Saturday, October 22, 2005

Quake is a great leveler
Khushwant Singh

Khushwant Singh

The Hindi word bhookump conveys the violence and horror of what actually takes place better than the Urdu bhoochaal or zalzalaa (tremor), or the English earthquake. Recently, we were given a taste of such a bhookump which, within a few minutes, took a toll of over 40,000 human lives and destroyed thousands of homes.

What causes earthquake is disputed between scientists and theologians. Scientists believe they are caused by movement of subterranean plates to which some regions are more susceptible than others. What impels them to move, they have not yet been able to discover. They are doing their best to find out.

On the contrary, theologians ascribe national disasters to the will of the Almighty. They do not know what precisely provokes His anger, or refuse to disclose it to non-believers. However, without meaning to blaspheme, we have a right to ask them on what basis do they ascribe Allah merciful and compassionate?

He took so many lives, almost all of them Muslims, old and young, men, women and children; pious, god-fearing and good as well as thieves, robbers and rapists — without distinction. Without being offended by our audacity to question your beliefs, please tell us in very simple language why Allah punishes the just and the unjust without discrimination?

Scientists ascribe occurrence of certain natural disasters to human folly: global warming has been caused by excessive emission of smoke by coal and gases, which in turn have melted our polar region as well as icebergs and glaciers. These, combined with deforestation, cause floods in rivers and a rise in the ocean levels, which submerge many islands and huge tracts of inhabited land. These we can prevent if we have the will. Whether or not we can prevent typhoons and tornados is uncertain.

Even earthquakes for which we are not responsible or have prior knowledge of when or where they will occur can be made less destructive. We can erect quake-proof habitations, and after quakes have done their damage, assure speedy succour in the form of tents, blankets, medicines, food and drinking water. Needless to say all this should be done regardless of the nationality or the religion of the victims. God, if there is one, manifests Himself in the goodness there is in all human beings.

The Sahyadris

Till 10 years ago, most Indian publishers of art books had to send colour photographs and paintings to Singapore or Hong Kong to be processed. The Chinese knew how to reproduce them, we did not. Now, just about every other Indian city has printing presses of the latest kind and craftspersons who can do as good a job as anyone in the world.

I came to that conclusion after turning over the pages of Sahyadris: India’s Western Ghats — A Vanishing Heritage with spectacular pictures of the flora, fauna, and people inhabiting the Western Ghats. It is produced jointly by two US-based academics, Sandesh Kudur and Kamal Bawa. The book is printed in Hyderabad.

The Sahyadris extend along our western coast from just below Mumbai down to the southern-most tip of Kerala. It is a densely forested, mountainous country with a few peaks rising to 2000 metres. It receives heavy rainfall during the summer monsoon. This keeps its four principal rivers — Godavari, Krishna, Cauvery and Tungabhadra — and hundreds of smaller streams flowing eastwards, and watering the Deccan Plateau before emptying themselves into the Bay of Bengal.

This mountain range is home to a baffling variety of animals, snakes, frogs, birds, monkeys, squirrels, butterflies, elephants, tigers leopards, deer as well as ferns and fungi, not found elsewhere. Like other nature’s treasure houses, the Sahyadris are being despoiled by senseless encroachment in the name of development with roads, dams, mines etc. The book gives timely warning about the consequences of reckless fouling of the environment.

National ethos

I am equally devoted to Indian and European classical music. I have very little understanding of either. I cannot tell one raga from the other, or tell who were the composers of western music I hear on my satellite radio: Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, Wagner, Tchaikovsky, Strauss, Sibelius, Rossini or Vivaldi. Nevertheless, I enjoy listening to all of them.

One day it occurred to me that we Indians do not have orchestras of the kind Europeans have. And somehow, our respective musics had echoes of our different national characteristics. Let me elucidate.

Indian instrumental music has rarely more than six performers. There is one maestro playing a sitar, sarod, sarangi, veena, violin or flute. Accompanying him or her is a tabla player. Often there is the drone of tanpura in the background. If it is vocal, there will be one or two singers with a harmonium or violin and a tabalchi. If it is a solo performance, the singer or instrumentalist, the tabla player keeps pace with them. Jugalbandi is as much a duet as a duel between them, a kind of friendly rivalry to get equal or outdo the other.

That is not so in the western classicals. Although they also have chamber music with a piano, violin or cello, their orchestras often have up to 50 players, a baffling variety of instruments, including grand pianos, strings of violinists, cello players, clarinets, French horns, oboes, drums, cymbals and other instruments whose names I do not know. They have music scores in front of them to guide them and a conductor with a baton to oversee that everyone in the orchestra plays his or her part as a member of one team. The better the team, the better its performance.

I further noticed that the only non-White race to excel in performing western classical music are the Japanese: the Tokyo Philarmonic is acknowledged among the best in the world. The Japanese know how to submerge their individualities to better the performance of their team. This is the primary reason of their success as an industrial nation as well.

Am I right in my surmise or talking through my turban?

Before and after

Question: What has the UPA come to mean lately?

Answer: Under pressure of America.

Courtesy: K.J.S. Ahluwalia


Banta: I’ll marry a girl who will behave like a ‘sweetheart’ and ‘wife’.

Santa: "What you need is a mid-wife."

Distant vision

Papa: Which is farther away — Nepal or the moon?

Son: Nepal

Papa: How?

Son: Because we can see the moon from here, but we can’t see Nepal.

Courtesy: J.P. Singh Kaka, Bhopal