Saturday, August 14, 2004

Khushwant SinghTHIS ABOVE ALL
Kasi yatra
Khushwant Singh

OUR Tamil brethren have names a yard long and difficult for us poor North Indians to pronounce. Of them, Brahmins known to us colloquially as Tam Brahms also have the sharpest of minds and can outsmart the rest of us, be it in science, mathematics, law or politics. Consequently, when I heard the name Varadachariar, a faint echo of days long past sounded in my ears. When did I hear of him and why did he find a place in my memory? The problem was solved when I received by post The Kasi Diaries: Excerpts from the Diaries of N.D. Varadachariar (1903-1945), edited by N.V. Sampath, Malathi Rangaswami and V.N. Kasturi (East-West Books). So N.D.V. and Kasi were in fact the same person.

A prince or princely impostor
August 7, 2004
A tale of intrigue, violence
July 31, 2004
Eat, drink and be merry
July 24, 2004
House of Praise
July 17, 2004
In Faridís footsteps
July 10, 2004
One up on Ghalib
July 3, 2004
Star interpreters
June 26, 2004
What makes a city beautiful
June 19, 2004
CRI turns 100: No sound of celebration
June 12, 2004
Man-motivated tragedies
June 5, 2004
A verdict in favour of secularism
May 29, 2004
Charm of the Shivaliks
May 22, 2004
Meditating upon the Gayatri Mantra
May 1, 2004
Idol speculation
April 24, 2004
He couldíve been Betaaj Badshah
April 17, 2004
The potent Gayatri Mantra
April 10, 2004

He lived a short (1903-45), but eventful life. He was a precocious, outgoing lad. At the age of 15, he had the audacity to write to Rabindranath Tagore and invite him to his school in Coimbatore. Gurudev accepted his invitation and turned up taking C.F. Andrews with him. Two years earlier, he had started keeping a diary in which he jotted down what he had done that day with events of national and international importance. Those written between 1917-1930 are untraceable, the rest ó with some deletions to spare people about whom Kasi had uncomplementary things to say ó make up this collection.

Kasi graduated in law and practised as a vakil in the Madras High Court. He made a name for himself as an expert in constitutional law. He was invited by different princely states to draw up their constitutions. He read widely, almost a book a day: classics, fiction, history, biography, whatever and reviewed them for papers. He had an abiding passion for classical music, both Carnatic and Hindustani. He had Bismillah play shehnai in his home. Also took interest in theatre and the films: Tamil, Hindi, Hollywood. He watched cricket and hockey matches, saw Captain C.K. Nayudu score centuries, Dhyan Chand and his brother Roop Singh score goals. He was also an ardent follower of Mahatma Gandhi and attended sessions of the Congress party where he had heard Gandhi, Annie Besant, Nehru, Subhas Bose, Azad, Sarojini Naidu and others. He travelled widely from Japan to Europe and noted down what he liked or disliked. What I found most fascinating about his jottings are events leading to World War II, the rise of fascism in Germany, Italy, Spain, and Japan, and their initial victories ending in ignominous defeats. I felt like I was watching a news-reel film.

I give a few examples of the sort of things he noted down. After the massacre of innocents at Jallianwala Bagh on April 13, 1919, he wrote: General Dyer must be shot. Oí Dwyer must be shot, Viceroy ought to be degraded and his peerage withdrawn." On hearing Gandhiís speech: "So full of conviction, so firm, indelible, and lucid ..... No words can explain my happiness....... greatest individual on earth." On the execution of Bhagat Singh, Rajguru and Sukhdev: "A most foolish act.... a good case of organised murder by the state." On the Princely Order: "Barbarious assemblage of gold and colour (Mysore Durbar) .... A lot of pompous fellows who are quite out of tune with the times." Amongst his closest friends of his later years were C. Vijayraghavaschariar (brightest light of my life) and T.T. Krishnamachari.

What is missing in the diaries are his wife and children. Apart from a one- line entry on July 15, 1926, "married to Sita (daughter of N.S. Rangaswamy Iyengar, the eminent Coimbatore lawyer, a five-day celebration") there are no references to his marital relationship or his offspring. Perhaps they have been deliberately taken out. A great pity.


Cable fault

A travelling salesman who was scheduled to come home on Friday, covered his territory early and sent his wife a telegram: Will be home Thursday.

Arriving home on Thursday, he walked up to the house. Through the window, he saw his wife in the arms of another man. Instead of entering his home, the irate husband went down the street to see his father-in-law. "Iím not going to stand for it", he shouted. "Iíll file for a divorce."

"Now donít be hasty," said the father-in-law. "Iím sure there must be a good explanation. Let me go and talk to her." The father went to his daughterís home, came back and said, "I knew, thereíd be a good reason. She didnít get your telegram.

Contributed by Reeten Ganguly, Tezpur

Ghalibís wit

So many legends have grown round Mirza Asadullah Khan Ghalibís ready wit that no one is sure whether they are true or made up. Arjun Singh of Chandigarh, who has made the study of Ghalib his mission in life, vouches for these two.

Ghalib was taken very ill and confined to bed. When King Bahadurshah Zafar heard of it, he decided to waive protocol and pay him a visit. Etiquette required that he drive up to the poetís home in Ballimaran, Delhi, and Ghalib would come out to receive him at his doorstep. The king and his retinue arrived at the poetís house but he was too ill to get up to welcome his royal visitors. The king was upset and returned to his palace in the Red Fort without seeing the sick man. His courtiers further fed the flames of his anger by harping on Ghalibís lack of manners and suggested that the monthly stipend given to him from the royal treasury be stopped forthwith. But no sooner was Bahadurshah back in his palace that he received a note from Ghalib reading.

Haal poochha to kya ghazab kiya?

Main ghareeb aur tu hai ghareeb-nawaaz.

(You came to enquire about my health, so what?

I am a poor man, you the protector of the poor.)

Bahadurshah relented and sent the poet two baskets full of the choicest dasehri and langda mangoes. Ghalibís intake of mangoes was eight per day.

Mosque versus tavern

Ghalib was not a very religious man. He hardly ever offered namaaz five times a day obligatory for all Muslims and occasionally showed up at the Jamia Masjid after Friday prayers. He also made no secret of his liking for liquor condemned in the Koran as Haraam (forbidden) to the faithful.

One afternoon as Ghalib was on his way to the liquor shop, came the call for prayer azaan. A devout Muslim on his way to the mosque reprimanded Ghalib and asked him to fulfil his religious obligation. Ghalib replied in verse:

Teri masjid mein mullah, paanch hain auqaat barkat kay

Hamaarey maikaday mein her gharee rehmat barasti hai

(Mullah in your mosque Godís blessings descend only five times a day, In my tavern Godís mercy rains down on us all night and day)