Saturday, September 20, 2007

On the scent of a story

KHUSHWANT SINGHBeing in the profession for most of my life, I know what pests we can make ourselves when we smell a good story. This is true of the media around the world. No wonder in English-speaking countries we are known as newshoundsó dogs which sniff out secrets. An amusing example I found in Private Eye quoting the plight of the then Prime Minister of Thailand in The Bangkok Post of August, 2008. It runs: "I have never seen anyone as foul and as wicked as you," Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej told reporters at a farmersí market in the Chatuchak district of Bangkok. "Are you insane? The Prime Minister of Thailand himself wanted to go to the lavatory, and you stood right outside waiting.

"It is shocking. Have not your editors taught you properly? I was sitting inside, as is my right. Whatís the problem? I would like just to shop and go to the toilet, but you keep filming. I scold you so much and yet you are not ashamed. Should I be filmed inside while I am emptying myself? Canít I have any privacy?"

Ghalib, who wrote the best poetry on love and pangs of separation, had a wife who bore him many children, but he did not write about her. It was always about women he patronised.
Ghalib, who wrote the best poetry on love and pangs of separation, had a wife who bore him many children, but he did not write about her. It was always about women he patronised

An unnamed reporter later explained what had caused the prime ministerís outburst. He said: "During his live television talk show, Mr Samak had refused to answer any of our questions about his recent Cabinet reshuffle. So after the show, we followed him to the Tor Kor market, still asking him questions, which he still refused to answer. Once inside the market, he disappeared into the lavatory. So we waited outside for him to emerge. After 30 minutes he was still in there. So we went inside and saw two bodyguards standing outside the last cubicle.

"When he finally emerged, he was very angry and kept shouting, "it is awful, it is shameful. Your channel owners wonít air my two-hour Thai-teaching programme but they will keep filming me as I empty myself." Then, after 15 minutes of uninterrupted scolding, he got into the waiting car and left, still without answering any of our questions."

Falling in love

Turning over the pages of Kuldip Salilís anthology, A Treasury of Urdu Poetry (Rajpal), I chanced upon a couplet by Makhmoor Dehlavi (1909-1956), which caught my eye. It runs: Mohabbat ho to jaati hai, mohabbat kee nahin jaati, yeh shola khud bharak utthta hai, bharkaaya nahin jaata (You fall in love; you do not decide who to love; it is a flame which bursts on its own; it cannot be ignited).

Nothing original about it. Mirza Ghalib had said the same thing more than a century earlier: Ishaq par zor nahin, hai yeh voh aatish Ghalib; jo lagae na lagey aur bujhaae na baney (We have no power over love; this fact you should know; it is that kind of fire which, when you try to light, refuses to ignite; when you want to put it out, it refuses to go).

With due deference to the great poets, I dare to suggest that they did not know the first thing about the phenomenon of love, and what they wrote in immortal verse were fragments of their fertile imaginings. They lived in rigidly segregated society. Besides female members of their families who did not observe purdah from them, their only contact with women were courtesans (kotheywallis), for whose favours they made payments in cash.

Ghalib, who wrote the best poetry on love, longing and pangs of separation, had a wife who bore him many children, but he did not write about her. It was always about women he patronised. The same is true of other poets. Falling in love is in the order of nature to ensure continuity of life. The desire manifests itself early in life and reaches uncontrollable dimension between the ages of 15 and 30. It craves to cultivate an exclusive relationship with some member of the opposite sex.

Once satiated, it begins to abate, becomes a routine obligation and subsides into companionship. It is well known that an attractive woman is like a well-laid feast which a man approaches with whipped up appetite. After he has feasted himself, the woman does not look as appetising as before.

As it is, most Indians do not know what it is to fall in love. They may have crushes in their younger years, but 90 per cent of them have arranged marriages. It is contrived love blessed by religion. In short, we confuse lust with love. Lust is real, love is imaginary.

Another aspect of love that poets make much of are pangs of separation. No doubt you miss the person you like very much when he or she is absent. But what hurts much more is when that absence is rejected and replaced by another lover. While being desired boosts a personís ego, being rejected and replaced punctures and deflates oneís ego. The moral is to be moderate in oneís desires and try to detach oneself from emotional and physical dependence on others. That is the secret of a stress-free life and serenity.

Tempting banners

To tempt western tourists during the Olympics, Chinese shopkeepers displayed the following banners:

Tailorís shop ó Ladies and gents tailor; ladies have fits upstairs.

Bakerís shop ó Best loafer in town.

Opticianís and dentistís shop ó Eyes and teeth inserted. Latest methods.

Furrierís shop ó Coats made to order from your own skin or ours.

Restaurant ó Famous for chicken dishes: eat chicken before it is born (egg); or after it is murdered.

(Contributed by Niranjan Singh Bhatia, New Delhi)