Saturday, July 29, 2006

Red terror & delights of Private Eye
Khushwant Singh

KHUSHWANT SINGHSome years ago when Sir Vidiadhar Naipaul came to India to research on a new book he was planning to write, he asked me what I knew about the Naxalite movement.

"Not much", I admitted. "It started a long time ago in Naxalbari and had a leader named Kanu Sanyal. It has died down; one does not hear very much about it any more." He gave a stern look and said, "You are wrong. It is very much alive. And spreading fast. If your government does not do something about it soon, it will be in serious trouble."

Naipaul was right; I was wrong. He met a few people, including Sheela Reddy of Outlook, who knew more about Naxalites. Through her he was able to meet people living in Naxal-controlled areas in Telangana, including a leading Telugu poet and her grandmother who lives among them. I donít know what he had to say about them. And put Naxalism out of my mind. I was woken up with a jolt when I read about the attack on a CRPF camp and ransacking of a village in Dantewala district in Chhattisgarh. There were more than 800 Naxalites, armed with guns, spears, hatchets and swords. They killed 25 villagers opposed to them, abducted another 20, 200 are reportedly missing and will presumably be butchered.

I have been shaken out of my stupor; so must be every Indian. I have not come across any literature on Naxalites nor seen any manifesto issued by them. They are spread from Bengal, Bihar, Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Andhra Pradesh. They have no unified command or political philosophy ó only grievances against big land-owners and governments which support them. Their grievances stem from the fact that land reforms have not been implemented: large landowners continue to hold lands well beyond what is legal. They are heavily in debt to them and extortionate money-lenders. So their options are limited: either take their own lives or kill others who they think have treated them cruelly. It is a grim scenario.

Wanted: Sleeping partners

Private Eye, a weekly published in London has become my favourite reading. Unfortunately, it is not easily available in India. So I ask friends going to or coming from England to get me some back numbers. My neighbour Reeta Devi of Cooch-Behar was invited to act as hostess at a charity dinner organised in honour of the singer Sir Elton John. Every guest paid £ 500 to be there, including the steel multi-billionaire Lakshmi Mittal. Reeta brought me three copies of Private Eye ó One of them is a special issue published on Queen Elizabethís 80th birthday. It makes fun of the royal family, Prime Minister, cabinet ministers, business tycoons, social dignitaries ó everyone. It is great fun reading British humour at its irreverent best. I never bothered to read the ads for posts as speech-writers, business advisors etc till I stumbled on some which can only be described as offers of pro tem marriages. Here is an example: "Intelligent thirty-something woman seeks stable, sane sperm donor. Fee paid. No future involvement necessary but Iím open minded about future involvement with the child."

The woman could have sperm put in her womb without consorting with a man. But she obviously wants "the real thing" i.e. sex without use of condoms. So no beating about the bush (no pun meant) and comes straight to point out what she needs.

Another woman makes no excuses about wanting a baby and puts it bluntly: "Slender lady sophisticated and intelligent seeks adventure with spirited gentleman."

Men do not lag behind in stating their requirements. One spells them out in the following words: London businessman 40s, most key organs still functioning, cash rich, time poor, seeks special woman in real physical excitement to life for just a few hours each month. You should be friendly, open-minded and not prone to laughing at inappropriate moments."

There are many more of the kind, some advertising preferences for Indian woman partners. I may take up the topic again if I find something really juicy.

Modern poetry

Penguin books have come up with a novel idea of publishing booklets that take less than an hour to read; I have gone through five and feel well-read. The last one is The State of Poetry by Roger McGough. It is unlike any modern poetry I have read; it is simple, witty, and with a punch. I give three examples. One is entitled:

There are Fascists

There are Fascists

pretending to be humanitarians

Like cannibals on a health kick

Eating only vegetables.

The Survivor also makes a point.

Every day I think about dying

About disease, starvation

violence, terrorism, war the end of the world.

It helps keep my mind off things.

The one I found more amusing was about protecting oneís derriere:

Three ways to stop Alligators from biting your bottom when you are on the toilet

* Do not go during the rainy season

* If you must go, use only toilets in the first class sections of aeroplanes.

* Using face paints, make your bottom so scary it will frighten them away.

Human nature

Things were quiet at the police station. A constable yawned and complained: "What a dull week! No burglaries, no fights, no murders. If this keeps up, theyíll be laying us off."

"Donít worry," replied the SHO," something is bound to happen soon. Iíve still got faith in human nature."

(Contributed by Shivtar Singh Dalla, Ludhiana)