Saturday, October 14, 2006

Alone but not lonely
Khushwant Singh

KHUSHWANT SINGHBhai Chand Patel wields a light pen which makes him highly readable. He is married and has grown-up children. He separated from his wife about 20 years ago. She and the children live in the States. He travels all over the world and spends a few months in Delhi where he has a rented flat with a sizeable garden and a large house which fetches him a handsome income. He is an inveterate party-giver and entertains lavishly, or is out every evening being entertained.

Though no longer living in matrimonial bliss, one could say he lives a happy life. He has a lot of friends, men and women who are in the same position. Some never married, some tried it out and rejected it. Some widows or widowers. It was his idea to get them to write of their experiences and put them together: Chasing the Good Life: On being Single (Penguin Viking), is fathered and mothered by him. Needless to add, he launched it himself at a lavish cocktail party at Taj (Man Singh).

Amir Tuteja, recently retired from the American Civil Services, lives in a fancy ground floor apartment with a garden growing exotic varieties of roses in Georgetown (Washington). He has many women friends ó American and Indian, who stay with him off and on but he has never thought of marrying anyone. He claims he is not lonely and has sent me a trite quotation:

"No person is ever truly alone

Those who live no more,

Whom we loved,

Echo still within our thoughts

Our words, our hearts

And what they did

And who they were

Becomes a part of all that we are,

For ever.

This is true. The dead keep us company in our mind"

Living alone is a problem for people who have never lived alone and hanker for human company. Their evenings drag on endlessly. Some go to temples or gurdwaras and seek the company of others equally afflicted by loneliness. Or descend on friends and relatives to chit-chat.

I live alone but am never lonely. Though my thoughts also go back to people I loved, admired or hated, they also dwell or happen to be around. Why not fantasise about them? No censorship on dreaming about pretty women or friendís wives you fancy but dare not make passes at in real life. What about books? What about listening to the radio? Or plays, news and comments on TV? They are best enjoyed in solitude. And take from me, so is good whisky and vintage wines.

Jeet Thayil

I was unaware of Jeet Thayil as an Indian poet till I came across his collection English poems (Penguin). He had inscribed it for me: "Some poems about cities, women, intoxication, and God." I read and re-read them in one hour and was exhilarated.

He is a Syrian Christian born in Kerala, educated in Hong Kong, New York and Mumbai where he befriended Nissim Ezekiel and Dom Moraes. He now lives in New York with his family and works as an editor. I reproduce two of his poems as samples of excellence. One is entitled: September 10, 2001

"How much harder it is to speak

when I have spent the whole day silent

I would like to stop someone,

Leave my room in the evening

and stop someone, a man without hope,

or a woman bent double, as if she were searching the sidewalk for gems

caught in the cracks, and I would tell her

that each of us walks with the same

impossible burden, knowing that only the stars will last ó

she will listen to me, hear what I say

and go on her way, bent over as before,

never looking up at the approaching sky.

The other deals with the murder of Australian missionary Graham Staines and his two sons in Orissa. They were burnt alive in their jeep. The lost verse reads:

What can be said about the night?

Why point out its colour and smell?

Or the Australian missionary

and his two small sons

who pray in a burning jeep.

Saffron men dance around them,

their ash-lined foreheads

tremble like crosses in the heat.

Eight-footed object

An advocate and a village chaudhary were travelling in a train. The advocate prompted the chaudhary to have little fun to while away the time. The chaudhary agreed to follow suit. The advocate suggested: "I ask you a question and if you fail to answer it, you will pay me Rs 50 as penalty. If I fail to answer your question, I will pay you Rs 100 for the same." The chaudhary agreed for the game and requested the advocate to have the first shot. The advocate asked, "Name the capital of Switzerland." The chaudhary expressed his ignorance and paid Rs 50 to the advocate. Then the chaudhary asked the advocate, "Name the object which walks with two legs on the land, four legs on water and eight legs in the air." The advocate was bamboozled and kept scratching his head for a long time and finally yielded for no answer and gave a 100 rupee note to the chaudhary.

Crestfallen, the advocate requested the chaudhary to tell the name of the strange object. The chaudhary smiled and replied, "Sir, even I do not know about the name and existence of this object in the Godís kingdom. But I feel it is human beings. They walk on two legs, swim with four and when dead they are lifted by four men on their last journey.

(Contributed by Ram Niwas Malik, Gurgaon)