THIS ABOVE ALL
Low spirits in the
winter of life
are times when my
spirits are very low. Nothing I eat or drink tastes good; no
company cheers me up—not even that of pretty girls who flock
around me as I have got too old to respond to their flirting
with me. One such dreary evening I happened to come across a
couplet of my favourite poet Asadullah Khan Ghalib written at a
time when he must have been in the same mood as I. Maara
zamaaney nay Asadullah Khan tumhein, voh valvalery kahaan, voh
jawanee kidhar gayee? I got down to translating it: Asadullah
Khan, years have taken their toll, left you dead. Where has gone
your frivolity? Where has your youth fled?
I felt bitter.
I look forward to seeing him soon. Maybe he will agree to let me
be a shagird (disciple). We could have our sundowners
together — he with his Scotch and surahi; cool water
with kewra to scent it with; and I with soda and cubes of
ice. He may agree to explain the inner meanings of some of his
compositions which are beyond my comprehension. I may persuade
him to appoint me his authorised English translator.
Bhagat Singh was an atheist. He refused to accept the concept of God
Of all the Indian revolutionaries whose lives ended on
the gallows, the one whose name comes first on one's lips is
that of Bhagat Singh. He and two of his associates were hanged
in Lahore Central Jail late in the evening of March 23, 1931. We
recall their deaths every year on the same day. Dozens of books
have been written on Bhagat Singh and what he stood for. A
curious thing about these books that I have noticed is that
those written by Hindus show him clean-shaven with a rakish hat
and a clipped moustache; those written by Sikhs depict him in a
turban with a wispy growth of beard around his chin.
messages are clear: Hindus think he was a Hindu, Sikhs think
that he was Khalsa. Both were off the mark. He was neither one
nor the other, but an atheist. The latest book on him is by a
Muslim, Irfan Habib, of the National Institute of Science,
Technology and Development, entitled ‘To Make the Deaf Hear’
(Three essays). On the cover page it shows him clean-shaven and
in a hat; the back page shows him in a turban and a beard.
Singh was born in a Sikh family which also subscribed to the
Arya Samaj. Till his college days he was a pukka Arya
Samajist, given to reciting Gayatri Mantra many times every day.
Later he turned to Sikhism. Then he rejected both. After much
thinking he refused to accept the concept of God. He wrote:
"You talk of the omnipotent God. I ask you that in spite of
being omnipotent, why does your God not eliminate injustice,
oppression, starvation, poverty, exploitation, inequality,
slavery, epidemics, violence and war?"
He stuck to his
disbelief in God to the very end. When his Sikh jailer asked him
to repent as he was being taken to the gallows, he replied:
"You want me to tell a lie before I die?" People don't
realise Bhagat Singh was both a thinker and doer. When Lala
Lajpat Rai, for whose sake he killed Inspector Saunders, joined
the Hindu Mahasabha, Bhagat Singh expressed strong disapproval.
In turn Lajpat Rai called him "a Russian agent".
Other revolutionaries, notably Ashfaqullah, who was also
hanged, strongly criticised both the ‘Shuddhi’ and the ‘Tabligh’
movements to convert people. They regarded all religions
reactionary. How did Bhagat Singh justify killing people? He
gave the answer in one sentence: "The tree of liberty must
be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and
tyrants. It is its natural manure". There is much that is
little known about the revolutionary movement in Habib's book.
It is well researched and well written.
Law of the land
police carried out a raid and closed a factory. The children,
who were working there, were all set free. Some said: "We
are orphans. To eat we need a livelihood." The reply was
swift and crude: "It is against the law".
we will have to beg", they said, "or else we will have
no food." "That, too, is against the law," the
policeman in charge said rudely.
"If we cannot work and
cannot beg, then we will die from hunger,’’ replied the
crying children. "That you can do," was the answer.
"There is nothing illegal in dying".
by Rajeshwari Singh, Delhi)