Saturday, August 6, 2005

Power puff
Khushwant Singh

Khushwant SinghJawaharlal Nehru smoked a cigarette after every meal. Jinnah was a chain-smoker. Winston Churchill had a cigar in his mouth most of the time. So had Fidel Castro of Cuba and comedian Groucho Marx. Two of the top Sikh writers I knew were chain-smokers till the end of their lives. None of them suffered from cancer.

However, there is no denying that the consumption of tobacco in any form, raw or converted into smoke as in hookahs, chillums, pipes, is harmful to health and should be discouraged, I am all for forbidding smoking in public places like cinema halls, theatres, trains, buses and offices where it causes inconvenience to others. I also agree that advertising the joys of smoking by manufacturers of tobacco products should be forbidden and the sale of these products restricted to adults over 18. Beyond that, the state must not try to meddle in people’s liberty to consume whatever they like, knowing fully well it might do them harm. Consuming opium, heroin, charas, bhang etc are perhaps more harmful than smoking tobacco. Have we been able to stamp these out?

Imposing a ban on showing film stars smoking in films seems to be utterly silly. Teenagers don’t have to see Salman Khan smoking to think they should try it out too; they do so to appear adult or simply to assert their freedom to do what they like for the heck of it.

Let us learn from the experience of countries like the UK and the US. Not so long ago, every other adult, male and female, was in the habit of smoking. They made statutory warnings obligatory on every packet of cigarettes and in advertisements. It made only a marginal difference to their sales. Gradually, public opinion against smoking built up. Today you hardly ever see anyone smoking. That is the sensible way to go about it — not pass laws which we know will be ignored.


Ahmed Faraz

His name is familiar not only to all Urdu-knowing people round the globe but also to millions who do not know the language but have heard Mehdi Hassan’s soulful rendering of his poem Ranjish hee sahee. Without doubt, he is the leading Urdu poet recognised as the third greatest, after Allama Iqbal and Faiz Ahmed Faiz. You may well ask "so what about him?" Well, he has been thrown out from his job as Chairman, Pakistan National Book Foundation, which has its headquarters in Islamabad. He took the insult with stoic calm and quoted his own lines:

Who was waiting in the wings to strike?

Who was out in the streets?

The winds recognise every flame in our city.

I am not sure what exactly these lines mean: I can only guess. He is not only a household name in Pakistan and India but also an ambassador of goodwill between the countries. He had much in common with Faiz Ahmed Faiz. Both suffered imprisonment and exile for speaking out against military dictators. Both men were as loved in India as in their own country. And both men were lovers of things beautiful, notably beautiful women.

In this matter, Faraz scored over Faiz. He is a tall, strapping handsome Pathan. He generously bestows compliments on women and has them eating out of his hands. One was the late Pushpa Dogra: a talented dancer. Whenever Faraz was in Delhi (which was often) she was with him. Another is Ritu Singh of Air-India in Mumbai. He described her as the present-day Koh-i-noor. How can any woman ever forget that coming from an international celebrity?

You may well ask why did General Musharraf’s government behave in this boorish manner towards a poet regarded by the common people as the pride of Pakistan? Believe it or not, it was under the political pressure of Muhajirs, migrants from Uttar Pradesh. They insisted that so important a post should be held by a man whose mother tongue is Urdu: Faraz’s mother tongues are Pushto and Punjabi, but he writes only in Urdu. By that reckoning neither Allama Iqbal nor Faiz were qualified for the post. How stupid can some people be.


Woes of the wealthy

My short piece on problems that the wealthy have to face received attention of one of my readers, Bharat of Ludhiana. He quotes someone as follows:

"Somebody once asked God, what surprises you the most about mankind?

God replied: "They lose their health to make money and then lose their money to restore their health. By thinking anxiously about the future, they forget the present. So much so that they live neither for the present nor for the future. They live as if they will never die and die as if they have never lived."

He goes on to add:

Man marries money

Money marries vice,

Vice marries misery,

Misery marries ill health,

Ill health marries death.

So let us divorce money.