Saturday, October 26, 2002
T H I S  A B O V E  A L L

What is the strongest thing on earth?
Khushwant Singh

THERE is a story about King Darius of Persia who periodically invited scholars to debates on different topics in his court and loaded the winner with gifts of gold and silver. On one occasion the topic was what is the strongest thing on earth? Three Jews held as hostages ventured to enter the contest. The first replied wine was the strongest thing on earth. He said: "Wine is strongest; it causes all men to err who drink it. When they are in their cups, they forget their love both to friends and brethren. And a little after draw out swords. But when they are away from wine, they remember not what they have done." The second man said, "The King is the strongest. When he commands people to kill; they kill; if he commands to spare, they spare lives. If he commands them to lie desolate, they lie desolate. And so on." The third said, "Women are the strongest because men do their bidding. For women they will kill, rob, steal and risk their lives to make them happy." However, the third fellow was clever enough to add, "Great is the truth and stronger than all things." He won the prize. His words Magnaest veritas, et praevalet (great is truth and will always prevail) became the motto of Christian crusaders. And, of course, there is our much cherished satyamev jayate (truth is always victorious), which it seldom is in present-day India.

Have you seen God?
October 19, 2002
Mocking at oneís own people
October 12, 2002
Keeping Urdu alive
October 5, 2002
How a rapist should be punished
September 28, 2002
Historical research: Punjabi style
September 14, 2002
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

If a similar contest were to take place today in the court of Atal Behari Vajpayee and I were one of the contestants, I would say money is the strongest: the more you have, the stronger you are. You can buy all the wine you want and the most beautiful women will come running to you; you can bribe witnesses to lie on oath and pervert the course of justice; you can bribe judges, lawyers, politicians, preachers of religion, journalists and anyone else worth bribing to say whatever you want them to say. The paisa is almighty, omnipotent.

On a par with paisa I will put the kursi, not what in English is known as a chair on which you rest your bottom when you sit, but its Indian version, the seat of power, the gaddi or the throne. Once ensconced you can order money bags to shell out their wealth. If there are criminal cases pending against you, you can manage to get bail and prolong hearings till everyone has forgotten what they were about. You can bring nosey journalists to heel by twisting the arms of newspaper owners who pay them, or better, bribe the bribable to write false stories to demolish the credibility of your denigrators.

The third in the order of strength I would put is chaaplusi and khushaamad (flattery and sycophancy). To start with we believe God is prone to flattery: the more you indulge him, the more he likes it. What are prayers except the most blatant forms of flattery? And we Indians are the most prayerful of all people in the world. If you are adept at the art, you can flatter money bags out of their money and the kursiwalas to disburse patronage and get what you cherish. So if you can get both, fulfil your aspirations by use of honeyed words, why bother to strive to earn money or fight political battles to grab a kursi? A sweet tongue used to purpose is the strongest.

As for truth, the less said about it the better. Our own sweet homeland has, according to the Urdu poet Deepak Qamar, become a marketplace for falsehood bearing a signboard reading "Be truthful".

Jaaney tha kaun shakhs jo sach baat keh gayaa.

Peechhey hai saraa shahr ab patthar liye huey.

(Who knows who the fellow was who told the truth

Everyone of the town is pelting him with stones.)

Far from being the strongest, truth is the weakest of all things. Falsehood is much stronger. Count the number of truthful people who have prospered in life and you will not be able to count the fingers of one hand. Then count liars who have done well for themselves: a hundred hands with ten fingers each wonít suffice. The most truth deserves is to be made a facade: even liars know how useful it is as a mask. The more he slaps his chest and swears that he speaks his mind and is truthful, the more successful a liar he is.

Tibetans as guests

A dozen or so families of Tibetan refugees who have been in Kasauli for over 33 years are one of its most attractive features. I have not known another group more law-abiding, clean and without guile (no chall vall) and ever-smiling than they. I make it a point to greet them individually whenever I come up. My great favourite is Pemba (lily). I knew her mother and her daughter, who is now married to an Italian. Kasauli would not be the same without them. However, there are some evil-minded people who want to drive them out.

Tibetan refugees have no intention of settling down permanently in India. They hang on to their Tibetan passports and nationality and as soon as the Dalai Lama will be allowed to return to Lhasa by the Chinese Communist regime, they will pack up and return to their homes. They donít have much to pack, only woollen garments, bead necklaces, packets of joss-sticks and little artefacts they have been selling to eke out a living. Their shops are canvas and bamboo structures along a small stretch of road between the church and the bazaar. The Cantonment Board has offered them alternate accommodation behind the bazaar in pucca booths to be erected by it. They are required to pay Rs 1.2 lakh for each ó a sum that amounts to more than their lives savings. Their plea to let them re-make their canvas-bamboo khokhas has been turned down without giving them any reasons. In short, they are being forced out of the town. The Save Kasauli Society has taken up their cause. If they go, Kasauli will lose much of its human charm.

What has happened to our hoary tradition of offering sanctuary to people persecuted and thrown out of their homelands? The greatest lesson that Gautama Buddha taught us was compassion towards suffering humanity. These people have faced adversity for most of their lives, can we not be a little compassionate towards them?

Uncertain future

Santa visited an astrologer and asked what his fee was. It was Rs 100. Santa asked, "How many questions can I ask?

Panditji replied, "You can ask up to 100 questions."

Santa spent three hours putting his quota of questions. When leaving he gave the astrologer one rupee. The astrologer was very upset and demanded an explanation. "You charge Rs 100 for 100 questions," said Santa, "I asked only one question whether I would go to Canada or not. The remaining 99 questions like what will happen to my wife, how Banta shall do without me, how many children will I have from my Canadian wife, etc were only offshoots of the first question."

(Contributed by M. G. Spatu, Chandigarh.)

Clear prescription

To illustrate the importance of making prescriptions clear to patients, Dr William Osler used to tell his students this story.

A doctor once told a foreign patient: "The thing for you to do is to drink hot water an hour before breakfast every morning." After a week the man returned to the doctorís office. "How are you feeling?" asked the physician. "I feel worse." "Did you follow my instructions and drink hot water an hour before breakfast every morning? "I tried my best, but I could not keep it up for more than 15 minutes at a time," replied the patient.

(Contributed by Shivtar S. Dalla, Ludhiana