Saturday, February 19, 2005

Khushwant Singh
The light of other days
Khushwant Singh

MY mother died quite sometime ago. None of her children can remember what year it was. But we get together on her death anniversaries as on those of our father for an hour of prayer and kirtan and feeding a motley crowd of hungry beggars who somehow get to know about them.

I often ask myself: "Why do we do it? We donít know where our parents are; their memories get fainter by the year. But for their photographs in our albums or on our tables and their occasionally appearing in our dreams, we will find it hard to recognise them if we come face to face with them. Come to think of it, I am now older than my father when he died and will soon be older than my mother when she left us. So our meeting again will be an incredibly bizarre event of a son meeting his parents younger than him. I am assuming that people stop ageing after they die.

Such idle thoughts came flooding into my mind on my Maís death anniversary. I expect the object of "celebrating" (wrong word) is to recall oneís association with those who are no longer with us. Like other parents, so also mine, though they kept up the pretence of loving their children equally, they were closer to some than to others.

The fiction of Tagore
   February 12, 2005
Gossip is what gossip does
   February 5, 2005
Kingdom of God
   January 29, 2005
Abandoned innocents
   January 22, 2005
Gem of a man
   January 15, 2005
Osho calling
   January 8, 2005
All that passed by
   January 1, 2005
Tomorrow yet to come
December 25, 2004
The truth about lies
   December 18, 2004
From Aryana to Afghanistan
   December 11, 2004

My fatherís favourite was my sister, the only daughter he had. My motherís was the youngest of the siblings. It was more emotionally than in terms of division of their assets. They tried to be as even-handed in dividing their property as they could. My father invested more money on me than on any of his other children. I was the only one he sent abroad for education. He sustained me during my largely briefless years as a lawyer and during my attempts to become a writer. Of their five children, I earned the least. Whatever little success came my way as a journalist and author was after his death. He must have been sorely disappointed with me. And since my mother could not read English, she could only take other peopleís word that I had not done too badly.

So on a cold, wintry evening, I sat poking the dying embers in my fireplace recollecting memories of dead parents. I could not help but recall the lines from the poem The Light of Other Days by Thomas Moore:

Oft, in the stilly night

Ere slumberís chain has bound me,

Fond memory brings the light

Of other days around me:

The smiles, the tears

Of boyhoodís years,

The words of love then spoken,

The eyes that shone,

Now dimmíd and gone,

The cheerful hearts now broken!

Thus, in the stilly night,

Ere slumberís chain has bound me,

Sad memory brings the light

Of other days around me.

Canadian memories

A woman with the unpronouncable name Sandra Djwa who teaches English literature and has written biographies of Canadian poets came to see me with her Indian husband to get material on Patrica K. Page who I had known closely during the year I was posted in Ottawa. Memories of the country and its people came flooding back to my mind more than half-a-century later. Canada is the most beautiful country I have seen, its mountains, rivers and lakes unspoilt by human habitation, its wildlife: grizzly bears, deer, elk, moose, geese, loons, gophers and serpents largely unmolested; its people a happy blend of Yankee openness minus their cocksure arrogance and English reserve. Of the many I was able to befriend, Patricia Page was the best-looking, the nicest and the most gifted. She was a year younger than me, six inches taller and athletic ó she could jump over a badminton net. She was born in England, the daughter of an admiral and had made her home in Canada. She was on the Canadian Film Board. Her poems had given an entree into the charmed circle of the countryís literary celebrities. Through her I met quite a few of them. My earliest short stories were published in Torontoís Saturday Night and Canadian Forum and then in Harpers (United States). It was in Canada that I began toying with the idea of trying to make a living out of writing. I have much to be grateful for to Canada and Canadians.

Pat Page rose to the top long after I had left the country. In 1957, she was given the Governor-Generalís award for poetry; in 1999, she was appointed Companion of the Order of Canada. After she married Arthur Irwin, Canadian Ambassador to Brazil, she turned to writing fiction as well as books for children. Eight years ago, two volumes of her poems entitled The Hidden Room were published. Now almost 90, she lives in Victoria (British Columbia). I quote a few lines from her poem Outcasts:

In the laundered mind they rate

the bottom of the scale, below the Jew

with his hundred hands and pockets and below

niggers whose love is lewd.

Let doctors show a white aseptic hand

within their sickroom and let parents gaze

back against timeís right fist to find the cause-

seek in the child the answer to the man:

search out the early misfit, who at school,

sickly for love and giddy with his sex

found friendship like a door banged in his face,

his world a wasteland and himself a fool.

Mumtaz Mahal

A doctor-friend of mine was posted in a remote hill town of Arunachal Pradesh. There was no electricity or telephone. The evenings were dreadfully monotonous and lonesome. To kill boredom, he taught English to a group of tribal villagers in the evening. Within a few days the tutor and the students became quite intimate.

One evening, a student asked if my friend had a photograph of his wife. It so happened that he had one of her taken in front of the Taj Mahal, and he handed it to the villager. After studying it quite approvingly, for a moment, he remarked: "You have a very beautiful home!"

Forgive me

Is Mrs Kapoor at home?" asked the salesman.

"Iím so sorry to tell you that she is not here."

"Why are you so sorry?"

"Because I donít like to tell lies."

(Contributed by Reeten Ganguly, Tezpur)