Saturday, June 3, 2006

The truth about lies
Khushwant Singh

Khushwant SinghEveryone praises the truthful and runs down liars. But when it comes to the nitty-gritty, we have to concede that liars get a better deal in life than the truthful. It is ironic that even those who believe that though truthfulness is next to godliness, it is largely the monopoly of bholeybhaaleys, the simple-minded, who do not have the brains to concoct lies — in short, they are buddhoos — stupid. Most people do not trust the truthful because they speak their minds openly and cause embarrassment.

On the other hand, liars are regarded as wordly-wise: they know duniyadaree — how to get on in the world. They are sianas — wise: at the worst chalaak (cunning). It is for all to see that in the rat race to success, the honest and truthful are left behind, the clever and cunning forge ahead and get to the winning post. No one pays much attention to the saying that those who win the rat-race remain rats.

I can cite many examples of men and women of impeccable rectitude who fell by the wayside while shrewd manipulators who compromised their integrity managed to get what they wanted. I would love to name them to prove my contention but know no newspaper would publish my list for fear of being hauled up in court for libel. I quote words of wisdom in my defence:

Haq achhaa

Haq key liye koee aur marey

to aur achhaa;

Tum bhee koee Mansoor ho

Jo soolee pey charho?

Khaamosh raho

(Truth is good!

If somebody else dies for it

It is better.

Are you Mansoor, the martyr

Who was on the gallows hung?

Hold your tongue!)

The Galbraiths

J.K. Galbraith
J.K. Galbraith

I met the Galbraiths a few times when he was US Ambassador in Delhi, I also had a fleeting glimpse of him in Boston when he was back to teaching in Harvard. I recalled those meetings when I read of his death at the age of 97.

He was over six and a half feet tall, slim and lanky and had a slight slouch when he walked. His wife Catherine was unusually short for an American woman. They were an unusual couple and went out of the way to befriend Indians. Among the closest to them was Dr M.S. Randhawa who did a book on Indian art with him and Rama Mehta who did another in collaboration with Catherine. I am not sure whether he had read my two volumes on the History and Religion of the Sikhs published by the Princeton University Press but complimented me by describing it as "definitive". However, when it came near Christmas one year and we were very short of Scotch, we decided to call on the Galbraiths, give them a set of my books in the hope they would reciprocate by presenting us in return a couple of bottles of whisky or wine. I rang up his secretary for an appointment. We were invited over a drink. We arrived with a parcel of my books. We had a couple of drinks and got up to leave. At the door Galbraith said suddenly, "We must give you something in return for your Christmas gift" and shouted to his servant to get the parcel on his table. Our hearts lifted. With a bow he presented it to my wife. It contained some of his books.

On another occasion, he told me of his visit to a remote district of Bengal. The state government provided him with a guide who knew the area well. He was a very garrulous young man and a non-stop talker. While Galbraith wanted to take in the scenery in silence, the young man went on and on yakking. They were passing through a thick forest of eucalyptus trees. The young escort was lecturing on their many varieties. To show some interest Galbraith asked him: "Are they indigenous?"

"Oh yes sir, very indigenous," replied the youngman. "We got them from Australia."

In Boston when I was staying with an old friend of my Lahore days, the Canadian Dr Wilfred Cantwell-Smith, an eminent Islamic scholar and his wife Muriel, I met him. They happened to be living next door to the Galbraiths but their attempts to befriend them had been politely ignored. I promised to break the ice between the neighbours. I was invited over for tea. I took Wilfred along with me. Mrs Galbraith served us tea and said her husband would be back soon. I was sitting facing the entrance; Wilfred and Catherine with their backs to it. I saw Galbraith come in, take a quick glance at us and tip-toe up the stairs to his study. The telephone rang. Catherine took the call and came back to tell us that her husband had been held up on urgent work, and would not be able to join us. I blurted out, "but I saw him come in and go upstairs." Catherine’s face went red with embarrassment. Wilfreds went pale with anger. The snub was aimed at the neighbour who Galbraith wanted to keep at a distance and not at me who had come from a long distance. However, after that I had no desire to see him.

ENT conductor

Santa: I want to meet the conductor.

Banta: This is a hospital, not a train or a band. We have no conductor.

Santa: I know that this is a hospital. I am having a lot of pain in my kaan (ear) and so I want to meet the "kaan doctor".

(Contributed by Rajeshwari Singh, New Delhi)