Saturday, October 30, 2004

Khushwant SinghTHIS ABOVE ALL
Kiss and kismet
Khushwant Singh

Food fads and filmi gods
October 23, 2004
Yesterday once more
October 16, 2004
Bose smart, Nehru smarter
October 9, 2004
Exploding myths
October 2, 2004
Candid confessions
September 19, 2004
Return to the hills for verse
September 18, 2004
The power of doubt
September 4, 2004
Trouble with the truth
August 28, 2004
What makes a perfect evening
August 21, 2004
Kasi yatra
August 14, 2004
Eat, drink and be merry
July 24, 2004

SOME three years ago I took the liberty of greeting the then Pakistan High Commissioner Ashraf Jehangir Qaziís daughter with a kiss. She was around sixteen; I nearing ninety. Her grandfather and grand uncle were in college with me in England. A photograph of my embracing the teenager appeared in The Indian Express and was picked up by some Pakistani papers. It created a furore in Pakistan. Qazi was summoned to Islamabad to explain his daughterís conduct. He did so to their satisfaction. They felt pretty foolish about it. There were two post-script to the event.

A few days later a Pakistani family, including their young daughters, came to call on me. As I opened the door to welcome them, the father said to me, "First give my daughters a kiss, then we will come in." And before the Qazis left India for the USA, they came to say goodbye to me. This time it was their daughter who took the initiative, put her arms round my neck and kissed me on both sides of my bearded cheeks.

I often wonder what would have happened if instead of Qaziís little girl, I had taken the same liberty with her grand-aunt Pyari Begam, who was a great beauty and was in my age group. Perhaps it would have led to a war between the Baluchis and the Sikhs. It was truly said by Don Marquis On Kissing: "Mayhem, death and arson have followed many a thoughtless kiss not sanctioned by a person."

There are a number of ways of kissing: an avuncular on the forehead, the fraternal on both cheeks, the more intricate on the lips, or side of the neck. The choice largely depends on the female recipient because males are over-eager to convert the gesture into an intimate relationship. It is said high-heeled shoes were specially invented for short women who were tired of being kissed on their foreheads. An honest kiss demands meeting of the lips. Even with this there are countless ways of expressing the range of emotion.

Vatsayan made a list of over 60 ways in his sex classic Kama Sutra. In the matter of kissing no one needs a textbook to guide him or her. They know all there is to know from the day they were born. Nor do they have to wait for astral signs to tell them of auspicious days to go ahead. There is an old English saying: "Kissing is not in season when the gorse is not in bloom." Gorse is in full blossom right through the year. It grows in profusion in the Shivaliks: it is a foot-high bush with tiny pink flowers.

One does not have to define a kiss. Henry Gibbons made a silly attempt which robbed it of all the joy it yields, to wit; "The anatomised juxtaposition of two orbicularis oris muscles in a state of contraction". Nonsense. The poet Robert Herrick was much closer to the mark when he wrote: "What is a kiss? Why kiss, as some approve; they pave sweet cement, glue and lime of love."

Kisses can be lethal as well as life-giving. There was the Kiss of Judas which betrayed Jesus Christ and led to his Crucifixion. It was the kiss of death. There is also prolonged kiss of resuscitation to save the life of a drowned person. There is the kiss that reveals a past relationship. There is a kiss which means nothing but meeting of lips as an old Italian proverb says: "A kiss on the lip does not always touch the heart." It is the kind of kiss that film actors plant on each other in glare of lights in front of cameras with dozens of people watching them. These are fake emotions which donít exist. Meanwhile, I find solace in an old Spanish saying: "A kiss without a moustache is like an egg without salt." I have plenty of moustache.

Torch of learning

Gharuan village in Ropar district far from Chandigarh is much like most other villages in Punjab. Most of the land is owned by Jat farmers, tilled by men and women of the Scheduled Castes. Men are addicted to drink, drugs and beating up their wives. The rate of literacy is very low and there are no opportunities to improve the living standard. In this village was born S.S. Dhanoa, who made it to the IAS and ended his career as Chief Secretary of Punjab. It was at his suggestion that Nanak Kohli of Washington decided to set up a balwari in Gharuan as a pilot project.

He had first toyed with the idea of granting scholarships to the best products of Indian colleges so that they could go for higher studies in western universities. I told him that it would be like getting them visas and Green Card to settle in the United States; they would never give anything back to India. "If you really want to bring a change in your country, light the torch of learning in the kitchens of the poorest of the poor. You will be amply rewarded." And so he did with the Sunder Amarsheel Charitable trust.

It opened scores of balwaris in the slums of Delhi before starting them in rural Punjab. He appointed Satinder Kaur, widow of an old-time college friend Bhagwant Singh, to oversee their operation. Satinder Kaur, once Professor of mathematics, joined her husband employed by the Tatas. She joined the Tata Institute of Social Sciences and for 18 years, till her husbandís death, was Executive Secretary of the Fellowship of Physically Handicapped. She helped the disabled find jobs rather than go begging in the streets. This experience came in handy to her.

Being a Jatti, she knows how to enthuse the Jats to come out of their slothful ways and do something for their village. In Gharuan, the balwari is now run by girls from the Scheduled Castes. They are more eager to learn and are better in their studies than the girls from higher castes. They wear smart school uniforms, eat a free, wholesome mid-day meal provided to them; they have begun to pick up skills like dress-making, needle-craft, which gets them money without their having to go to larger towns. They also pursue their studies.

"One of these days you will hear of one of my Scheduled Caste girls make it to the IAS like S.S. Dhanoa," says Satinder Kaur. She adds: "A host of sarpanches from nearby villages have approached us to start similar projects in their villages."

And so the torch of learning has been lit in an area of darkness. I have not seen Nanak Kohli look happier in the 20 years I have known him. He has learnt the joys of giving.


To a European friend

You will be delighted to know my Charlie dear,

How happily I live in my country here.

Polluted air, impure water and adulterated food

Always keep me in a jovial mood.

Spurious drugs and contraband brew.

Add to my life a years few.

I am single but I am never alone

My companions are the idlers of my zone!

There are unstarred hotels and dhabas on wheels

From them I get much lunch and spicy meals.

I donít have to go to a departmental store.

Hawkers deliver everything at my door.

I enjoy full freedom, no check, no bar,

Can I have such liberty in your land afar?

My decision may appear to you a little odd

India is India, I donít want to live abroad.

ó Contributed by G.C. Bhandari, Meerut