Saturday, August 2, 2003
T H I S  A B O V E  A L L

Khushwant Singh
Why poets and writers rise above hatred
Khushwant Singh

THE Biblical injunction to love one’s neighbour is more honoured in breach than in observance: all over the world people’s first hate are their neighbours on either side. In villages and towns they fight with them, take them to courts and do their best to eliminate them. Most wars were, and are today, fought between neighbouring countries. Take our own case: who do we distrust most? Pakistan. We have fought three wars against it and are ever-preparing for a fourth. Next to Pakistan, we distrust Bangladesh. Being much stronger, we don’t fear Bangladesh but have constant tension on our borders with them. The one exception to the general rule of distrusting neighbours are writers and poets of the countries. Despite the atmosphere of hate that has pervaded since we became independent countries, the one small community which refused to hate are our men and women of letters. Pakistan had its Faiz Ahmed Faiz and Qateel Shifai. It has Ahmed Faraz today. We had Ali Sardar Jafri and Kaifi Azmi and a host of Hindi and Punjabi writers: Bhisham Sahni, Yashpal, Amrita Pritam and nameless others. Bangladesh has Tasleema Nasreen. The spirit that animated these creative writers and poets was aptly summarised in these lines by Chiragh Deen Ustad Daman of Lahore, written on the Partition of the country.

A paradise on earth, that is Himachal
July 26, 2003
When nothing but memory remains
July 19, 2003
A strange way of healing
July 12, 2003
Codes of conduct that received a royal ignore
July 5, 2003
Fear is life’s only real opponent
June 28, 2003
Gambling has religious sanction
June 21, 2003
What would you choose: security or freedom?
June 14, 2003
The hullabaloo over conversions
June 7, 2003
The treadmill of Indo-Pak relations
May, 31, 2003
Why Indians turn into achievers abroad
May, 10, 2003

Akhiyaan di laalee paee dasdi ay

Tusee roey ho;

Roey aseen vee haan

(The redness in your eyes shows

You have been crying

We too have cried with you).

Fortunately, such men and women exist and continue to raise their voices against the destructive power of hatred. The latest example is poet Feza Aazmi of Karachi. He is a Mohajir, a refugee from Uttar Pradesh, now a Pakistani. His latest masnavi (epic poem) Azaab Hamsayagi (The Agony Trail) deals with the ups and downs of Indo-Pak relations. It opens with a prayer:

Namaaz-e-Ishq parh lein/our buton par guft-gu-kar lein

I give a rough translation into English of the poem because his own does not do justice to the original:

It conveys the sentiment behind the composition:

Prayer of love we offer to you

With your idols we will hold converse;

We will prostrate ourselves where we like

Hymns of love we will chant everywhere

How long will we remain torn apart?

Let us sew some pieces together for a start

Far too long has the tavern been deserted

Let us fill our goblets with fresh wine

We know your heart still bears scars

So do our hearts; but with every breath

It is up to us to heal them or bleed to death

We will grasp your hand of friendship when you extend it

We will take up arms & fight to our last breath

We are willing to be your friends as we are to be your foes

Will grasp your hand of friendship as the saying goes

If it is war you want, we will be ready to fight

If it is love you offer, we’ll take it with delight.

Rani Balbir

Many years ago I happened to be in Calgary (Canada) on the invitation of the local Sikh community. I was invited to address the congregation in the gurdwara following the morning service. I noticed a most attractive young woman sitting facing the ragis. Her eyes were shut; she seemed transported to another world. She was bewitching.

Since I was collecting data on the Sikh diaspora, I thought I would tell the Calgary Sikhs how their brethren were doing in other parts of the world. But a few young men interrupted me and angrily asked me why I was opposed to Khalistan. I let loose on them with all the eloquence in my command and told them how Khalistan would spell disaster for the Sikhs and the country. There was quite a hangama. Then the lady stood up and silenced the rowdies. She was Rani Balbir Kaur of Chandigarh, who had brought her troupe of artists to enact plays for Punjabi audiences in Canada and the USA.

Rani Balbir comes from a prosperous family. She lives in a large house in Chandigarh and owns another in New Delhi. Having been separated from her husband (now dead), she was the subject of a lot of malicious gossip which overshadowed her undoubted achievements as a Professor of Drama, filmmaker and producer of plays. She had a stout champion in Maya Ray, wife of the then Governor S.S. Ray, and was often invited to the Punjab Raj Bhavan. After 35 years of teaching and lots of awards from the government and the private organisations, she is due to retire in a few months. Her last offering, a kind of swan song, is a musical and dramatic rendering of the life of the late poet Kaifi Azmi. He had written verses for her; she had enormous admiration for him. He was an admirable man by any reckoning. In keeping with his communist beliefs, he gave away his ancestral land to tillers, who ploughed it. When in Delhi, he lived in a single room. Though later stricken with partial paralysis, he continued to travel to towns and villages to spread his message of the need to set right inequality and injustice:

Labalab hain kahin sagar

kahin khali pyale hain

Yeh kaisa daur hai saki?

Yeh kya takseem hai saki?

(Some places the seas overflow

At others goblets have not a drop of wine

O saki what times are these

What kind of justice is there?)

Being a Marxist non-believer, Kaifi extolled the power of wine:

Unko khuda miley hai khuda ki jineh talaash

Mujhko bas ek jhalak meyrey dildaar ki miley

(Let them find God who seek God

All I want is a glimpse of the one I love.)

Rani Balbir’s role-model of a dramastist is the German communist playwright Bertolt Brecht (1898-1936) whose The Three Penny Opera earned worldwide acclaim. Her dramatised operatic version of Kaifi Azmi’s life will be eagerly awaited by theatre lovers.

Why drunk?

Patient — Doctor sahib I get vertigo. While walking, I feel like I’am drunk.

Doctor — Do you drink alcohol?

Patient — No, sir.

Doctor — You are lucky then. I spend Rs 150-200 daily to get this feeling and you are getting it free of cost.

(Contributed by Rajnish, Shimla)