Saturday, August 3, 2002
T H I S  A B O V E  A L L

Land-grabbing in the name of God
Khushwant Singh

ISRAEL Zangwell wrote an amusing story set in rural Poland about a very poor young Jewish couple who lived outside a village and eked out a miserable living, selling firewood to the villagers. Near Christmas time demand for wood increased, so the couple was able to earn a little more than usual. While the Christian village was preparing to celebrate with lavish eating and drinking, the young Jewish couple decided to celebrate it in their own way. On Christmas Eve, the young wife went out in the snow to get some more firewood for their hearth. She came to a pond which was frozen hard. She had not bathed for several days. Knowing what her husband had in mind, she took off her clothes, smashed the ice and jumped into the pool. She heard men’s voices at a distance coming towards the pool. They were two farmers out shooting birds to add to their Christmas fare. The girl jumped out of the pool, gathered her clothes and ran naked to her hut. The farmers saw the figure of a naked woman ran across the snow and vanish in the mist. Who could it be on Christmas Eve except Virgin Mary? The story spread in the village. A widow whose son had been stricken with paralysis took it to the pool and dumped him in the icy water. The shock cured the child of its ailment. A bishop came to investigate and proclaimed the water of the pond to be holy. It became a place of pilgrimage and miracle curses. Soon a Cathedral was built near it. The Jewish couple went into business selling water from the pond in small bottles. They made a lot of money and became rich.

On being alone but not lonely
July 27, 2002
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

Zangwell’s story is being reproduced all over our country with unscrupulous people grabbing public land in the name of their deities. I have witnessed a few instances in Kasauli and Delhi. The highest point in Kasauli was for some reason given the name Monkey Point. As a boy I often climbed to the top. There was nothing there except a pile of stones. You got a spectacular view of the plains with the Sutlej river flowing through them. Then the Indian Air Force moved in. It built a lot of very ugly flats at the base of Monkey Point on what had once been Kasauli’s favourite picnic spot. On the peak was installed a slab of stone smeared with bright red paint. Monkey Point became Hanuman Point. A story was circulated that Hanuman after finding the sanjeevani booti had put his foot down on this spot. So a temple came up. Now it has a full-time priest. People come from distant towns and make offerings of money, fruit and flowers. A few months ago, it received an important visitor, a minister more stupid than the usual run of ministers, who declared that a spot hallowed by the touch of the foot of Bajrang Bali should not be known as Monkey Point but Maan Kee point. A Hindu bania of Kasauli has done better. There are a few Muslim graves in the town, one very close to the main bazaar. There are no permanent Muslim residents but some superstitious Hindu women were in the habit of making mannat at the graves. So he had the one near the bazaar, given a fresh green paint and spread the canard that it belonged to a peer sahib who granted wishes of devotees. Now there is a stream of pilgrims making offerings at the tomb. The bania is doing good business. There are other two tombs which are due to be renovated with fresh paint and oil lamps. Like shopkeepers who have a chain of shops, our local bania owns a chain of Muslim tombs. Good income, no income-tax.

In the last few years I have seen a proliferation of Hindu places of worship in the oddest of locations. One is along the wall of what was once Mr Jinnah’s residence (now the home of the Dutch Ambassador). It is on a side lane and all there was worth noticing was a huge peepal tree. Then the bole got a dab of saffron paint followed by a slab of stone with statue of deity. Now it is a wayside shrine. A whole area between the office of the BJP and the road has recently been taken over by some pandas to convert into a temple. Likewise, there are dozens of shrines along roads, on road-dividers, and just about every place not already occupied. People are too scared to demolish structures which have been sanctified by worshippers. The police is equally scared to take action lest it arouses communal frenzy. So the loot of public land in the name of God goes on unabated.

It needs men of determination to put an end to this menace. Some years ago a party of Nihang Sikhs sat down in the middle of a fairway of the Delhi Golf Club. They said one of them had dreamt that Guru Gobind Singh had desired that he build a gurdwara on the spot. They refused to listen to reason; the police refused to help the club out of its predicament. In sheer desperation late one night when the Nihangs were deep in bhang-induced sleep, club employees led by a few intrepid members swooped on them, picked up all the utensils, beddings, etc and threw the lot out on the road and shut the club gates. No more was heard of the Nihangs.

Bible as literature

Some weeks ago, I wrote on the advisability of reading the Bible for those aspiring to write good English. I made it clear that one does not have to read it as a scripture (unless one is a Christian) but as a sample of lucid, lyrical prose. I chose a few examples from the first fifty Psalms ascribed to King David. There are also gems of prose in the later Psalms. I adduce a few examples. "When I remember you (God) in bed, I meditate on you in the night watches" (63). Psalm 68 describes God as "a father of the fatherless and a defender of widows." Because of His grace even "the sparrow has found a home and a swallow a nest for herself." How transitory is a man’s sojourn on earth is the theme of Psalm 103: "As for man, his days are like grass, as a flower of the field, so he flourishes. For the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place remembers no more." Psalm 121 proclaims: "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom." About the most popular of the Psalms put to music is 121: "I shall lift my eyes to the hills — from whence cometh my help? My help cometh from the Lord, who made heaven and earth. He will not allow your foot to be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber...." And one oft quoted: "Unless the Lord guards the city, the watchmen stays awake in vain (127)". You may deny God but He is omnipresent, says Psalm 139: "Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence? If I ascend into heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in hell, behold you are there."

Enough of the Psalms; there is a lot in the Bible which is sheer joy to read for those who love English. You will be surprised to note that a large number of sayings, adages, and proverbs in current use are derived from the Bible, both the Old Testament and the New Testament. I will draw your attention to them another time.

The burial

Banta had a 59-litre tank of petrol in reserve when rationing was introduced. He consulted his friend Santa that what he should do about it. "Bury it, Santa yaar" was the reply.

Accordingly, he gave his gardener instructions to dig a hole for it in a secluded spot.

After a time the gardener returned, "I have buried the petrol," he said. "What do you want me to do with the tank?"

(Contributed by Shivtar Singh Dalla, Ludhiana)

The better half

What is the example version of ‘wife’:

W — Worries

I — Invited

F — For

E — Ever

(Contributed by Deepak Soi, N.Delhi)