Saturday, January 6, 2007

This Above all
Ends mark new beginnings

KHUSHWANT SINGHTHE year ended with the promise of better to come. With the implementation of the India-US nuclear pact, we may be able to overcome our shortages of electric power.

Frankly, I do not think restrictions on military use of N-power are of any consequence. We have enough to deter our neighbours from arm-twisting or trying any hanky-panky. More important was the beginning of the process of restoration of faith in our judicial system.

Convictions of Shibu Soren, Navjot Sidhu, lawyer Santosh Singh, Manu Sharma, Sharda Jain, Sanjay Dutt and others showed that no matter how important or celebrated a person is, he or she is not above the law. We have much to thank Justice R.S. Sodhi.

Credit is also due to our media: to TV channels for reporting the public outrage at the miscarriage of justice and the Press for its sustained pressure to bring criminals to book. I hope the process will continue.

The perpetrators of the riots in November 1984 still remains unpunished. So do those responsible for the destruction of the Babri Masjid: L.K. Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi, Kalyan Singh, Uma Bharati and others who were present on the scene at the time and seen on TV by millions of viewers all over the world. There are other cases relating to the attack on the train at Godhra station, followed by widespread killings. People responsible for these atrocities remain to be brought to justice — hopefully this year.

A matter which has been taken in hand is that of eyewitnesses changing their statements and turning hostile. They can, and often are, bullied by the police to make statements which courts rightly disregard; but saying one thing on oath in one court and another thing in another must be put down rigorously. As in the case of Jessica Lal’s murder, the authorities should have hauled them up the eyewitnesses turning hostile, cross-examined them, and if satisfied that they had committed perjury, suitably punished them.

I am not sure what the judiciary can do about investigating agencies. The police at the middle and lower levels, remain corrupt and corruptible. Perhaps the outcome of cases I have cited will show them that their conduct will invite censure of the courts, put their careers in jeopardy and may act as deterrents. Putting the system of criminal justice back on the right track, is no mean achievement.


Not many people are aware that there were quite a few Bengali poets and writers of fiction who, though awed by Rabindranath Tagore’s achievements as a poet, painter, playwright, novelist and short story-writer, were critical of him — the Nobel Prize for literature notwithstanding.

Most of them were professors of English literature much impressed by T.S. Eliot and post-Eliot English and American writers. However, despite being critical of Gurudev, they sought his approval. He was not generous in bestowing his blessings.

The most outstanding of them Jibanananda Das (1899-1954). He was born in Barisal (Bangladesh), taught English in colleges in Dhaka, Calcutta and Delhi. He was always short of money, lived poorly and died a premature death in a tram accident in Calcutta. He was barely 50.

A selection of Jibanananda’s poems have been translated into English by Chidananda Das Gupta, film-maker, colleague of Satyajit Ray and translator of Tagore as well as Manik Bandopadhyay. He has done an excellent job in selecting and translating Jibanananda and written an introduction which is informative, lucid and gives the reader a clear idea why Jibanananda deserves to be read and re-read.

He was essentially a poet of nature his descriptions of the Bengal countryside — rivers, lakes, ponds, rice-fields, flowering trees and singing birds are hauntingly beautiful. He also had an eye for beautiful girls, one named Banalata Sen of Natore was evidently a creature of his fantasies. I quote his eulogy to his lady love in full:

For aeons have I roamed the roads of the earth

From the seas of Ceylon to the straits of Malaya

I have journeyed, alone, in the enduring night,

And down the dark corridor of time I have walked

Through mist of Bimbisara, Asoka, darker Vidarbha.

Round my weary soul the angry waves still roar

My only peace I knew with Banalata Sen of Natore.

Her hair was dark as night in Vidisha; Her face the sculpture of Sarasvati

I saw her, as sailor after the storm

Rudderless in the sea, spies of a sudden

The grass-green heart of the leafy island.

‘Where were you so long?’ she asked, and more

With her bird’s-nest eyes, Banalata Sen of Natore.

As the footfall of dew comes evening;

The raven wipes the smell of warm sun

From its wings; the world’s noises die.

And in the light of fireflies the manuscript

Prepares to weave the fables of night;

Every bird is home, every river reached the ocean.

Darkness remains; and time for Banalata Sen.

Chidananda Das Gupta’s selection of Jibanananda’s poems have been recently published by Penguin in their series of Modern Classics.

Khichdi lingo

Last March I happened to be at the annual convocation of Rohtak University. I was seated on the dais between Chancellor A.R. Kidwai and Haryana Education Minister Phool Chand Mullana. While Kidwai and the Vice-Chancellor were busy conferring honours on deserving students, Mullana and I exchanged Haryanvi jokes in undertones. He told me one of the felicitous mingling of vocabulary which deserves to be repeated. The principal of a college, while expressing his inability to admit an applicant for admission, said:

"Kucch conditionaat hee aisee hain (there are conditions I can’t overlook)." "The minister sahib smiled and replied: "Kuch mumkinaat bhee to hongee (there could be some considerations as well)."