THIS ABOVE ALL
Old men and their dreams
older a person gets, the more he dreams of past events. I have found
this to be true in my case. I dream during my afternoon siesta as well
as at night. What is more, unlike during my younger days when I used to
forget what I had dreamt about, now I remember my dreams for a few days.
Also, the pattern has changed. In my earlier days, dreams could be
identified as insecurity dreams; missing trains, flights, being
improperly dressed in a formal party, inability to pay hotel bills,
going blank in an examination hall etc. Nowadays my dreams have acquired
political overtones. This may be due to the fact that I read too many
newspapers and magazines and little else. Ihave failed to interpret
them. Let me explain three of the latest.
I dreamt of travelling by
train from Delhi to Gwalior, sitting facing me were Atal Bihari Vajpayee
and L.K. Advani. I tried to ask them a few questions but they kept
smiling at me without opening their lips. When we reached our
destination, I followed the two leaders down the platform. There was no
one to receive them. While they went out of the exit gate, I continued
to walk on to the end of the platform and saw a long range of low-lying
hills. Nothing followed.
A second dream had
Jayalalithaa Jayaram as she was 25 years ago when I saw quite a bit of
her. Since then, she had distanced herself from me and after she became
Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, Ilost all contact with her. However, in my
dream she was most affable and full of winsome smiles. Then the dream
The third dream had more
substance to it and a rude awakening. Its main character was Uma Bharti.
She had once come to visit me in the company of two men, one of whom
could have been her gentleman friend and mentor, Govindacharya. I recall
finding her very attractive, full of animated conversation with winsome
gestures. I hoped she would repeat her visits. She never did. But Iread
of her entering politics, saw her on TV exhorting the rabble around
Babri Masjid to give it ek aur dhakka (give it another push) and
giving Murli Manohar Joshi an embrace when the mosque came down. I was
soured to the depth of my soul. Isaw her pictures cuddling calves as CM
of Madhya Pradesh and announcing setting up of Gaushalas in all villages
as a top priority. These shenanigans did not warm my heart towards her.
I also saw her on TV walking off in a huff when she was expelled from
the BJP. For once, I supported the party leaders for doing the right
thing. However, in my dream Uma Bharti looked as fetching as when I had
first seen her. She was also very friendly and let me hold her hands. I
told her, "Your hands are very khurdara (rough)". She
replied, "They have to be to do a lot of rough work — not just
scribble rubbish on pieces of paper like you do." For good measure,
I added, "They also smell of the blood of innocent Muslims."
She withdrew her hand from my grasp and gave me a tight slap on my face.
I woke up with a start.
A gifted storyteller
My usual reaction to books
which are launched with great fanfare or hyped for getting advance
royalties running into crores of rupees is a snort of contempt. Ihave
eagerly picked up many of them and, after reading a few pages, tossed
them aside. Such advance publicity is sheer gimmickry. I had the same
reaction to Lavanya Sankaran’s collection of short stories, The Red
Carpet. After reading about the huge sum of money her publishers
paid to her before putting the book in the market Ihad no intention
whatsoever of going through it. Then, Ninnia Singh mailed me a copy to
my summer abode in the Shivaliks. Having nothing better to do for
relaxation, very reluctantly, Ipicked it up and read the first story. I
was charmed. "The girl is gifted, a born storyteller." I
admitted to myself. Iput aside the work I was doing and went from one
story to the next without being able to put down the book. If she was
around I would have taken her in a bear hug, kissed her on the forehead
and blessed her. More power to your pen.
Lavanya Sankaran is a
Kannada Iyer Brahmin born and living in Bangalore. She was educated in
Bryn Mawr College (USA) and evidently lived in the States for some years
before returning home to marry and settle down in the city of her
nativity with her husband and daughter. She paints on a small canvas:
all her stories are about Bangaloreans (mostly Brahmins) who make their
fortunes in America and return to Bangalore. Most of them are in the
software business like infotech, computers and the sort of things that
made their fellow Bangalorean, Premji, the richest man in India. A
gentle tone of satire and humour run through all her stories. Those who
assume airs on their return home are known as ABCD—America Born
Confused Desis. As a matter of fact most of them are not America-born
but Bangalore-born. Also, not all are Kannadigas; Gujarati emigres
outnumber other Indian emigres.
I recommend Lavanya
Sankaran’s The Red Carpet as a sample of good, terse prose with
an eye for detail which brings her characters to life. She is a sheer
joy to read.
Mosque vs taverns
Arjan Singh of Chandigarh
shares my passion for Urdu poetry. At times, his letters in Urdu (he
disdains to write in English) run into eight pages crammed with couplets
of his choice, notably from Mirza Ghalib. He had noticed that I often
alluded to the poet’s praise of wine and taverns. So, once on a short
visit to Kasauli he gifted me a very tattered copy of a book entirely
devoted to maikhanas and saqis. It has become my favourite
bedtime reading, I came across a short, humourous piece by Josh
Malihabadi which I could not resist translating into English:
Jee han: Masjid yaheen hai
aagey barh kar
Haanjee Ghaffaar kee
dukaan key ooper
Mein poochh rahaa tha
maikhana hai kidhar
"Yes, sir, the mosque
is near here, a few steps ahead on top of Haji Ghaffar’s shop."
"But, but... What is
the but about?"
"I wanted to know
where is the wine shop."