Saturday, April 12, 2003
T H I S  A B O V E  A L L


Villain of yesteryear becomes a hero
Khushwant Singh

I believed the war in Iraq would last about three days, at the most, one week. I am not the only one who went wrong. We believed that Saddam Hussein was not only a ruthless dictator who oppressed his own people but also waged unprovoked wars against his neighbours, Iran and Kuwait. The Iraqis hated him and would rise in rebellion when foreign liberators fired the first shot. We thought the first to revolt would be Shias who form the majority of the population and are predominant in the south with the city of Basra as their stronghold. The Kurds in the north would also exploit the situation and declare Kurdistan, an independent state of their own. None of this turned out to be true. Instead of welcoming US and British troops as liberators, the Iraqis regarded them as hostile invaders bent on grabbing their oil wealth; their national pride was wounded and they rallied round Saddam Hussein as defender of their country, Arabs and their Islamic faith. It became a jehad (holy war) against foreign infidels. The Shias refused to avail themselves of the opportunity to overthrow Saddam who is a Sunni and put a Shiaite in his place. Only Kurds who anyhow enjoyed autonomy joined the Americans in the hope of carving a state of their own. What is even more surprising is that many heads of Muslim nations, who at the outset of the war severely criticised Saddam, became mute when Muslims all over the world raised their voices against American and British forces in Iraq. So the villain of yesteryear became a hero on par with Osama bin Laden. It is a phenomenon beyond my comprehension. Can anyone explain it?

EARLIER COLUMNS
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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 donít 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


However, I still hold firmly to my belief that Saddam Hussein is as evil a man as Osama bin Laden. Both would be better off living in retirement in Mecca or in the company of Idi Amin of Uganda than holding positions of power. I am also convinced that the war will end in the victory of the coalition: no power can withstand USAís military might far too long. What will become more problematical is how they will fill the vacuum left by the disappearance of Saddam Hussein and his Baath party. Whatever regime they install in his place will be looked down upon as puppets and traitors. Their anger will be directed more against fellow Muslims who betrayed them in their hour of trial because their leaders did little more than allow the common people to voice their protest. I make a pointed reference to Pakistan. It is a Member of the Security Council. Why did not its representative raise hell and threaten to walk out unless America and its allies stopped their march into Baghdad? It did not because Pakistan has made a deal with the US government and is allowed to do no more than make gestures of sympathy and send medical aid and food to the beleaguered Iraqis. By contrast, India behaved with more rectitude. Our relations with Iraq were always closer than those of Pakistan. Our Air Force trained their pilots, our army officers trained their Army. Indian builders and contractors played a major role in reconstruction of their roads and buildings. Indian doctors, engineers, teachers, and workers could be seen all over that country. It could be said that Iraqis trust Indians more than they trust any other people. This should provide India another opportunity to play the leading role in the reconstruction of Iraq after guns are silenced.

Khichdee linguist

I am often asked why I donít write in my mother tongue or in other Indian languages. I can read and speak in Urdu and Hindi. I admit I am more at ease with English (which I regard as an Indian language) than with any other language. It also gives me a much wider readership at home and abroad as well as brings me more money. This would apply to all Indians writing in English. I came across a poem by Malayalam writer Kamala Das (now Kamala Sourayya) who writes primarily in her mother tongue but has also written a couple of books in English as well. She sums up the dilemma of Indo-Anglian writers very neatly:

"...I am Indian, very brown, born in

Malabar, I speak three languages, write in

Two, dream in one. Don't write in English, they said.

English is not your mother tongue. Why not leave

Me alone, critics, friends, visiting cousins,

Every one of you? Why not let me speak in

Any language I like? The language I speak

Becomes mine, its distortions, its queerness

All mine, mine alone. It is half English, half

Indian, funny perhaps, but it is honest,

It is as human as I am human, don't

You see? It voices my joys, my longings, my

Hopes, and it is useful to me as cawing

Is to crows or roaring to the lions, it

is human speech, the speech of the mind that is

Here and not there, a mind that sees and hears and is aware..."

Hard drinking

Russians followed by their Polish neighbours are the world's hardest drinkers of hard liquor. Their national favourite over the ages has been vodka distilled from potatoes. In both countries the word is derived from voda or woda, meaning water. It is colourless, looks like water and they gulp it down neat without mixing it with soda or water. However, it is a spirit stronger than whisky or brandy. Consequently, you see more drunk people lying sprawled on the pavements of cities like Moscow and Warsaw than in any other city in the world. The incidence of cirrhosis of the liver in both countries is very high. At long last, they have come to realise that it is not good for their health. The consumption of vodka has begun to decline and the younger generation of Russians and Poles are settling for beer which has low alcoholic content. In most other countries, vodka has replaced gin (which also looks like water but is as potent as vodka), the base for making cocktails. It is rarely taken on the rocks in western countries or in India. I am sure decisions taken by some of our state governments to make beverages with low alcoholic contents like light ale, lager, cider and fruit drinks is sensible. Prohibition has proved a costly failure wherever and whenever it has been imposed. Controlled, sensible drinking short of getting drunk is good for a person's health and minimises governmental interference in people's private lives.

Costly solution

There are pesticides in bottled water

There is metal in vegetables and greens

How can I use ground water?

Washing of vegetables is beyond my means!

I asked KS, "What is the solution"?

He gave me advice, frank and fine.

"Eat roasted meat twice a day.

Instead of water, drink foreign wine!"

(Courtesy: G.C. Bhandari, Meerut)

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