Saturday, September 27, 2003
T H I S  A B O V E  A L L

Khushwant Singh

The merits and hazards of keeping a diary
Kushwant Singh

MAHATMA Gandhi kept a daily diary all his life. I have been keeping one for the last 30 years. However, what he recorded in its pages was very different from what I have been noting down in mine. I am entirely in agreement with him that a diary is a most valuable personal document and every educated person should keep one.

Before we go into the merits and hazards of keeping diaries, we should be clear in our minds what is and what is not a diary. An engagement book is not a diary. In it you only put down engagements you have to keep that day, meetings and conferences you have to attend, people you have to call on or you expect to receive. You consult it first thing in the morning to plan out your day.

A pocket diary also does not deserve to be called one. It is a convenient thing to carry about on your person, jot down names and telephone numbers you wish to communicate with later. At the end of the year you sell it to the raddiwala as you sell your engagement book.

Astrological falsehoods
September 20, 2003
Strive to look and feel younger
August 30, 2003
Enjoying the grace of God
August 23, 2003
A tribute to the great revolutionary
August 16, 2003
The long and the short of it
August 9, 2003
Why poets and writers rise above hatred
August 2, 2003
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

A proper diary should be written at the end of the day. It should record all you have done since you got up in the morning, people you met, places you went to, events of national and international importance. Per force it has to be of proper size with pages large enough to contain what you have to say. I can best illustrate this point by what I put in it every evening before I retire. At one time I used to note down the time I got up (I still do) the temperature and weather conditions, state of my health, names of trees that came into flower; birds and animals (not domestic) I saw — and, of course, people I met, concerts I attended and other trivia. My diaries came in very handy in preparing the series of programmes, The world of nature, which I did with Sharad Dutt for Doordarshan. They are the basis of my book Nature Watch HarperCollins.)

Many well-known writers kept diaries which were either published in diary form or formed the basis of their novels. Writing something every day is a good exercise for budding writers.

Gandhiji had laid down strict rules for diary-keepers. In an article Importance of Diary, he wrote for Harijan Bandhu of January 20, 1933, he said: "For one devoted to the truth, it serves as a sentry because its entries have to be true. If violence done, work shirked, it has to be mentioned... of course there is one condition: we will have to be honest, otherwise the diary becomes a counterfeit coin."

So far so good. I go along with Bapu about the need to be honest. Also, on his insistence that there should be no lapse. But I am not sure when he says, "Our wrong doings must be mentioned in it." Dear Bapu, must a businessman or a politician record the amount of black money he received on that day? Must he record the numbers of his accounts in a Swiss Bank? Such entries can be a lethal admission of guilt and can land their authors in jail. Noting down names of ladies you might have entertained over an innocent cup of tea who later become pregnant through somebody else who in his turn implicates you as the possible father can be most embarrassing. Your diary will let you down. No one will believe you only gave her a cup of garam chai and did not do any chher chaar. Your "Dear Diary" will become your direst foe.

Bapu goes on to say "No self-praise be recorded." I am in entire agreement: I regard self-praise and even talking about oneself as form of vulgarity. But he goes on to say" faults of others should not be stated". Why not" May I ask ? If I did not note down people’s short-comings as braggarts and name-droppers, how could I write my Malice Column on which I make my living?

W.H. McLeod

As often happens, foreign scholars do a more thorough research on Indian themes than Indians themselves. When it comes to the Sikhs, Cunningham followed by Trump and Macaulliffe were the pioneers. And the latest is the New Zealander W.H. McLeod, Emeritus professor at the University of Otago in Dunedin. Since he is seriously ill, I wish to record the gratitude of my community for what he has done for it.

After getting a doctorate from the School of Oriental Studies in London, McLeod came to Batala to teach English. He was there nine long years. The choice was to do research on the Arya Samaj or the Sikhs. He chose the latter. He learnt Gurmukhi, studied the Sikhs scriptures, Janam Sakhis (life stories) of Guru Nanak and whatever else was available on the subject. His first book Guru Nanak and the Sikh Religion (OUP) was published in 1968. It shook Sikh scholars out of their complacency as he cast doubts about the authenticity of Guru Nanak’s travels to Basra, Baghdad, Mecca and Medina as well as to distant parts of India and Sri Lanka. His second book The Evolution of the Sikh Community (OUP) was published in 1976. He gave a lucid account of how from modest beginnings as a Bhakti cult, Sikhism spread to the Jat peasantry to become a formidable force. Eight other books followed. I did not go along with McLeod on his later works particularly one on Rahit Maryadas (traditional rituals) in which he highlighted writings of nondescript granthis of little repute or consequence pronouncing fatwas as some maulvis do. Nevertheless, my respect and affection for the man remained. It was too much to expect emotional involvement in the fortunes of a community too which he did not belong.

I am told he has recently published his autobiography. I have not yet been able to lay my hands on it. It should be worth reading for. Besides writings on the Sikhs, he nurtured a number of Sikh scholars, two of whom were arraigned before Akal Takht to atone for their sins.

Election signals

Hints of Elections from several quarters

Is it kiteflying or testing the waters?

Watch these signals, guess no more

Symptoms tell the disease for ever more.

When astrologers are in great demand

Much astronomical fees they can command

When patriotism comes to the fore

Elections, be sure, are in store.

When molehill becomes a mountain

When high levels, the accusations attain

When politicians promise the moon

Elections, sure, would come soon.

When wild charges are just assumed

When buried corpses are exhumed

When farmers suddenly become dear

You can be sure elections are near.

When foundation stones come dozen a day

When projects are cleansed by the day

When they talk of development without reason

We are surely close to the election season.

When "padyatras" and rallies are galore

When even the soft-spoken turn sentor

When leaders visit villages in droves

We are heading towards election throes.

And when like water flows the booze

When every lips shoots the choicest abuse

When talk is not talk but bark instead

Like it or not Elections are on your head.

(Contributed by J.R. Jyoti, Secunderabad)