Saturday, February 1, 2003
T H I S  A B O V E  A L L

Surviving yet another cold war
Khushwant Singh

NEVER 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.

The NRI jamboree
January 25, 2003
Farid Shakarganj of Pak Pattan
January 18, 2003
Who is responsible for the plight of our daughters?
January 11, 2003
The not-so-great Churchill
January 4, 2003
Pritam Singh: Bhapaji of the Punjabi literary world
December 14, 2002
Rarest of the rare
December 7, 2002
Begums and their sahibs
November 30, 2002
A policeman who is a poet too
November 23, 2002
The power of silence
November 16, 2002
Cultivating the art of conversation
November 9, 2002
Thus spake Sant Kabir
November 2, 2002

I brought more trouble on my own head — literally. I had my head massaged with warm oil, shampooed it with hot water and sat out in the garden to let the sun dry it. The sun was there but without any heat. But the time my head dried it was gripped with cold. I am familiar with the symptoms. It starts with sneezing. I have worked out by experience that when sneezes come in pairs, two at a time, there is nothing much to worry about. But when they come in singles, beware. All my calculations went haywire: sneezes came in salvos of explosions more than six at a time. Then running eyes and running nose, a constricted throat and head like a block of wood. I decided to heal myself as I had experience of hundreds of colds and coughs behind me. I tried all of them, Vitamin C tablets with aspirin and hot lemon juice, rum with lime and hot water, rasam twice a day. Nothing worked. Friends flooded me with advice: take tulsi leaves and garlic in hot water, take homeopathic pills etc. Sneezing and running nose turned to phlegm, sinuses got blocked giving me a throbbing headache; every time I coughed, it hurt me down from my chest to the stomach. After six days I gave up self-medication and friends’ prescriptions. I consulted my doctor. By then the cold had almost run its course. His medicine finally killed it. I survived yet another cold war.

Indian widows

Pratibha PrahladThere 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


Even remotely

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.

Every evening.

She ends up as a common whore:

We live in the shadow

or whore houses,

Prey for priests

Landlords, rickshaw drivers

Policemen, shopkeepers

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)