Saturday, April 5, 2008

Price of free expression
Khushwant Singh

Khushwant Singh
Khushwant Singh

The undeclared worldwide war between forces of freedom of opinion vs upholders of religious sanctity has reached the boiling point on the European front. Two years ago a Danish cartoonist depicted Prophet Mohammed wearing a bomb in his turban. It was a deliberate insult designed to hurt Muslim religious sensibilities. Sunnis, who form the preponderant majority in the community and even disapprove making pictures of their messiah, were understandably offended. To put bombs which were non-existent in his time in his turban added to the offence. They made vociferous protests. Undaunted by the protests, the cartoon was reproduced in Dutch and German papers—all in the name of the right of freedom of expression.

Two years ago a Danish cartoonist depicted Prophet Mohammed wearing a bomb in his turban. There we\re worldwide protests by Muslims
Two years ago a Danish cartoonist depicted Prophet Mohammed wearing a bomb in his turban. There we\re worldwide protests by Muslims

Recently, a Dutch film producer has made a film entitled Fitna (Arabic of evil), based on extracts of the Koran, to prove that it preaches fascist intolerance towards non-believers and sanctions punishments like beheading, stoning to death and cutting off hands of offenders. He intends to put his film on the Internet—all in the name of the right of freedom of expression. The Governments of Denmark, Holland and Germany are in a quandary. If they ban the film, they will be censured by their own citizens; if they do not, they will cause resentment throughout the Muslim world.

Danish products have already been removed from markets in Middle East countries. There are a large number of Muslims in Europe (and the US). They come from different countries. In France they are largely Moroccans and Algerians; in Germany they are Turkish; in England and Scandinavia they are Indians, Bangladeshis and Pakistanis. They speak different languages. Their common meeting places are mosques, which now exist in all large cities, where they assemble for Friday prayers. Their only common link is adherence to their faith, Islam.

Does the right to freedom of expression extend to deliberately hurting others’ religious susceptibilities? Are adherents of different religions justified in taking offence at the slightest criticism of their belief ? I think it is a legitimate subject for a civilised debate, but in no case should it be extended to fisticuffs or other forms of violence.


Patience is considered a virtue, impatience a minor vice. People are born in one category or the other. It is a rare individual who, if born to bear things with equanimity and take things patiently, can cultivate a temperament which compels him to get going in a hurry. Similarly, one seldom finds a temperamentally impatient person teach himself to wait and watch without getting upset. Those traits are not gender-based (both men and women belong to one or the other category).

In my school days we used to recite a doggerel with multiple variations. One went as follows: Patience is a virtue; find it if you can; seldom in a woman; never in a man.

However, if a girl recited it, she changed two lines to read: Always in a woman; never in a man.

If the reciter was a boy, he turned it round to read: Never with a woman; always with a man.

I was born impatient. My wife rubbed it on me by often calling me bay-sabra or kahla (impatient) Singh. It holds true in my old age. No sooner do I get up in the early hours of the morning, I start fretting about what I will eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner; what I must get through in my reading and scribbling; who I will see in the evening and who I will avoid. If my expected visitor is more than five minutes late, I start getting irritated and am often rude to him or her. Obsession with punctuality is an outcome of impatience.

Patient people take their own sweet time to do things. They are usually late in arriving at parties; it adds to their importance. The people who are punctual are fuming and fretting; the patient get away with a cursory "sorry to keep you waiting. How are you doing?" They keep smiling throughout the evening. That is why so many of our netas make it a practice of being late for their appointments.

I have become a slave to time. I keep a watch in my pocket which I consult every hour or so. In my bedroom I have four clocks. I have in my sitting room one wedged between books and shelves; another, an ancient time-piece, on the wall; one on the mantle-piece; and yet another in the window facing the dining table. When I have visitors, I keep glancing at the time-piece and wonder if it is time for them to depart.

The patient are winners down the line. There can be no doubt they make better lovers than the impatient, who are ever-eager to get over with it. Mirza Ghalib put it succinctly: Gashgi jabr talbi (Love demands patience). Tamanna beytaab (Desire is impatient). When it comes to making love, impatience can be a disaster. What to do? Words of solace come from Granville. "Patience is the virtue of an ass, that trots beneath its burden and is quiet."

Reliance Power

Like fine quality cognac being branded as VSOP — Very Special Old Pale — the retail shareholders of Reliance Power Initial Public Offer (RPIPO), which had hastened the nosedive of the stock market, should also treat the RPIPO as VSOP — Very Special Over-Priced.

Contributed by Col Trilok Mehrotra, Noida