Saturday, January 28, 2006

All about the write choice

KHUSHWANT SINGHVery few of us get the chance of living our lives the way it would give us a sense of fulfilment. The first quarter which we know as brahmacharya is spent in preparing for it: going to school and college (if our parents have the means to educate us). The second part (we may call it grihastha) is taken up earning a livelihood, taking care of one’s family and parents; in short, in pursuit of roti, kapda and makaan.

What profession you enter is usually decided by your father who will go more by what you may be able to earn rather than the one which you would like. Whether or not you do well in the profession chosen for you by your father, you are unlikely to get a sense of fulfilment and may well ask yourself: "Was this to be my life’s work?"

A few people are lucky: they discover early in life what they would like to do in their lives — Mozart started composing music when he was seven — and did so for the rest of his life. R.K. Laxman started making cartoons while still at junior school in Mysore. And never looked back. In contrast, Krishen Khanna wasted the most productive years of his life working in a bank till he discovered he was meant to be a painter — and rose to become one of the best. I can give innumerable examples of men and women who remained unaware of their hidden talents and frittered away their early years doing mundane, soul-destroying jobs.

Zafar’s daughter Shama Futehally first translated Meera’s bhajans and wrote two novels Tara Lane and Reaching Bombay Central. She also brought out Slivers of a Mirror — Glimpses of the Ghazal, a compilation of Urdu poetry which was published a year after her death.

I look back on my own life. My father decided I should be a lawyer. I did not question his decision for me. I spent five years studying law, seven years practising it. I hated the legal profession and was lucky the Partition of the country in 1947 got me out of Lahore and law.

I got a job in the Ministry of External Affairs. I saw a bit of the world before I discovered that there was more to life than going places and having a good time. I quit my job and tried my hand at writing. I could not make a living out of it and relied heavily on my father’s bounty and his tolerant nature.

It was later when I finished writing my version of the History of the Sikhs that I stumbled on two Latin words opus exegii which means my life’s work is done. I put them at the end of volume II. Indeed I felt that what I really should have done was to write a history of my community. That was more than 30 years ago. Since then I have done little besides writing. I wasted the best years of my life in futile, frustrating work which gave me no sense of fulfilment but was able to devote some of my later years in doing what Iliked to do. As I come to the end of my days, I am a man at peace with himself.

The Tyabjis

The most outstanding example of an Indian Muslim nationalist family were the Tyabjis of Bombay. To start with, there was Badruddin Tyabji, friend of Tilak and Bapu Gandhi and President of the Congress. His son Badruddin got into the ICS and ended his career as our Ambassador in Tokyo. His daughter Rehana Tyabji was a famous singer of Meera bhajans. Of the same clan were Sir Alma Latifi (ICS) and his son Danial Latifi of the GPI, who was jailed many times in the freedom movement.

Salim Ali, the bird watcher and author of the most definitive works on birds of India and Pakistan was also one of them. So are Zafar Futehally and his wife Laeeq, who kept the Bombay Natural History Society going. Their daughter Zai Whitaker and her Australian ex-husband managed the snakes’ section of the Madras zoo and set up the crocodile farm to replenish depleted stocks of crocodiles, alligators and gharials of Indian rivers. Zafar’s daughter Shama Futehally first translated Meera’s bhajans and wrote two novels Tara Lane and Reaching Bombay Central.

Besides the first Badruddin Tyabji, I had the privilege of meeting the rest of the famous clan and reviewing their publications. I was not sure that any of them were interested in Urdu poetry till Zafar sent me Slivers of a Mirror — Glimpses of the Ghazal (Mapinlit) compiled by Shama, and published a year after her death a year ago.

Shama Futehally chose a poem each from Wali Deccani (1667-1707), Mirza Sauda, Siraj, Dard, Mir, Insha, Zauq, Ghalib, Momin, Dagh, Hali, Akbar Allahabadi, Iqbal, Hasrat Mohani, Firaq, Faiz, ending with Sahir Ludhianvi (d.1980). She produced the original in Urdu and Hindi and gave a lucid introduction to the development of Urdu over three centuries.

She quotes Robert Frost about how thankless is the job of a translator — "A translated poem is like a woman; it cannot be beautiful and faithful at the same time." Having worked on translating my favourites, I can vouch that the translator has to spend many sleepless nights caused by pain in the fundament. She did a heroic job. I give just one example from her rendering of one of Sahir Ludhianvi’s poems not composed to fit into a film situation.

Tung aa chukey hain kashmakash-e-zindagi say hum

Thukra na dein jahaan ko kaheen be-dili say hum,

Lo aaj hum ney tor diya rishta-e-umeed

Lo ab kabhee gilaah na kareyngey kisee say hum

(This fretful

world, this weary

swirl of words.

If I should

hurl away the whole?

The deadened


the empty breath

of love denied.

All things hateful

to the eye.

Look, here I


the thread of


Now I will make

no more complaint.)

Art films

A couple took their three-month-old son to the cinema with them. While buying tickets, the counter salesman warned that many dignitaries were watching the art film and they would have to leave if the baby cried. "But we’ll refund your money," he added.

After watching the film for half an hour, the wife turned to her husband, "Well what do you think about the movie?" she asked. "They call it an art film! It’s the worst thing I’ve ever seen!"

"Me too," he agreed. After a while he whispered into his wife’s ear: "Pinch little munna’s buttocks."

(Contributed by Reetan Ganguly, Tezpur)