwalia, Amritsar)