Saturday, January 5, 2008

This Above alL
Festivity in the air
Khushwant SinghKhushwant Singh

Christmas festivity is no longer confined to Christians and has lost much of its religious content. Fewer and fewer practising Christians attend Midnight Mass or even bother to go to church. However, it has become the main celebration of the year, the time to sing carols, blow up money to buy presents, indulge in orgies of gobbling up turkeys and washing them down with vintage wines.

All stores are festooned with suitable emblems — Chritmas trees, Santa Clauses, coloured lights and much else. You can find this from Japan in the Far East to California in the Far West, from Iceland in the north to South Africa, Australia and New Zealand in the south. It is evidently the "Disneyfication of Christianity" as Don Cuppit described it.

My shrunken family and circle of friends of whom none is Christian but Hindu, Muslim, Sikh or of no faith celebrate Christmas in our own fashion as we do joyous festivals like Diwali, Holi and Id-ul Fitr.On Diwali we light oil lamps and indulge in wild infusions of inebriants forbidden by the law – the sort of thing which landed my esteemed friend Jaswant Singh, BJP’s Foreign Minister, in a spot of trouble. On Holi, we are less inhibited and try out bhang. On Id-ul Fitr I receive plates of Siveyyan (vermicelli), so I have to return it with some form of Eidee (gift). The occasion provides me with the excuse to embrace lady visitors three times while repeating Eid Mubarak.

On Christmas Eve I wake up in a festive mood crowing Irving Berlin’s song: "I am dreaming of a white Christmas, Just as I used to before, I put on a casette of Christmas carols". I get soulful when it comes to Silent Night, Holy Night, And joyful when it comes to Holly and the Ivy. I ring up my Christian friends living in distant parts of the country and wish them a Merry Christmas. Celebrations really begin after sunset. My friend and neighbour Reeta Devi Verma of Cooch Bihar, who is a neo-Buddhist of the Osho school instals a miniature Christmas tree in my sitting room. She also plants a Santa Claus made in China alongside the tree and presses a button. The Chinese Santa waves his head and plays Jingle bells on his clarinet. We light a log fire in the grate. By then a Christmas feast prepared by Claire Dutt (the world’s best maker of Christmas fare) is delivered.

It is usually Capon stuffed with chestnuts and a pudding laced with rum. We begin with rounds of Scotch, have vintage wines with our downer, Cointreau or Drambui after the pudding; some men light cigars; others take second or third rounds of liquors. This goes on well after my usual time to retire for the night. I don’t mind: I remind myself "after all Christmas comes only once in the year". So I wish everyone a happier 2008.

Where is Taslima?

Very few people know of her whereabouts in Delhi. She does not want to be in hiding but the police take good care that she remains hidden. A few people who have been able to break through the police cordon and talked to her say she is very unhappy with the way she is being kept in seclusion. Her telephone is tapped; every visitor screened and most are turned back. She is not allowed to go to meet friends. She is constantly advised to return to Sweden. Is this fair?

Must we buckle down to threats from bigots who keep pronouncing fatwas against people who they imagine have demeaned their faith. Taslima has not written a word against Islam; only criticised Muslim intolerance towards the Hindu minority in Bangladesh. She has every right to do so, as we have the right to criticise our government when they allow discrimination against the Muslim minority in India. As it is, India’s best known painter, M.F. Husain, is living in exile because some Hindu bigots feel his paintings offend their religious sensibilities and keep filing cases in different courts to harass him. This is shameful. It is time our government granted Indian citizenship to Taslima Nasreen with liberty to live in Kolkata or wherever she feels comfortable. The West Bengal Chief Minister, CPM, self-proclaimed patron of letters has egg on his face for the way he treated her. She has to be given full police protection against mischief-makers but not under a kind of home arrest. It is disgraceful. I appeal to the Prime Minister and Sonia Gandhi to come to her help.

Natak in Karnataka

I love H.D. Deve Gowda

Because he is the greatest democrat in the country

Who just cannot see

Anybody other than himself or his family

Ruling at least Karnataka if not the whole of India

And his partnership with BJP

Is a classic example of mutual morality

For, they are both parties with a difference

And neither of them is power-hungry

In fact, all our politicians are in politics only

To serve the country selflessly

But Janata Dal (Secular) and BJP

Have added a new shine and glory

To our secular democracy

And why not?

Deve Gowda is a former Prime Minister of the country

(Courtesy Kuldip Salil, Delhi)

Truck definition

Seen written behind a truck plying around Amritsar are new meanings of two words: Thanda (cold) = Pepsi Cola and Danda (stick) = Punjab Police.

(Contributed by KJS Ahluwalia, Amritsar)