Saturday, November 23, 2002
T H I S  A B O V E  A L L

A policeman who is a poet too
Khushwant Singh

I am allergic to policemen. Also a little scared of them as I am of men in uniform. I first met Keki Daruwala over 40 years ago in Agra where I had gone to gather material on ancient monuments. He came to call on me. How did he know of my being in Agra? He said being the police officer in charge, it was his duty to find out who came to the city and for what. But he was interested in literature and had read a couple of my books. I did not buy his story I discovered he was the son of Professor Daruwala who had taught me English in Government College, Lahore, and later my senior colleague in All India Radio. He was a most affable and erudite gentleman. What was his son doing in the police? Next I met him in India House in London. He was with RAW. Though I have never been involved in any kind of subversive activity, I am wary of people whose profession is to snoop around into others’ businesses. Then I met him off and on in the tennis courts of the Gymkhana Club. I did not take his forays into writing fiction or poetry seriously due to my allergy to his profession. He has been published in respectable magazines and has now come out with his ninth collection of poems: The Map-Maker (Ravi Dayal). I feel ashamed of myself. My Divali promise is to read all Daruwala has written and forget he was ever a policeman. He is a very good poet who dwells on a wide range of subjects and has a sharp ear for the music of words. Take for instance, the version of the genesis of life entitled The Birth of Maya:

The power of silence
November 16, 2002
Cultivating the art of conversation
November 9, 2002
Thus spake Sant Kabir
November 2, 2002
What is the strongest thing on earth?
October 26, 2002
Have you seen God?
October 19, 2002
Mocking at one’s 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

There was nothing, neither air nor substance,

Not energy, nor ether,

Not thought nor dream

(vision had not alighted

on the non-existent eye)

there was no memory

because the past had not been born

and there was no forgetfulness

because there was no memory.

There was no self

because there was no other;

there was no eternity

because there was no time,

and no infinity

because distance had not been born.

There was only trance,

the trance of the absolute.

And the texture of the trance was so fine

that the texture of space

would be as cement in front of it.

And there was such silence

that the entry of light

would sound like a gong in comparison.

The opening poem Old Sailor is closer to the bone. I quote the last two verses:

The nights move on; you go by other signs:

it is not dreams I wish to talk about.

The body speaks of its premonitions:

and you must always hear the body out —

the voice of the vertebrae, the neck’s sudden crick,

a bulge somewhere — the shabby heraldry of gout.

The knock at the slowly closing doors of the heart;

Will you hear the first rap? The chances are slim.

And when the body plays a certain note

dreams follow quiet as a silent film

On the same track.

You must to the next act —

a time comes when you don’t know if the curtain

goes up or down. The other day I found,

what I took for a smuge upon by glasses

was actually the first sign of a cataract.

The short poem Draupadi neatly sums up the status of women:

The travails of Draupadi

are never-ending.

It seems — some people have it

in their bleeding stars:

first exploited by the Pandavas,

five to one,

then by the Kauravas,

hundred to one

and now by the feminists in millions.

In the blood

In my younger days in school, college and right into my 60s I must have played more tennis than Leander Paes or Mahesh Bhupati. I never made it beyond playing for my college or club, while Peas and Bhupati became world champions. My cousin Balwant Singh excelled in any game he played — tennis, table tennis, and badminton, he represented Uttar Pradesh in inter-state tennis tournaments. His son and grandson are also very good at the game. For a while I had illusions that I might become a good sitarist and a painter. Three months in Santiniketan playing the sitar and painting under the guidance of Surendera Nath Kar destroyed my illusions. I also knew that Ustad Amjad Ali Khan inherited his mastery over sarod from his forefathers and has passed it on to his two sons. Children of fathers who were good in mathematics usually excel in the subject. Slogging gets you that far but no further and you have to have it in your genes to achieve excellence in any vocation.

This is a fitting prelude to my reactions to a letter I received sometime ago from Toronto (Canada) signed ‘Har Dev’. He was to visit India in a few weeks and wondered whether he could drop in on me after he had been to his village in Punjab. At the back of the page were a few line drawings with a lot of animation in them. The letter said nothing about them.

When Har Dev dropped in I asked him about the drawings. "They were mine," he replied. "Whenever the spirit moves me, I turn my pen from writing to drawing figures." I got his lifestory from him. Born in a Punjabi hamlet, he came to Delhi to study art and got a job in the National Gallery of Art. He won a scholarship from the Italian Government and found himself in Rome. Back home, he was asked to organise an exhibition of Polish folk art in Chandigarh. He was offered a fellowship by the Polish Government. For the next three years, Poland was his home. While organising exhibitions, he exhibited his own works and was offered the directorship of Art Galleries in Southwestern Ontario. Since then he has lived in Canada and became a Canadian citizen. However, the inspiration behind most of his work is the landscape of Punjab, the village of his nativity and Indian dancers full of animation. They have always been there in his blood.

Saree & hair colour

Three ladies were getting ready to attend the marriage party of one of their friends. They decided that each one would wear the saree of the colour of her husband’s hair. The first said, "My husband has grey hair, I’ll wear a grey-coloured saree." They second said, "My husband’s hair is black; I’ll wear black." The third said," what should I wear, my husband is bald."

Cold welcome

A sign spotted on a liquor shop:

"Enjoy child beer here."

(Contributed by Shivtar Singh Dalla, Ludhiana)