|Saturday, February 1, 2003||
in my long life of 87 years I have suffered a worse winter than I did
this year in Delhi. Right from Christmas to this day it has been a
succession of foggy mornings, a pale sun which gave no warmth and icy
winds which chilled my aged bones. The lower temperature hovered between
freezing point to five degrees celsius. Birds fly, thousands of miles
every summer and winter to sport and feed in warmer climes; so did I in
past years when I flew down to Goa to fill my lungs with fresh warm sea
breeze which lasted till Basant Panchmi by which time winter had
loosened its stranglehold on northern India. This year I felt I was too
old to travel and would make Delhi as comfortable for myself as I could.
I regretted the decision. I have often brooded over the Jewish,
Christian and Muslim notion that hell is burning hot; for me icy cold is
worse than hell. Call it what you like — sardee, seet, paala or
thund or as my wife used to imitate my village dialect and say dahdee
thaadey — it is hell.
There are aspects of Indian life so abdominally cruel that we do our best to pretend they do not exist and therefore we do not have to do anything about them. One such is the treatment of widows. They are not wanted by their late husbands’ families and their parents refuse to take them back. Their heads are tonsured, sindoor removed from the parting in their hair, bangles smashed, fine clothes taken away to be exchanged for plain white garment. Many are dumped in ashrams in Varanasi or Vrindavan to become victims of pandas, priests and patrons of temples.
A couple of years ago Meera Nair tried to make a film on the subject in Varanasi and got permission to do so. Her equipment was smashed up by hooligans and her crew hounded out of the city. Now Pavan Varma, our High Commissioner in Cyprus, has written a moving poem: Widows of Vrindavan; it has been choreographed and performed in the Bharatnatyam style by renowned dancer Pratibha Prahlad. Pavan writes of a young Hindu bride widowed before the marriage has been consummated:
And then they said:
She must wear white
Cut her hair
Break her bangles
Remove the Kajal
wash the sindoor
Let her renounce meat, give up spice,
Adopt white! White, the colour white!
Bleach the mehndi; or anything else
The dreams of a bride.
She is dumped in an ashram in Vrindavan and laments:
I cannot find Krishna
In this temple town
Of overflowing sewage,
Where pandas breed
In concrete cess pools,
And devotees walk on filth
Without anyone noticing
I cannot find Krishna
In this holy city.
Although I chant His name.
From seven to ten
In the morning.
She ends up as a common whore:
We live in the shadow
or whore houses,
Prey for priests
Landlords, rickshaw drivers
In fact, any male in sight.
Pratibha despite achieving a degree of excellence as a dancer is not really suited to play the role of a widow forced by circumstances into prostitution, because she is never likely to become a widow. She is an unmarried mother of identical twin boys conceived through artificial insemination. Who the donor is no one knows. She is 50 years ahead of our times and lovely to behold.
Terrorism & the US
We have defeated terrorism worldwide
Except for Saddam
So we can strut about with pride
And kiss our palm
All that we had to do was to frown
And the factories of terror turn turtle and drown
Whether in Sudan or Pakistan —
The best example of it is the rise of Fazlul Rehman,
The Pakistani Taliban;
But there remains Saddam
But for whom the world is beauteous and calm,
World’s enemy number one
To kill whom will be fun
And lesson to one and all
No, no, no failure, no attempt to divert attention
From the Al Qaida or Bin Laden,
See, whether in Bali or Delhi or hotbed Valley
Or New York, potentially
The world is completely fearless and free;
But alas, unfortunately when it comes to Iraq
Even the UN begins to bark
And rather than continue to fight
India and Pakistan unite.
(Courtesy: Kuldip Salil, Delhi)