Saturday, August 28, 2004



Khushwant SinghTHIS ABOVE ALL
Trouble with the truth
Khushwant Singh

There are things in life which we accept as gospel truth without ever questioning their veracity. Two such truisms are that truth always triumphs (Satyamev Jayate) and honesty is the best policy. There are good reasons for accepting them on face value but when I begin to ponder over them, I begin to wonder how much of it is wishful make-believe and how much of it proven reality. I concede that truth should always prevail and honesty should be the best policy, but do they in fact do so?

The scriptures answer the question in the affirmative. "Great is Truth, and mighty above all things," says the Bible (Apocrypha 4:41). It might be recalled that the words are taken from Esdras, which tells the story of King Darius of Persia who asked three young Jewish scholars: What was the strongest thing in the world. The first one replied that it was wine, the second said the king was the strongest, the third said women were strongest and added a post-script: "But above all things, truth beareth away the victory." It became an article of faith, its Latin form Magna est Veritas, et prevalet (Great is truth and prevails). Its shortened form M.V.P. was often used as a motto on flags and shields claiming that they were fighting for the truth).

EARLIER COLUMNS
What makes a perfect evening
August 21, 2004
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 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

Guru Nanak equated truth with God. So did Mahatma Gandhi. Nanak put truthful conduct on an even higher pedestal:

Sachhon orey sab ko

Osper sachh aachaar

(Truth above all; above truth, truthful conduct.)

Gandhi went alongwith the Guru in as much as he also made truthful conduct the central principle of his life. It should be evident that regarding honesty to be the best policy is a part and parcel of his concept of truthful conduct. "To think good thoughts is one thing, to act upon them is another," he wrote.

So convinced are we with such truisms that we also believe that anyone who transgresses the moral code pays a heavy price. Haraam kee kamaayee kabhi hazam nahin hoti (what is earned illicitly can never be digested). As a matter of fact we all know a lot of people who live very well off with illicit earnings and do not have problems with their digestion. They also do not suffer from insomnia ó sleeplessness. I know a few contemporaries who lied about their educational achievements, claimed that had a first or higher second divisions, when actually had thirds, did well in their interviews, landed with good jobs, and retired on fat pensions. No indigestion, no insomnia, they lived in good health into the eighties, respected by those not aware of the untruthful beginnings, and envied by those who do. We have innumerable cases of wanton murders and deaths caused by drunken drivers where culprits have got away by bribing eye-witnesses to retract their statements and tell lies on oath. Now turn your critical eye on your own lawmakers ó MPs and MLAs. How many of them are "tainted" (the word includes cheating, incitement to violence and murder). They may not all be respected but their being successful in life cannot be denied. So what exactly does Satyamev Jayate mean?

Old menís tale

Whenever my son, living in Mumbai, was asked why he was going to Delhi, his reply was "to see my A. Pees." A.P. stood for aged parents. Now that he is himself what in modern parlance is described a senior citizen, and his mother has passed away, he answers the same question, saying "to see old pop".

With the passing of generations, younger peopleís attitude towards the old has changed. When I was a young man, we used to describe aged people as oldies, or worse sattreah bahattreah (feeble-minded in his 70s and 72s). Now persons in their 70s are not considered old new attitudes and a sizeable vocabulary has been evolved to describe them. For one their way to show respect to the aged is to keep a respectful distance from them.

So we have old peopleís homes, a good distance from homes they once lived in and ruled over. There is much to be said in favour of old peopleís homes. The few I have visited in England and the USA are as luxurious as any five star hotel; separate cottages with modern amenities like world radio and TV, spacious dining and sitting rooms where you can meet and chat with others in your own age groups; light tasty food and wines, billiards rooms, card tables for bridge, rummy or latience. There are spacious lawns and flower beds. Above all, there are nurses and doctors in attendance round the clock. They cost a packet. Inmates are happy blowing up their lifeís savings to live out their last days in comfort because they are aware they canít take anything with them when they go. Their offspring donít grudge pitching in because they are relieved of the responsibility of looking after their parents and can get on with their own lives. The notion of a family gathered round the bed of a dying patriarch or matriarch is as dead as a dodo.

However, much I approve of old peopleís homes, I resent being described as a gerry (for geriatric), old boomer, fuddy duddy, gaffer or old fogey (for god father) codger, coot, geezer, etc. Some new coinages like dinosaur, fossil, cotton top, cranky, crumbly are downright offensive. Eighty years ago Chesterton wrote in his essay Prudery of Slang: "There was a time when it was customary to call a father a father.... Now, it appears to be considered a mark of advanced intelligence to call our father a bean or a scream. It is obvious to me that calling the old gentleman "father" is facing the facts of nature. It is also obvious that calling him a "bean" is merely weaving a graceful fairytale to cover the facts of nature."

Call us oldies or what you will, but bear in mind that just as a saas bhi kabhi bahu thhi (the mother-in-law was once a bride) you too will one day become an old person and slang words like codger, geyser or fuddy-duddy can be hurtful even to an oldie who is hard of hearing.

Real ghost story

This guy was on the side of the road hitchhiking on a real dark night in the middle of a thunder storm. Time passed slowly and no cars went by. It was raining so hard he could hardly see his hand in front of his face. Suddenly he saw a car approaching slowly and appearing ghostlike in the rain. It slowly crept towards him and stopped.

Wanting a ride real bad, the guy jumped in the car and closed the door. Only then did he realise that there was nobody behind the wheel. The car slowly started moving and the guy was terrified, too scared to think of jumping out and running. The guy saw that the car was slowly approaching a sharp curve, still too scared to jump out, he started to pray and beg for his life; he was sure the ghost car would go off the road and into the bayou and he would surely drown, when just before the curve, a hand appeared through the driverís window and turned the steering wheel, guiding the car safely around the bend.

Paralysed with fear, the guy watched the hand reappear everytime they reached a curve. Finally the guy, scared to near death, had all he could take and jumped out of the car and ran to town.

Wet and in shock, he went into a bar and voice quavering, ordered two shots of whisky, then told everybody about his supernatural experience. A silence enveloped and everybody got goose bumps when they realised the guy was telling the truth.

About half-an-hour later two guys walked into the bar and one says to the other, "Look friend, thatís the idiot who rode in our car when he was pushing it in the rain."

(Contributed by Amir C. Tuteja, Washington)

HOME