Saturday, May 17, 2008

This Above all
These summer days are a drag
Khushwant Singh Khushwant Singh

As summer comes on, days get longer, nights shorter. Days get from warm to hot and hotter till they become a scorcher. Dust hangs in the air and every few days a dust storm sweeps over the city, making it dustier than before. Flies and mosquitoes multiply and add to our misery. By some miracle trees remain unaffected. Gulmohars blaze away in the burning reds and yellows; jacarandas in lapis lazuli blue; jaruls in mauves, pinks and whites. And finally, amaltas dripping gold in grape-like bunches.

They are a glorious sight. I am finding summer months in Delhi getting more and more tiresome. I stay cooped up in my air-cooled room all day. It is only after sunset that I go to my sitting room to have my quota of booze and supper. I sleep fitfully and am up around 3.30 am. I switch off my AC and throw open my window. The world outside is enveloped in silent darkness. I catch the melancholic wail of an engine siren, the rumble of a train approaching New Delhi railway station.

Dust storms sweep Delhi during summers. Flies and mosquitoes multiply. But by some miracle trees remain unaffected and provide us shade and freshness
Dust storms sweep Delhi during summers. Flies and mosquitoes multiply. But by some miracle trees remain unaffected and provide us shade and freshness

Soft, cool, breeze, the baad-e-saba, wafts in, bringing memories of past days. All my contemporaries are gone. Where are they? Will I ever see them again? Will they be waiting for me when my time is over? Futile questions to which no one has the answers. By 5 am the sky turns grey and the dawn comes on. I am used to hear the chitter-chatter of owlets in the mulberry tree and the koel's wake-up call. My growing deafness has silenced them. Half-an-hour later the morning papers are dropped at my doorstep. I glance over the headlines of different pages—road accidents, rail accidents, plane crashes, murders, rapes, politicians abusing each other.

I turn to the pleasanter pastime of solving crossword puzzles. I tackle an average of six every day. By 10 am I have done with them. The morning drags on. I switch on my World Satellite Radio to listen to European classified music. It crackles to life, goes off and comes back. I manage to hear some Mozart, Bach, Beethoven before it conks out. I lose patience and switch it off. Now I have nothing to do but fidget with something or the other for two hours till it is time for my meal.

I gulp down a bowl of cold soup, lie in bed, read a few couplets of Ghalib. I switch off, hopefully for a dreaming siesta. Dreamless it often is, but rarely long enough to cut short the tedium of a long summer day. How do I cope with the seemingly endless afternoon? I relax in my armchair in the sitting room and look out of one of the windows, which gives me a view of the world outside.

It is a sweltering afternoon with the sun scorching the lawn. Two sprinklers rotate sending showers in the air. The sun filters through, making rainbows. Flocks of grey-rock pigeons fly in to slake their thirst and bathe in the muddy water. It is a happy sight but does not last long. Sprinklers are switched off, pigeons fly away, the earth soaks in the water, leaving the grass cleaner and drier.

Thereafter, it is only the coming and going of people to distract my mind. Shadows of the evening begin to lengthen. Boys and girls come out on the lawn with their pet dogs to play football. Dogs chase the football, try in vain to bite it, wag their tales joyfully and wait for the ball to be kicked round so that they can chase it again. This too is a happy sight.

At long last the night comes on. It is time for me to get a little sozzled and take a kinder view of life. I raise a toast to Omar Khayyam:

Into this world, why, not knowing;

Like water willy-nilly flowing;

Like wind along the waste;

Hither-thither willy-nilly going.

I eat my supper and retire to bed. I read a few more couplets of Ghalib before I switch off my bedside lamps. Thus ends the long summer day.

Name dropping

It may not impress my readers but I felt quite a VIP when I heard the news that Boris Johnson had been elected Lord Mayor of London. He is a Tory MP and Editor of The Spectator. He defeated Labour Party member Livingstone despite the latter getting votes of the immigrants from India, Bangladesh and Pakistan. I happen to be distantly related to him. The tortuous kinship needs elaboration.

My eldest and youngest brothers married two sisters, both beauties of their times. My younger sister-in-law divorced my brother and married Charles Whealer of the BBC (whose wife divorced him to marry Sir John Freeman, the British High Commissioner). Boris Johnson's wife is Whealer’s daughter. Around five years ago Boris was in India to join the baraat of his half Sikh's wife's cousin. The baratis, which included my daughter Mala, were flown in a chartered plane to Kerala—the bride being ex-Minister Krishna Kumar's daughter.

As the Sikh bridegroom was being taken on elephant's back to the marriage pandal for the nuptial ceremonies, the elephant, which had never seen so many sardars and goras, lost its temper and laid out with its trunk and legs at the baratis walking alongside. Among those hospitalised was the bridegroom's father and my nephew. Boris found the incident funny enough to write about it in The Spectator.

Boris Johnson is a blonde, chubby-faced man known for his buffoonery and ready wit. He has not been a faithful husband but the marriage holds. If the Toris win the next General Elections, as is being predicted, and Cameron becomes England's Prime Minister, Boris Johnson is almost certain to find a place in the Cabinet. There will be more reason for me to drop his name. I have never met him; he does not know I exist.

Why not marry?

Ghanta was a bachelor at the age of 30. One day his father's friend Santa asked him: "Ghanta, now you must get married and be settled in life". Ghanta replied: "Uncle, I am scared of girls". Santa: "If you marry you will be scared of only one but will love others".

(Courtesy: J.P. Singh Kaka, Bhopal)