THIS ABOVE ALL
Lament of the aged
old people in their eighties
wrote to me about the problems of life in its decline. They complain
about increasing helplessness, being neglected by their sons,
daughters-in-law and grandchildren. Their chief complaint is loneliness:
they do not know how to pass their time. Being old, they get little
sleep and are up well before dawn. They believe in God, say their
prayers, go to temples, gurdwaras and churches or offer namaaz five
times a day; and yet time hangs heavy on them. What are they to do?
I am older than most of
them. I have old-age problems like rotting teeth having to be replaced
by false ones, glasses changed periodically because my vision is getting
poorer by the day, having to use hearing aids, carrying a walking stick
to prevent falling, taking dozens of pills against fluctuating blood
pressure, enlarged prostrate, irregular heartbeat etc. But I manage to
get at least six hours of sleep at night despite having to get up twice
or thrice to empty my bladder and another hour in the afternoon. I too
get up before dawn.
Since I do not believe in
God or prayers, my mind turns to more earthly problems. Will my bowels
move properly this morning? Should I take more orange-carrot juice and
glasses of water to help me clear my stomach? When I get a good
clearing, I am relieved and happy. When I do not, it weighs on my mind.
I am edgy and ill-tempered. It affects my work. I do not grumble about
being neglected by children and grandchild. They do their best to look
after my needs — see I eat what I want, take me to doctors, dentists
and opticians. They know I prefer to be left alone, so they leave me
alone. Time does not hang heavy on me because I always have something to
occupy my mind. My days pass as swiftly as a weaver’s shuttle.
What advice do I give
them? First, reduce your dependency on others to the very minimum and do
your best to be as self-sufficient as you can. Fill your time by doing
things occupy your mind and time. Don’t waste time on muttering
prayers you don’t understand but meditate by stilling your mind from
wondering. A minute or two will be good enough. If you can’t read or
watch TV because they strain your eyes, listen to good music on your
radio with complete attention. Sit in a park and watch birds,
butterflies and insects — not just look at them but watch them
closely, try to identify them, read about them and add to your knowledge
of nature. Cultivate hobbies like collecting stamps, preserving leaves
and flowers, origami — whatever you fancy. Even learn how to knit your
own sweaters and socks. Free yourself of the hunger for human company.
Befriend dogs, cats, birds — they will respond to your affection more
than human beings. Equally important is to cut down on your food intake.
Get up from your dining table with hunger unfulfilled: you will then
look forward to enjoying your next meal and keep thinking about it. What
you eat and drink will taste better. When fully occupied mentally, time
will never hang heavy on you. You wake up and before realise the day is
over and it is time to retire to bed for the night. You will enjoy sound
Writing on sex
A literary organisation in
England has instituted an annual award for bad sex writing. No one knows
what these prizes are worth but the winners get lost of free publicity.
What is more puzzling is they have not defined what is meant by bad sex
writing. Is it bad prose or raw description of the sex act? This year,
among the shortlisted were Tarun Tejpal (The Alchemy of Desire),
and Salman Rushdie (Shalimar the Clown). Neither of them made it
to the top. Three years ago, my The Company of Women was also in
the shortlist. I got no further. I had assumed that being named as a
contender for the prize was a black mark for a writer. Apparently, it is
not so; on the contrary, it is a matter of pride.
There have been many
eminent authors who wrote explicitly on sex: D. H. Lawrence (Lady
Chatterley’s Lover), Nabokov (Lolita) Arthur Miller (Tropic
of Cancer) and many others. The only prizes they got were having
their books banned and hence bumper royalties from sales. About the
worst book on sex I have read is Vatsayana’s Kama Sutra. It has
remained a steady seller ever since it was first published in English
over a century ago. Since then, the dividing line between erotica and
pornography has almost disappeared. You can get away with English
four-letter words and the foulest of incestuous abuse in Indian
languages. They add not spicy flavour to dialogue: without them it would
sound totally flat.
Personally, I prefer
gentle erotic writing to torrid descriptions of copulation — more
foreplay than performance. We have quite a few craftsmen in the art:
Richard Crasta (Modern Kama Sutra), Shashi Tharoor (The Great
Indian Novel), Upamanyu Chatterjee (English August), Arundhati
Roy (The God of Small Things).
The subject is still taboo
in Hindi and regional languages. For one, they do not have the necessary
vocabulary. I do not think anyone of them have the equivalent of
clitoris nor an orgasm. Even our pioneer in this field Vatsayana does
not mention them in his Kama Sutra). Instead, he goes into prolix
detail of different kinds of males and females, draws long lists of
tortuous positions they can adopt while at it as well as the number of
ways a couple can kiss, scratch and bite each other. Perhaps, the
Sahitya Akademi could make a beginning by instituting an annual award
for good writing on sex.
Flight of fancy
Jamaluddin of Hyderabad
phoned Begumpet Airport wanting to know approximately how long a flight
to New Delhi would take. "Just a minute", said the
receptionist, who was very busy. "Oh, I am very greatful to you,
thanks very much," said Jamaluddin, and then hung up.
(Contributed by Judson