Saturday, August 21, 2004

Khushwant SinghTHIS ABOVE ALL
What makes a perfect evening
Khushwant Singh

My notion of a perfect evening has changed with the years. There was a time when I looked forward to going to or having large parties which started late and went on into the early hours of the morning. I wasted the day, nursing my hangover drinking glasses of Seltzer or black coffee with tablets of aspirin. That was over half a century ago.

In later middle age, I became a stickler for punctuality, and only went to parties which started and ended early. I imposed the same time-schedule on my guests. That lasted till I was eighty.

Kasi yatra
August 14, 2004
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 Farid’s 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 could’ve been Betaaj Badshah
April 17, 2004
The potent Gayatri Mantra
April 10, 2004

Now I do not go out and let people drop in on me without prior permission. My notion of a perfect evening is to be left alone to my sundowner listening good music (preferably western classical) and watching TV for news and comments. But since I have become a minor notoriety, I rarely have an evening to myself. That despite the notice board beside my door, reading "Do not ring the bell unless you are expected." A few friends are of the opinion that the notice is not meant for them; others closer to me come in through the rear entrance past the kitchen. So for days on end, I have a mehfil of around six men and women in my sitting room. The only liberty I continue to take is around 8 p.m. when I politely order everyone to fade out. Nevertheless my son, who is a chronic party-giver, insists that as a matter of fact I enjoy having people over and my protesting that I do not is a pretence.

One evening I went through recently will remain in my mind for a long time. After a succession of mehfils on previous days, I was hoping to be left alone to myself. That was not to be.

The door bell rang. My caretaker Suresh Dabral, who knows my ways, opened the door and asked the visitor if he had an appointment. He had not but sent in his visiting card. It was Captain M.S. Kohli, the leader of the team that put nine Indians atop the Everest. He had every right to ignore the notice by the door. He told me of his near-death experiences; how he had seen his own soul and how everything he had achieved in life was by the grace of Wahe Guru. Being an agnostic, I conceded to him that faith transcends reason.

Next came my sister-in-law Amarjit. My much favoured relation, she rightly ignores the notice by the door and comes in by the rear entrance. She usually comes a few minutes before my sundowner and invariably announces "don’t think I have come to drink your whiskey; I have plenty of my own at home." Then pours out one for me and herself. She fills me up with news of other members of the family. I look forward to her visits.

The bell rings again. It is a young lady with her six-year-old son. She tells me she is a friend of my son Rahul from their days together and had been invited for drinks. But Rahul is out shopping. I ask her name and introduce her to the others. She is Mamta Mishra, born in Surajpur (between Chandigarh and Kalka). She is married to a Canadian of Burger (half-Dutch, half-Sri Lankan) origin and lives in Toronto, Canada. She is determined to bring up her son Akaash as a good Hindu. The boy, who looks European, speaks shuddh Hindi and sports a chutia or bodi on his head. I thought she belonged to the Krishna-consciousness cult. That was not so, she is simply a devout Brahmin vegetarian and wants her son to be the same. The boy had a large packet of potato chips which he guzzled and demolished in a few minutes. Then he ran up to his mother, who took out a bottle of mineral water for him to wash down the potato chips. The boy returned to his seat, taking the half empty water bottle with him. He unslung a bow he had round his shoulder and picked out an arrow out of a yellow plastic quiver hanging behind his back. He put the water bottle in the centre of the crowded room and began to shoot at it. He hit his target, the bottle wobbled but did not fall. Finally, he managed to knock it down. He let out an exultant cry and used only two English words to announce his triumph: "Hay Mom, dekho." Then he brought the bottle back to his mother. It reminded me of Arjun shooting fish placed above his head in the eye and bringing Draupadi as a trophy. Darling little fellow.

Half an hour later my son returned home loaded with parcels and made his apologies to Mamta. Following him, ten minutes later came his American friend Andy Piller, who is on transfer to Addis Ababa. Andy has been passing his Playboy magazines to me for some months, I have much to thank him for and am pleased he should come to say goodbye.

And finally walked in my daughter accompanied by her closest friend Nandini, her husband Dalip Mehta (retired Ambassador) and their daughter Mandavi. They are also the family closest to my heart. They are often over and like to eat dinners with me or I go across to my daughter’s apartment and join them. My daughter sensed my foul mood and asked me loudly for everyone to hear: "It’s time for your dinner. Shall we bring the food over or will you join us?" The assemblage took the broad hint. The elders finished their drinks and stood up. Young Akaash slung his teer kamaan across his shoulders and said two more words in English "Thank you namastey".

Paradox of our times

We’ve taller buildings, but shorter tempers;

Wider freeways, but narrower viewpoints;

We spend more, but have less;

We buy more, but enjoy it less;

We’ve bigger houses, but smaller families,

More conveniences, but less time;

We have more degrees, but less sense;

More knowledge, but less judgement;

More experts, but less solutions;

More medicines, but less wellness;

We have multiplied our possessions, but reduced our values

We talk too much, love too seldom, and hate too;

We have learnt how to make a living, but not a life;

We’ve added years to life, but not life to years;

We’ve been all the way to the moon, and back,

But have trouble crossing the street to meet the new neighbour

We have conquered outer space, but not inner space;

We’ve split the atom, but not our prejudice;

We’ve higher incomes, but lower morals;

These are the times of world peace, but domestic warfare;

More leisure but less fun;

More kinds of food, but less nutrition;

These are days of two incomes, but more divorces;

Of fancier houses, but broken homes;

It is a time when there is much in the show window.

But nothing in the stock-room;

We are always getting ready to live, but never living.

(Courtesy: Rajnesh, Shimla)


E-mail vs female

Santa returned from England and disclosed to his friend Banta: "Hamarey yahan e-mail sey shaadi hoti hai" (In England, people get married through e-mail).

Banta: "Lekin hamare yahan to female sey shaadi hoti hai".

(But we get married to females).

(Contributed by J.P. Singh Kaka, Bhopal)