Saturday, September 14, 2002
T H I S  A B O V E  A L L

Historical research: Punjabi style
Khushwant Singh

ABOUT ten years ago, Punjabi University announced the republication of volumes of the Sikh encyclopaedia compiled by Bhai Kahan Singh of Nabha and published in 1931. I had them but was anxious to get the new version in the hope that it would be updated. Nothing of the sort; the new version is a replica of the old without a word added. It does not tell you what happened to the Sikh community in the last 70 years: Partition of India, exodus of Hindus and Sikhs from Pakistan, the Punjabi Suba movement or how the new Punjab came into existence. In fact it was a printer’s job carried out at the behest of the university, which took credit for research.

The pattern is being followed to this day. The most recent example is of Guru Nanak Dev University of Amritsar. It has announced the publication of 20 books to mark the bicentenary celebration of the coronation of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. Some of the editors are Vice-Chancellors. I expected to see something about the Maharaja which I had not seen before. I did not come across anything of the sort. All 20 publications are compilations of books and articles published some time ago. No new research has been carried out. At best the publications could, in Disraeili’s words, be described as plagiarisms with the merit of preservation.

This is not good enough. The Chief Minister of Punjab, Captain Amarinder Singh, can be forgiven because he has more important work to do but the Governor, General J.F.R. Jacob, who is Chancellor of the university, should look into the matter. So also the Indian History Congress which is due to meet in Guru Nanak Dev University at the end of the year. No doubt delegates clad in black and red gowns will be presented this set of books. They will see for themselves what passes for research in Punjab’s universities.

No one will go hungry
September 7, 2002
Neither blind nor deaf to the beauties of nature
August 24, 2002
More about life after death
August 17, 2002
Importance of being important
August 10, 2002
Land-grabbing in the name of God
August 3, 2002
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

Punjab has produced eminent historians in recent years: Hari Ram Gupta, Ganda Singh Suri, Hew Mcleod and Professor Harbans Singh, editor of four volumes of Encyclopaedia of Sikhism. This legacy must not be frittered away by piracy in the garb of research.

Queen Victoria in saree

Pramila Sharma, who has made her mark writing the history of our freedom movement based on cartoons published in British, Indian and American papers and magazines, stumbled across one cartoon depicting Queen Victoria in a saree. It might be recalled that of all English monarchs in the last two centuries, none was more loved than Queen Victoria. Even Indians who had begun to resent foreign presence in India had affection for her as a kind of rajmata of the British Empire. Her statues were put up in many cities and towns of India. Although she never came to India, she had great affection for the country. She sent for a maulvi sahib to teach her Hindustani. And according to gossip in high English society, had an affair with him.

Pramila sent a photostat copy of the cartoon to Prince Charles, heir to the British throne. His Secretary acknowledged her communication in the following words: "His Royal Highness was fascinated to see the copy of the drawing ‘India’s Devotion to Queen Victoria’, and agrees very much that an exhibition of the sort you suggest could well have considerable impact in both Britain and India."

This is exactly what Pramila Sharma is doing now. Having a couple of doctorates in Hindi and a few books published, she has sought premature retirement from Daulat Ram College, where she has been lecturer, Reader, and Professor for almost 30 years. Based on an earlier exhibition John Bull to Mother India: A Historic Journey towards Self-Determination (1877-1947), she is converting a part of her residence in Gurgaon into a museum of political-social cartoons published in those times. So Professor Pramila becomes curator Pramila Sharma. It is to her that I turn whenever I have to face the wrath of Hindiwallas when they imagine I have made snide remarks against them.

Unpredictable Jayalalithaa

The speed with which Jayalalithaa Jayaram, Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, can somersault leaves most people, barring Tamilians, breathless. Some years ago, she expressed herself in favour of Sonia Gandhi as head of the Congress and even Prime Minister of India if and when her party came to power. Now she has made an about turn and says on no account should a person not India-born become Prime Minister. Why this volte face, she does not care to spell out. It does not occur to her that Sonia Gandhi is a better Indian than her for the simple reason that while she had no choice because she was born in India, Sonia chose to become Indian when she could have retained her Italian nationality. She opted to become Indian long before she entered politics. That is why she has become the more accepted bahu of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty than her India-born sister-in-law Maneka Gandhi. People like L.K. Advani and humble me had a choice of either remaining in Pakistan and becoming Pakistanis or coming to India and reclaiming our Indianness. If Advani had stayed on in Karachi, he would not have joined the RSS and become Deputy Prime Minister of India. My choice was restricted. If I had stayed on in Lahore, I would not be writing these columns.

What remains an enigma is Jayalalithaa’s unshaken hold on common people of Tamil Nadu. For them she can do no wrong: blow up vast sums of public money at a wedding, present an elephant to a temple, be accused of corrupt deals, etc. She is regarded a goddess and above suspicion of base motives; she has convinced herself that she is destined to go further — her astrologers have assured her of that. Atal-Behariji and Lal Kishenji, look out!

Kashmir calling

Day in and day out we tell the world

Of terror, its treachery, its inhumanity,

Day in and day out we show Powell and Straw, Russia and Malaysia

The proofs of Pakistani duplicity

And seek their help fervently

To end this insanity

But at the end of every day

Kashmir is an internal matter of our country.

We don’t like hypocrisy

We don’t mind thousands of lives being lost or being bled white daily,

We’ll not allow give-and-take of even an inch of our territory.

There is no role whatever for the world community

Even if Kashmir kills the whole country.

Pakistan is mad, bad, as it has never had

The taste of freedom, the feel of democracy,

As obstinacy and animosity are its guiding stars

So there will be wars.

We care two hoots for the international reality

For, if Pakistan can wage a nuclear or a thousand years war

Do you think we’ll think twice and lag behind them

In insanity!

(Courtesy: Kuldip Salil, Delhi)

Hard labour

A jail in Iceland lets its prisoners out every day to work for local farmers. They are honour-bound to return to jail each night. When one inmate didn’t get back until midnight, the guard told him: "Next time you’re so late, I won’t open the door."

(Contributed by Reeten Ganguly, Silchar)

Note: Khushwant Singh is away on holiday. There will be no column next week.