Saturday, February 4, 2006

Republic Day musings

KHUSHWANT SINGHIt was the coldest Gantantra Divas ever. I recall one winter over 70 years ago when the water in the marble fountain in my father’s house turned to solid ice. We had great fun smashing it and sucking ice cubes. This year the temperature came close to freezing point. There was frost in grass lawns and on car glass panes but no ice. I was miserable, remained tucked in my razai, with the heater on. Age makes a lot of difference in the way one looks at life. But I did wonder what all the talk about global warming amounted to. While the Polar caps are melting due to warm gases, the tropics seem to be getting cooler. Or so it seemed this winter.

However, there was no cooling in our country’s political atmosphere. On the contrary, it came to fever pitch with the judgement of the Supreme Court on the rights and wrongs of dissolution of the Bihar Assembly, delivered a couple of days before Republic Day. Though no longer a lawyer, I sensed what the judgement would be, as it turned out to be, and create serious problems for the government.

The government has to already weather storms created by the Nanavati Commission’s findings on Jagdish Tytler’s and Sajjan Kumar’s involvement in the 1984 anti-Sikh violence, Natwar Singh’s role in the oil-for-food scam disclosed by the Volcker Report and now, the most serious of all, Governor Buta Singh getting castigated for hanging on to a government bungalow in Delhi while residing in Raj Bhawan of Patna. There was no option left for him but to quit. Seeing him brazenly standing over a platform with his enormous paunch and taking the salute at a march-past in Patna Parade Ground gave me a bad taste in the mouth. I hoped it would be the last time I would see the likes of him on TV.

Come to think of it, the TV coverage of the parade in Delhi was also the poorest I could recall. Despite the imposing presence of King Abdullah—he looks every inch an Imperial Majesty—at the retinue of Saudi ministers and dignitaries, the spectacle was interrupted by news and commercials. I switched off my TV and decided to sit out in warm sunshine.

Mind of a Mujahid

It is difficult to fathom what goes on in the mind of a man who is eager to die for a case dearer to himself than his life and his family. Dr Syeda Hameed, Member, Planning Commission, translator of Hali’s Musaddas gave me a poem by Zehra Nigah, one of the leading poets of Pakistan. The poem explains in simple, stark words the mental make-up of Mujahideens from Pakistan’s north-western regions. The people are amongst the poorest of the poor, very low in IQ, very high in religious fervour. It is titled Kahaanee Gul Badshah Kee (the story of Gul Badshah). I produce the first four verses in Roman Urdu with their translation in English. It also shows how far Urdu poetry has travelled from the bulbul and the rose, moth and flame, Laila and Majnu, to the harsh realities of life.

Naam meyra hai Gul Badshah

Umr meyree hai tehra baras

Aur kahaanee meyree umr kee tarah

Muntashar, muntashar, mukhtasar, kukhtasar

(Gul Badshah is my name I am 13 years of age

The story of my life is the same as my age

Short, fragmented and bitsy).

Meyree benaam, bey chehra Maa

Bedawa mar gayee

Baap ney usko burqey mein dafna diya

Usko dar ttha Munkir Nakee

uska chehra na deykhen Vaisy

Zinda thhee jab bhee voh madfoon tthhee.

(My mother had neither name nor face, one could say,

Nor money for medicines

She just faded away

My father buried her in her burqa

Lest recorders of deeds ogle at her face

Even when alive, it could be said

Though live she was one dead).

Baap ke naam Zartaj Gul

Umr Battees baras

Voh mujahid shahaadat ka taalib

Raah-e-haq ka mussafir hua

aur jaam-e-shahaadat usney

Meyrey chachaa kay haathon piya

Jo Shumaali Mujaahid thha

Aur panj vaqta namazee bee tthha

Masla is shahaadat ke peycheeda hai

Is sey behtar yahee hai

Issey yaheen chhor dein

(My father’s name is Zartaj Gul

He is thirty-two

He has one ambition to fulfil to die a martyr

He took the path of truth

And the cup of martyrdom

from the hands of my uncle who belonged to northern martyrs’ band

And said his prayers five times a day.

The problem of martyrdom is hard to comprehend

It is better left without an end).

Ab behar haal Baba to Jannat mein hai

Uskee baahon mein hoor-o-Qusoor

Uskey haathon mein Jaam-e-tahoor

(However, the old man is now in paradise

In his arms he holds a beauty to make love to

In his hand he has a goblet of sparkling wine

He is happy, he is fine).

Fear of creditors

A father told his young son to put off visitors as he feared creditors asking for return of their money which he was not in a position to repay.

The bell rang and the father shut himself in a room. His son opened the door. The caller asked: “Is your father at home?” The boy replied: “No, he has gone out.”

The caller asked: “When is he expected to be back?” The boy replied: “After you have left”.

(Contributed by R. N. Lakhotia, New Delhi)