THIS ABOVE ALL
The truth about lies
a Lahore High Court judgement delivered in 1924, two English judges
expressed the opinion that all Punjabis were liars. For 81 years, no
Punjabi took umbrage over the uncharitable obiter dictum.
Suddenly this year they are up in arms and want the outrageous slur on
their character to be expunged from the judgement. However, there was
something in the Punjabi character which impelled the learned judges to
record their unkind opinion in a judgement which could be cited as a
precedent for times to come. They were deliberating on the veracity of
dying depositions made by a Punjabi victim of murderous assault.
It is usually assumed that
when a person is on the verge of death and due to meet his Maker, he
does not tell a lie. That the judges opined did not hold good for
Punjabis. If the victim was stabbed five times by one person, he was
inclined to settle his scores by naming five of the enemy faction as his
killers. As a result, lawyers for the defence were able to punch holes
in his dying declaration and all the accused went scot-free.
My experience bears
testimony in favour of the judgement. I had a Punjabi tenant who
converted to Islam to marry a Muslim woman. However, he preferred to
maintain his Hindu name and identity when in India and a Muslim name
when serving in Muslim countries. He was a compulsive liar. In India, he
swore on the Bhagavadgita to tell the truth, in Muslim countries
he swore by the Koran to tell the truth. He lost out everywhere
and was sacked from one job after another when asked to produce his
passport. He was forced to admit he had two with two different
My grievance against the
Lahore High Court judgement is that it singles out Punjabis as
inveterate liars and says nothing about other Indians. Are others less
prone to lying than us Punjabis? I donít think so. As soon as any of
us is put on oath, he takes it as a challenge of wits. If he tells a
lie, he wins; and if he tells the truth, he loses.
With us Indians, perjury
is no great crime. It takes brains to invent lies; any fool can tell
this truth. Unfortunately, to get away with a lie you also have to have
a good memory and remember what you said earlier. Mendacam Memorem
Esse Oportere ó a liar needs a good memory, wrote Quintilian. The Psalms
support this dictum. "I said in my haste, all men are
liars." One has to practise the art of lying for many years to
become an accomplished liar. Mark Twain in his Advice to Youth wrote:
"Some authorities hold that the young ought not to lie at all.
That, of course, is putting it rather stronger than necessary; still, I
cannot go quite as far as that, I do maintain and believe I am right,
that the young ought to be temperate in the use of this great art and
continued practice shall give them that confidence, elegance and
precision which alone can make the accomplishment graceful and
We have a very laidback
attitude towards lying. At the worst, liar is warned that he will be
pecked by a black crow. What is a mere peck?
Jhoot boley kavvaa kaatey
Kaaley kuvvay say dario;
Main maikay chalee
Tum deykhtey rahio
One who lies will be
bitten by a crow
Beware of the crow that is
Iíll leave you and
return to my parentsí home
You just watch and see, Iíll
never come back.
For over 30 years I have
had a signboard beside my door bell reading. "Do not ring the bell
unless you are expected." Its effect has been disappointing.
Couriers who usually come in the afternoon when I am snoozing, ignore it
and ring the bell. There are others who think the notice is not meant
for them. They also do not pay heed to my servantís remonstrances that
unless they have prior appointment, I will not see them.
They push him aside and
stride in unabashed. With some I am too timid to protest, to some I give
a tongue-lashing. There are others, mostly ladies, who donít bother to
enter by the front door but by the rear entrance past the kitchen. My
cook and his assistant know them and think have a permanent visa to
invade my privacy. I give them a gentle tick off before I talk to them.
They make their visits short.
Now I am up against a new
kind of menace which has assumed epidemic proportions. So I will be
putting up another signboard, on the mantel piece of my sitting room.
"Please switch off your cellphones before you say hello." I
have been driven to this because no sooner ladies like Malavika Singh,
Kamana Prasad, Reeta Verma and others bustle in, cellphones in their
handbags begin to ring. They take them out and pace around the room like
caged tigresses while I wait impatiently for them to stop. Meanwhile
till I put the board, I just tell them, "Kindly leave your
cellphones by the entrance door and be sure to take them away when you
A few years ago cellphones
were a status symbol. If you had one in your pocket, you were a
somebody. Now every aira-ghaira has one: it has become as common
as a wrist watch. Wherever you go, by bus, taxi, train or plane, you
will meet people armed with cellphones. Even my cleanerís 17-year-old
daughter has one. She places it reverently on my table while she scrubs
the floors. It has a loud musical ring which she can hear from a long
distance. She immediately drops her broom or wet duster, picks up her
precious toy and runs to a distant corner so that I cannot hear what she
is saying. In short, not having a cellphone makes you a fossil of bygone
days. I was given one by my friend Nanak Kohli. I was never able to
operate it. I passed it on to my daughter. A few months later, when she
was getting her flat whitewashed, one of the workmen walked off with it.
I was vastly relieved.
No one can deny that
cellphones are a valuable invention, particularly in times of emergency.
If you are suddenly taken ill and need medical attention, you can ring
up your doctor or a hospital to send you an ambulance.
But we being a nation of
chatterboxes, carry our cellphones everywhere we go, be it to the
cinema, theatre, dance recital or a reception. And they ring at the most
awkward of moments when you are surrounded by people. Many a time while
travelling by train, I hear people sitting close by dial number after
number only to say "Hellow ji, kee haal chaal hai?" If
I could, I would confiscate their instruments and throw them out of the
In our university
building, the lift was notorious for trapping both professors and
students between floors. Pleas from students and teachers for repair
went unheeded until the students learned that the vice-chancellor was to
visit a lecture-room on the top floor. The vice-chancellor was met by a
printed notice on the lift door: "Flight insurance for this lift on
sale in hall on the top floor.
(Contributed by Reetan