SARDAR Arjan Singh, retired General Manager of Coal India and now living in Chandigarh, and I have been corresponding with each other for quite some time. He writes long letters (sometimes six pages in Urdu replete with Urdu and Persian poetry). I reply to him in English as my written Urdu is even more illegible than my English. Till last month, I did not know what he looked like nor how old he was. One afternoon he dropped in on me in Kasauli with his son and grand-daughter of a friend Sat Preet Kaur (Nikki) Chhabra, who topped the M.A. exam of the Asian College of Journalism. Although Arjan Singh is in his 70s, he looks older and walks with the aid of a walking stick. His mind is as sharp as ever and he was an incredible repertoire of Persian and Urdu poetry. He regards Assadullah Khan Ghalib as the greatest poet of all times. He proceeded to recite his couplets at length. But it was not Ghalib’s poetry but a few lines of a living poet Zafar Khayami who participated in a mushaira held last year in Pinjore Gardens that caught my fancy. My memory being faulty, I ask to be forgiven by the poet and his sardar admirer if I have slipped up somewhere:
Aisee koee misaal zamaaney nay payee ho
Bastee Kissee Hindu kee Allah nay jalaee ho
Nanak nay sachhee raah Sikhon ko bataee ho
Masjid Kissee kee Ram nay Aa kar giraai ho
Can you think of an instance when Allah set fire to a Hindu habitation or Nanak showed the right path only to the Sikh nation or Ram came and destroyed a Muslim mosque.
Ram-o-Raheem, Nanak-o-Esea to naram hain
Chamchon ko choo kay dekho, pateelee say garam hain
(Neither Ram nor Raheem, neither Nanak nor Christ were of temper hot
Touch their followers, the spoons are hotter than the cooking pot)
Blissful second marriage
For reason unknown to me, many of the younger generation look upon me as a man-eating ogre, a cannibal sardarji. They come to see me in droves but keep at a safe distance as they do when seeing a tiger in a zoo. It takes me quite a while to convince them that I will not bite them and am as harmless as a teddy bear. Then they relax and say what they want to in a rapid machine gun fire speed till they have run out of breath. One such couple who paid me a visit in Kasauli will stay in my mind a long time.
I was sitting in the garden under the shade of the massive Toon tree, reading the morning papers. I heard the sound of footsteps at some distance from me. I looked up. They were a couple, a strapping young sardar in his fifties and a buxom, cuddlesome lass in her thirties. "Can we disturb you for a moment?" asked the man. "Come," I replied, "I am only whiling away my time doing a crossword puzzle.’ They approached me gingerly, took their seats and introduced themselves: "I am Major Joginder Singh Aulakh, Security Officer of Punjabi University, Patiala," said he. "And I am his wife Ravinder Pal Kaur Bajwa," she said. Then began a rapid fire of questions from him interspersed with taking my snapshots with the camera. All I was able to gather in the interludes allowed to me was that the Major had fought in two wars against Pakistan and was proud of his record. He had also taken part in Operation Bluestar under the command of Generals Sunderji and Brar, was witness to the destruction of the Akal Takht and had seen the bodies of Bhindranwale and General Shabeg Singh. He did not want to talk or even think about it. The episode had left deep scars on his psyche. He was an unhappy widower till he ran into Ravi Bajwa, equally unhappy because of her broken marriage and her two children in the custody of their father. They had a whirlwind romance: met one day, and got married the next, ignoring the 20 years difference in their ages. They looked happy. I asked them to join me for a drink the next evening before they returned to Patiala.
They were much more relaxed. Though the question-and-answer session was resumed, it was not as hectic as the day before. Ravi gave me a shawl to put over my knees and proceeded scribbling something on a greeting card her husband had given me. After they left, I read what she had written in Gurmukhi: a poem entitled Chitta Dupatta (white headcover). A rough translation would read as follows:
I am not a widow
Nor living in matrimonial bliss;
Nevertheless I drape myself in spotless white
White is a combination of many colours in display
White also combines other colours
As well as colours that lend one astray,
White is like milk
White the colour of purity
Bright as sunshine
And quiet as silence.
(Many things colourful white can hide)
I wear white because now I am a bride.
I thought a while when Vajpayee said
"May I ask my honourable foes?
Whom will you elect Prime Minister
if in your favour the verdict goes?"
I was surprised when L.K. Advani said
"After my rath yatra, our position is sound
Under Atalji, India is shining
N.D.A. will surely win the round."
I was amused when Venkaiah Naidu said
Subjecting SP and BSP to a venomous sting
"We don’t need any king maker.
We have already got our readymade king."
I laughed when Pramod Mahajan said
Repeating the foreign origin drill
"Sonia stands no comparison to Vajpayee.
He is a mountain, She is a hill."
I was amazed and excited beyond measure
when Sonia pulled all the pillars down
The people made her the popular queen
But she declined to wear the golden crown.
(Courtesy: G.C. Bhandari, Meerut)