Saturday, May 12, 2007

This Above all
India better off with Musharraf

Khushwant SinghIF we Indians were asked who would you like to be head of government of Pakistan — Pervez Musharraf or Benazir Bhutto — I think most of us would reply : "It is none of our business but we’ve got on better with Musharraf than with any of his predecessors, including the Bhuttos. So why should we like a change of leadership in our closest neighbourhood?"

I am inclined to agree with the likely verdict. It is not an entirely academic matter because for quite some months Benazir Bhutto, living in exile in London, has been announcing to the world media, particularly Indian, that she plans to return to her homeland to take on President Musharraf.

Benazir Bhutto’s political career does not inspire confidence. When in power, she showed little enthusiasm for improving relations with India. She and her delinquent husband, Zardari, are known to have amassed pieces of valuable real estate in Europe and the USA. All these were listed with photographs in foreign newspapers. President Musharraf has never been accused of acquiring illegal wealth anywhere.

Benazir Bhutto
Benazir Bhutto

As important as relations with India, including resolving the knotty problem of the future of Kashmir, is combating resurgence of religious fundamentalism in their own country. The western half of the country comprising the North-West Frontier Province and Baluchistan is in the firm grip of mullah-inspired Taliban elements. And now right under the nose of the government, madrasas in Islamabad defy authorities by organising burqa-clad women armed with lathis to impose their pattern of living on others. Who would be better equipped to deal with these subversive elements, Benazir or Musharraf? Mullahs and Taliban expect every woman to be veiled and are unlikely to take orders from an unveiled Benazir Bhutto. They have to be dealt with by a strong, forward-looking man armed with a danda. It is evident that General Musharraf can fill this role more effectively than Benazir Bhutto.

Going deaf

I had not paid any attention to my ears till I began to lose my sense of hearing. While waiting for my early morning tea, I found it lying on the table beside the chair I sat on. My cook had come and gone without my hearing sounds of his footsteps.

That was no great calamity. Some years later my wife asked me about something and I replied with a blank stare. In sheer exasperation, she shouted dora. I took notice of her remark. And still later I failed to make out what anyone sitting a few yards away from me was saying. I had to ask him to repeat it loudly. I could not hear what was being said on TV and had to ask my grand-daughter to explain it. The telephone became a problem. A German lady friend gave me a hearing aid. I could not stick it in my ears. Many sounds like calls of birds escaped me. I wrote about not hearing birds calls till May and in Kasauli seeing the cuckoo fly overhead without hearing its deep-throated koo koo.

The final tragedy which impelled me to do something about my hearing was when Chitrita Banerjee, who had come all the way from Boston to Kolkata to dispose of her property, rang me up to say hello. I could not hear her and pleaded deafness. She repeated her name, spelt it out, but it was of no avail. When she wrote a letter to me on her return to Boston, I was overcome with remorse because I am very fond of her. I thought it was time I took my growing deafness more seriously. My reluctance to do so was caused by the fact that in my profession I do not need to hear very much. It also saved me from hearing a lot of bullshit.

Ultimately I talked to Kum Kum, who shares the responsibility of keeping me alive with my daughter. Without much ado, she fixed an appointment for me with ear specialist, Dr Sanjay Sachdeva. The next evening I found myself in a swanky part of Greater Kailash with large bungalows, cars lined on both sides of the road and driveways. His clinic has a new construction in austere cement grey, a long reception room leading to a small cubicle and an examination room. The presiding deity is Lord Ganpati — one sits above the receptionist head besides a TV set; another adorns his clinic besides an ornate plaque with rendering of the Gayatri Mantra. For a while I sit in a row of men with hearing problems — all unsmiling. I am escorted to the cubicle not much larger than a telephone booth. It is "manned" by a curvacious young lady assistant who measures peoples’ hearing faculties on an audiometer. I am asked to sit on a wooden chair without arm rests and earphones clamped on my head. She begins with a mild reprimand: "You don’t have to keep staring at me. Look straight. I will put you through a series of sounds. Keep saying yes, nothing more than that." Its over in 15 minutes. I am handed a printed sheet of my hearability and told to await Dr Sachdeva’s arrival.

A few minutes later he walks briskly through lines of patients to his clinic. I am summoned. Kum Kum, my grand-daughter who has a throat problem, and I walk in. We shake hands. He examines both my ears and the audibility chart and declares, "Not much wrong with your hearing. It is to be expected at this age." He examines my grand-daughter’s eyes, nose, ears and throat and prescribes an anti-allergy medicine. We bid him farewell. The lady audiometer reader asks me if I would like to have hearing aids. I say a firm no. I would rather have myself entombed in silence for the rest of my days than gadgets stuck in my ears to take in noise of traffic and human chitter-chatter. I will miss melody of music and bird song but little else. Iask the receptionist for my bill. "No fee from you," she says with a smile. I am overwhelmed with gratitude. Back at home the first thing I do before pouring myself a Patiala peg is to send Dr Sachdeva my translation of the Gayatri Mantra.

Memory lapse

Santa: When Iwas a child Ifell from the 20th storey of our block of flats.

Banta: Were you killed or did you survive?

Santa: I do not remember. It was such a long time ago.

(Contributed by Tarlok Singh, New Delhi)

(Note: Mr Khushwant Singh is away. There will be no column for the next two weeks.)