Saturday, April 5, 2003
T H I S  A B O V E  A L L

He has lived life on his own terms
Khushwant Singh

ABOUT the most unusual character that came into my life a few years ago is a middle-aged (53) Pakistani Muslim with an unusual Hindu-Sikh name, Preetam Giani. He was studying English literature in Cambridge University when he was expelled for practising and preaching homosexuality. He got a job in a factory, was fired for the same reason and deported from England. He made his home in Islamabad, opened an art gallery and gave private tuitions in English but refused to come to terms with the strictly conservative Pakistani society. He flouted rules of the Shariat, changed his name from a Muslim one to one distinctly non-Muslim, worshipped Goddess Lakshmi (she did not repay him for the homage he paid her), got into trouble with the police and spent some time in jail. He carried on unconcerned.

With every letter he wrote to me, he sent his translations of couplets of Ghalib. He paid a brief visit to Delhi accompanied by his gentleman friend. I took an afternoon off to show them the sights of Delhi. He was not interested in ancient monuments or meeting people. He wanted to visit Ghalib’s tomb and the academy. He presented a set of his translations to the Secretary of the Academy, had himself photographed in front of the poet’s tomb but did not recite the fateha nor bothered to enter Hazrat Nizamuddin’s dargah or see Amir Khusrau’s grave. Strange character, I said to myself. Highly sensitive, as most homosexuals are, but unconcerned about the ways of the world. For him there was no difference between India and Pakistan; he talked of migrating to India and living in his ancestral home in Srinagar. After he returned to Islamabad, his letters became more frequent. Besides Ghalib translations, he sent extracts of poems which had moved him. His main concern was his mother’s health. She had been Principal of a girls’ school in Abbottabad, where she was spending her years of retirement. He always referred to her lovingly as Mata Hari. She was afflicted with Alzheimer, the same disease which took my wife. It results in complete loss of memory and inability to look after oneself. We had much advice to give to each other. Ultimately, he decided to move to Abbottabad to look after her. His sister in America and money left by his mother helps him to keep afloat. As usual, his new ventures do not bring in any money. His last letter is written in a mood of deep despair. I quote the first paragraph:

Birthday celebrations that leave a bad taste
March 29, 2003
Why deny ourselves sensual pleasures?
March 15, 2003
Gaumata and the beef-eaters
March 8, 2003
Adopt the country that adopts you
March 1, 2003
When minds don’t meet
February 22, 2003
Love in times of war
February 15, 2003
Intriguing facts about elephants
February 8, 2003
Surviving yet another cold war
February 1, 2003
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

"I could put a bullet through my head using my licensed revolver — that, I suppose, is my most drastic option, and not one without anything to be said for it: instant escape from my present set of formidable problems; pre-emption of the horrors of senile decrepitude such as I see in my mother; and even a sense of adventure in discovering what, if anything, lies beyond death. However, the cons of this course of action seem to far outweigh the pros. It would negate my contention that I haven’t been beaten yet; it would involve self-murder; it would devastate my mother; it would mean leaving my Ghalib translation incomplete; it would render impossible the post-mortem study of my brain that I’d like to be carried out, with the particular aim of discovering any features accountable, if only partly, for my homosexuality; it could mean letting down Tariq, who may never have turned to overt homosexuality if it hadn’t been for me, and now possibly needs my help in making some sense of it; it would mean letting off the hook no fewer than seven individuals and two organisations that I have court cases against in Islamabad and Abbottabad. In short, I’d better not opt for this option."

With the letter he has appended two poems by D.H. Lawrence. In The Ship of Death, the poet exhorts people to prepare for the long journey that lies ahead:

Now it is autumn and the falling fruit

and the long journey towards oblivion.

The apples falling like great drops of dew

to bruise themselves an exit from themselves.

And it is time to go, to bid farewell

to one’s own self, and find an exit

from the fallen self.

Have you built your ship of death, O’ have you ?

O’ build your ship of death, for you will need it.

Lawrence rejected the idea of suicide as a means of escape from the world’s woes:

With daggers, bodkins, bullets, man can make

a bruise or break of exit for his life;

but is that a quietus, O’ tell me, is it quietus?

Surely not so! for how could murder, even self-murder ever a quietus make?

Lawrence accepted "piecemeal the body dies". But in the last verse of the poem Shadows, he talks of rebirth in a new dawn.

Then I must know that still

I am in the hands of the unknown God,

He is breaking me down to his own oblivion

to send me forth on a new morning, a new man.

To me all this sounds very poetic, but without any logical basis. He does not tell us the kind of provisions we should store up on the ship of death for use on the long voyage that lies before us. Nor where and when the ship will reach its final destination.

Advent of spring

Though a Punjabi, there is little of the Punjab countryside that I find attractive. Ever since Punjab parted with Haryana and Himachal, it lost the Shivaliks and the snow-clad Himalayas beyond. All that was left to it and Haryana was flat, khaki dust —blown expanses. No doubt, during the short winter, the fields growing wheat and sugarcane are green and the mustard in flower is like a sea of canary yellow. But this scene lasts no more than a few weeks and we are back to being a region of dust and hot winds. How can a country be beautiful without green hills, big lakes and thick forests? For a beautiful countryside I would take any other state than my native Punjab. However, Mohan Kishore Diwan, writer and artist, in his new collection of poems So Be It (Writers workshop) has, for reasons best known to him, gone lyrical on Punjab on Baisakhi day (13th April):

During Baisakhi Punjab lives in golden fields.

The sugarcane in the sunny weather

attract youngster to enjoy its juice.

Enjoy its juice while herding on the plain,

they play and eat as greedily

as calves munching sweet roots of grass.

Farming makes the women sturdy

and they almost swallow their men folk,

like a swarm of locust consumes the harvest,

while well-built men sow their lust

in the grainfields making pleasure as real pain.

Their hands that knead the muddy earth,

at certain moments,

take the form of a randy cock

and all at once spring on a crouching grass hen.

We got a good harvest this year

which produced a large number of brides.

Those new brides,

like sarson, make their lovers drool.

A sardar lifts a woman

as if laying her on a dish

his greedy head bends

but he does not know how to kiss

and he plants it on her forehead

leaving the wine-like girl without drinking.

Baisakhi, the time of golden fields,

harvesting, loving, honey-milking,

cane-juice and endless dance.

The Punjabi folks do not relinquish dancing

while the music fits into their hips

and bounces their steps into bhangra.


We could not lift the World Cup

We did not win the final game

To fight unto the last is a pride

To lose the game is not a shame!

(Contributed by G.C. Bhandari, Meerut)