Saturday, September 24, 2005

Through the four kingdoms
Khushwant Singh

Khushwant Singh
Khushwant Singh

After many years of travelling by train and taxi to my summer abode in the Shivaliks, I decided to do the entire journey by road. Nanak Kohli lent me his massive Mercedes Benz — equipped with two TV panel screens and a drink cabinet —to be driven by his best chauffeur David. It was the kind of luxurious travel King Solomon would have undertaken when calling Queen Sheeba. I was accompanied by my daughter Mala. We drove through kingdoms of four Chief Ministers: Sheila Dikshit’s Delhi, Bhupinder Singh Hooda’s Haryana, Amarinder Singh’s Punjab and Virbhadra Singh’s Himachal Pradesh. I record the changes I saw after the years.

David took the route through Delhi Cantonment, Azadpur, Rohini to hit the Grand Trunk road. It was a pleasing sight to see thick tropical jungles on either side of the broad duel highway, well maintained and spotlessly clean. Evidently the greenery of India is going apace at least around the Capital.

We went through a welcome arch with Hooda’s picture atop on to the Grand Trunk Road. The road continued to be top class. On either side were hotels, modern dhabas, with well-laid out gardens. We arrived at our half-way resthouse in the form of a complex of eateries, shops and cafes run by the Haryana Tourist Corporation. All very clean, carnival atmosphere and quick service.

We opted for the self-service of a South Indian eatery. We ordered our favourite dishes. They were on the table in less than five minutes: piping hot. I dipped my vada in a very watery sambhar and coconut chutney. It was tasteless. So was my daughter’s uttapam. One negative point for Haryana. We resumed our journey.

We went through another arch with a picture of Amarinder Singh welcoming us to Punjab. The quality of the road deteriorated. Whatever else makes Punjab state number one of India, upkeep of the national highway is not one of them. It had a contagious effect. The second part of our journey through Haryana to the foothills was through a single road with two-way traffic, congested and poorly maintained.

The showpiece en route is Pinjore Gardens. It is well-maintained and draws a lot of visitors. Not so the town. It used to be a bottleneck but Bansi Lal had the main street widened. It has again become a bottleneck because of heavier traffic.

An ornamental pond, which could become an attraction, continues to be used as a dumping ground for garbage. Neither the state government nor the citizens of Pinjore have thought it worth their while to clean it up.

The worst day-time nightmare awaited us at Kalka. It was still Hooda’s territory but it is also the main inlet into Virbhadra Singh’s Himachal Pradesh. At the best of times travellers have to reckon a half-hour delay getting through its narrow winding bazaar if they don’t want to miss catching their trains at Kalka or Chandigarh. It is no more than 200 yards long but always blocked up by trucks, buses and cars.

We were stuck there for well over one hour. For many years we have been hearing of the Kalka by-pass road. We are still hearing about it without the slightest sign of anyone doing anything about it. Virbhadra has a vested interest in having a bypass because his capital city Shimla and the innumerable summer resorts like Dharampur, Sabathu, Kasauli, Solan, Barog etc. would be connected to it. There is no arch with the picture of Virbhadra Singh to welcome you to Himachal Pradesh. Instead there is a toll barrier where you have to shell out money to enter his kingdom.

We should have reached Kasauli by 2 pm. We arrived after 4 pm. I was pooped and barely managed to get out of the car into my cottage. I went down with a heavy cold and fever. I thought I would send my medical bills to Hooda and the cost of funeral to Virbhadra Singh.

Call for revolution

Of Allama Iqbal’s (1873-1938) poems, my top favourite during my leftist years was God’s call to the poor to rise in arms and stamp out inequality and injustice. That is why I refuse to attach any labels on him. He wrote saarey jahan say achha Hindustan hamara eulogies on Shri Ram, Guru Nanak, Swami Ram Tirath, Ganga Mai as well as in praise of the Nawab of Bhopal and a great deal on the rise and fall of the Muslims. He also believed in the two-nation theory and is regarded as one of the founding fathers of Pakistan. Uttho meyree dunia kay ghareebon ko jagaa do. Oddly enough, he chooses God to exhort the people to create anarchy — as entitled in his poem Farmaan-e-Khuda. Itake the liberty of reproducing the first three-quarters of the original and I feel I have not done too bad a job with the translation.

Uttho meyree dunia kay ghareebon ko jagaa do

Kaakh-e-umraa kay dar-o-deevaar hila do;

Garmao ghulaamon ka lahoo soz-e-yageen say

Kunjashk-e-faromaaya ko Shaaheen say laraa do.

Sultaanee-e-jamhoor ka aata hai zamaana

Jo naqsh-e-kuhan tum ko nazar aaya mitaa do.

Jis kheyt say dehgaan ko muyassar na ho rozee

Us kheyt kay har gosha-e-gundum ko jalaa do.

Kyon khaliq-o-makhlooq mein haail rahen pardey

Peeran-e-kaleesa to kaleesa say uttha do.

Heavenly Ordinance (Farmaan-e-Khuda)

Rouse the poor of the world, get them ready for battle

Shake the mansions of the rich, till their doors and walls rattle;

With conviction of victory the blood of the poor ignite

Get the timid sparrow take on the falcon in a fight

Comes time for the masses to rule for sure

Rub out what is now too old and obscure

Land that does not yield what its tiller needs daily to eat

Every nook and corner of it set on fire, burn every stalk of wheat.

Why these curtains between the Sustainer and those he doth sustain?

Throw out the old men controlling places of worship, let not one remain.

Holy Mother

About a year ago, I went to see a philately exhibition at our local Head Post Office with my little sister, who was at that time, around eight and a half years old. There, in a corner, were displayed a few stamps bearing the picture of Mother Teresa. Below these stamps, her brief biography was written in 10-12 sentences.

Since my sister goes to a convent school, she was aware of Mother Teresa and knew that she was a noble lady who worked for the poor. An inquisitive girl and fond of reading, she started reading the biography with interest. (By chance, it was displayed at a relatively low height). It ended with a sentence, which read: "She died of cardiac arrest on September 5, 1997". On reading this, my sister was quite taken aback. With an expression of surprise, she asked me, "Bhaiya, why was Mother Teresa arrested?"

(Contributed by Siddharth Oswal, Ludhiana)