Saturday, March 17, 2007

This Above all
The art of living by the book

I am often asked about people whose thinking and behaviour impressed me and why I often pay tributes to them. The first on my list is always Mahatma Gandhi. Though I never accepted his religiosity nor his views on drinking, diet or abstinence from sex, I tried to make him my role model because he never told a lie nor hurt anyone. It was the yardstick I used in gauging men and women who were close to me. Many of them returned to religion in later part of their lives. I did not hold that against them.

A majority of my friends happen to be Muslims. Many of them have taken to praying and fasting during Ramadan. It has made no difference to my affection for them. Closest to me is an Indian lady who I havenít seen for almost 50 years. She is a devout Roman Catholic and spends an hour every day praying in a church. We keep in touch through letters. Once I asked her something about goings-on in Trappist monasteries I had read in a novel. She chewed my head-off in the one and only nasty letter she wrote to me. I tendered abject apology and was forgiven. I donít write to her on matters of belief any more.

More than Bapu Gandhi or my friends, it is books I read that influenced my mind. On top of my list is Bertrand Russel (1872-1970) born aristocrat with a very high I.Q. He won a scholarship to Trinity College, Cambridge, became a mathematics wrangler and then Fellow of the college. His first love was mathematics. He wrote: "I like mathematics because it is not human possesses not only truth but supreme beauty, a beauty cold and austere, like that of sculpture beauty ó a beauty of our weaker nature, sublimely pure and capable of stern perfection such as only the greatest art can show." (Principia Mathematical).

It makes no sense to me. Neither does mathematics. I canít even make additions. But Russel wrote a lot of books on subjects as diverse as history, justice, religion, peace, marriage (he married four times, kept many mistresses, sired bastards), morals down to lipsticks, cigars and wife-beating. He wrote hundred of articles for papers and gave interviews for radio and TV channels. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. What impressed me most was Russelís views on religion. He lost his parents while he was still a child and was brought up by his grand parents who strictly conformed to the Christian faith. He discarded all religions while he was still in college and became the most vocal champion of atheism of his time. He practiced what he preached. When appointed to a Chair at the City University of New York, he made his students recite with him: "We do not believe in God. But we believe in the supremacy of humanity. We do not believe in life after death, but we believe in immortality through good deeds." A lady took him to court. His lawyer described Russelís writings as lecherous, libidonous, lustful, venal, erotomaniac, aphrodisiacal, irreverent, narrow-minded, untruthful and bereft of moral fibre." The judge agreed with the lawyer and ordered Russel to be sacked and deported.

It was the sort of treatment he relished. In England he was jailed many times for leading pacifist demonstrations against developing nuclear bombs, condemning the US for waging war in Vietnam, calling Kennedy a murderer for threatening to declare war on the Soviet Union if it tried to set up bases in Cuba.

Most people would go along with Russel but not have the courage to speak out as boldly as he did. I share his views on religion but I know most people feel more comfortable conforming to beliefs, rites and rituals on which they have been brought up: conformity avoids tension and conflict in the family; so why break away from it and flirt with rebellious idea? I leave them to themselves. I do not do any more than air my views seated in a comfortable arm-chair in an air-conditioned room.

Punjabi nonsense

Many editors thought that there was too much sense in the Punjabi nonsense. However, I would want to share Chandanís poem. The niece of this Punjabi poet based in London married a Chinese boy. The poet has described the unhappy reaction of the older women of the family as the newly weds dance merrily. Here is my translation of Chandanís poem and Funky Cold Paseena is the name of a pop music band in London town:

Funky Cold Paseena

Jeena Meena Geena

Teena Deena Leena

Funky Cold Paseena

See our girl dancing with

that snub-nosed Cheena

Funky Cold Paseena....

If all the Punjabis were dead couldnít she find a white.

If she had to spoil the race that would have been all right

Does your heart break not OíSardara: Umroo Ganga Deena

Funky Cold Paseena......

If someone advises her she says effing bastar

Life is hard but this is living death

All we had was our honour but now itís losteena

Jeena Meena Geena

Teena Deena Leena

See our girl dancing with that snub-nosed Cheena Kokoreena....

(Courtesy: Nirupama Dutt, Chandigarh)

Doctorís dues

A pretty nurse broke her engagement to a doctor. The ditched medico asked her to return the engagement ring and other presents he had given. "Do you mean to say," exclaimed another nurse, "he actually asked you to give back all his presents?"

"Not only that," replied the young nurse, "he sent me a bill for 36 visits."

(Contributed by Shivtar Singh Dalla, Ludhiana)