|Saturday, April 5, 2003||
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
"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)