Saturday, November 8, 2003

You cannot take your wealth to the other world
Khushwant SinghKhushwant Singh

WE often hear people say "you canít take anything with you." Yet very few blow up their lifeís savings in their lifetime, most people go on accumulating wealth till the very last and leave it to their heirs; a few set up charitable trusts largely to evade taxes, pretending to be godfearing, kind-hearted philanthropists. Rarely do we run into someone self-made who, after providing handsomely for his dependants, gives away all that remains to light lamps of literacy in homes plunged in the dark night of ignorance. One of them is my friend Nanak Kohli of Washington D.C.

I donít know very much of Nanak Kohliís background except that he was a lowly paid (Rs 250 p.m.) lecturer in Shimla till he migrated to the USA with his lovely wife Pammy. I first met him in Washington about 10 years ago. He was by then a man of considerable wealth, living in a large mansion with his family, Indian servants, a fleet of cars, including a custom-built Rolls Royce: local Indians called him "Mr Rolls Royce". I have no idea how he became a rich man. My only other contact was his paunchy, brother and business partner U.B. Singh, living in Delhi. When visiting Delhi, Nanak rode a large Mercedes Benz which had two TV screens for people sitting on the rear seats. Though, like everyone else, I was awed by his lavish style of living, I was also intrigued by the fact that he had not taken U.S. nationality and was sticking on to his Indian passport.

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A tribute to the great revolutionary
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Every time he came to Delhi, he spent an evening with me. Once I asked him "What are you going to do with all the money you have made?" At the time he suspected he had a heart problem and was not his exuberant self. "You tell me?" he asked, "I know I canít take it with me." I had nothing to suggest.

A few months later, on his next visit to Delhi, he asked me to suggest someone who could help him with the legal formalities required to set up a charitable trust. I suggested the name of Kamna Prasad. She got a lawyer to draw up a trust deed. A few months passed without anything happening. I assumed he had changed his mind. On a recent visit, he brought up the subject again: "I want to give scholarships to the brightest of the bright from colleges," he said. "That will be a waste of money," I replied. "Our toppers go seeking greener pastures in America and Europe: India gets nothing from its best brains. Set up primary schools mainly for girls in remote villages".He liked my suggestion and called a meeting of trustees in my home. S.S. Dhanoa who had been Chief Secretary, Punjab, was asked to identify a few such villages near Chandigarh. "I do not want to restrict grants to any one community or religion, it must cover all Indians: Hindu, Muslims, Christians and Sikhs", said Kohli.

I still had no idea how much money he was willing to shell out. It trickled out slowly. "Five crore rupees to start with," he said, "Iíll keep adding another five crore every year thereafter as the work proceeds. Then all I have, 100 crore, 200 crore and more, everything I have".

The Sunder Amarsheil Charitable Trust is now a registered body. What impressed me most about Nanak Kohli is that he lives in considerable splendour in America and gives all he has to the country of his nativity, India. He has discovered that while making money gives a feeling of achievement and triumph, giving it away creates a feeling of peace and fulfilment because you cannot take anything with you.

Bureaucrat extraordinaire

By any reckoning Hardit Singh Malik (1894-1985) was an extraordinary person whose life should inspire the younger generation. He went to England on the eve of World War I. As soon as the war broke out, he volunteered to join the Royal Air Force as a fighter pilot. Since the British were reluctant to take on a coloured person in their elite service, he joined the French. He was shot down by the Germans with a bullet in his nose. The British relented. When the war ended, he was nominated to the Indian Civil Service and did his probation at Balliol College, Oxford. He played golf and cricket for the university. Golf remained the abiding passion of his life and at his best he achieved a handicap of plus four ó golfers would know what that means ó the very best of the best. After serving in many districts in the Punjab, he became Prime Minister of Patiala. Thereafter, he was High Commissioner of India in Canada and retired from service as Indian Ambassador in France. He spent his post-retirement years playing golf and writing his memoirs. They have been edited by his daughter Harji Malik who has been writing on golf for many national newspapers. The manuscript is now with a publisher. H.S. Malik was about the handsomest and best dressed sardar I have met.

Amongst the many things Harji found among his papers was a short poem which he always carried in his wallet. It pretty well sums up his view of life:

"A little work, a little play,

To keep us going

And so good day,

A little joy to match the sorrow

Of such dayís growing

and so good morrow

A little warmth, a little light

of loveís bestowing

And so good night

A little faith that when we die

We reap our sowing

And so goodbye.

Last edition

The proprietor of a publishing house was sitting in the sales counter of his bookshop. A young beautiful girl was sitting by his side. A friend-cum-customer purchased a book from his shop and asked the proprietor, "Who is this beautiful girl?" "She is my last edition," replied the proprietor.

Game is over

A mail train was standing in New Delhi railway station. The guard of the train before showing the green flag to start the train blew his whistle. Two college students were standing near the guardís compartment. One of them asked the guard, "Sir, is it the whistle for penalty or goal?" The guard replied "Did you not listen? It was a long whistle. The game is over."

(Contributed by Parimal Sarkar, New Delhi)