Saturday, November 15, 2008

The misfits of Bharat
Khushwant SinghKhushwant Singh

IN my home we celebrate Diwali in our own way. Like others we light diyas outside and around the antique stone statue of Ganapati in an alcove by the entrance door. We also put a garland of marigolds round his neck. I have a fetish for Ganapatis. I have six in my home — an original by Badri, two of mixed metals, ashtdhatu, two made of stone and one porcelain. Since I don’t believe in God, I regard him more as a friend than a deity.

I was born into a Sikh family and continue to conform to the outward appearance of a Khalsa. My son, though a product of Cambridge University, looks like a maulvi of a madrasa. He does not bother himself with any religion. My daughter married a Hindu but continues visiting gurdwaras. Her daughter is a Hindu-Sikh mixture.

She has her private altar adorned with Hindu gods and goddesses to whom she lights incense sticks and puts flowers every morning. She buys kitchen utensils on dhanteras. The mother and daughter visit gurdwaras, temples, dargahs and churches. Theirs is a cocktail of religious beliefs, which produces no single-religion hangovers.

Diwali is a special festival. Besides lighting diyas on the day, the occasion is also meant to light up our souls
Diwali is a special festival. Besides lighting diyas on the day, the occasion is also meant to light up our souls

Most of our friends happen to be Muslims. A few of them are pork-eaters; others drink liquor. Not one has ever got drunk in my home. Hindus and Sikhs are beef-eaters and Scotch-drinkers. We often spend festive occasions together — be it Holi, Eid, Diwali or Christmas. We drink and make merry. Diwali is special because it is meant to light up our souls. We are westernised Indians, ahead of our times, and misfits in today’s Bharatvarsha.

There are hundreds of thousands like us in all our cities. Do you celebrate festivals with friends who belong to communities other than your own? If not, make a start by inviting them and their families on festive occasions to your house. It will open up new horizons and be your contribution to knitting India together.

Rats for breakfast

A news item appearing in The Indian Express of August this year escaped my notice. It has been reproduced in London’s Private Eye in its column entitled ‘Funny Old World’. I found it very funny; so might you. "Rat meat is a healthy alternative to rice and grains", Vijay Prakash of the Bihar State Welfare Department told a press conference in Patna, "and should be eaten by one and all. Rat and chicken have equal food values, not only in protein, but throughout the entire spectrum of nutrition. I haven’t tried it myself, but my mother has, and she finds it delicious. In fact, whoever has eaten rats says they are more spongy and better than even chicken meat".

The welfare secretary’s words were greeted with dismay by many listeners. "Indian culture is based on vegetarianism", said chef P. Soundararajan of the Mahindra resort chain. "Our culture and customs are based on not harming any living beings. And besides, rats are dirty creatures that only the very poor would eat".

But Prakash was unrepentant about his government campaign. He said: "Almost 50 per cent of India’s grain stocks are eaten away by rodents in fields of warehouses. Increased human consumption of rodents will ease soaring food prices and provide increased employment for rat catchers. Rats have almost no bones, but many people do not know this simple cuisine fact. We will have a massive media campaign to persuade people to try rat meat. Some of the hotels here in Bihar have already started selling rat meat, as a starter. If you order patal-bageri at one of our roadside hotels, that’s what you will get. Roasted rat".

Blood is thicker

A rich Arab Sheikh was admitted to a five star hospital in Mumbai for a heart transplant. Prior to the surgery, doctors needed to store his blood group in case the need arose.

The Sheikh had a rare blood group which couldn’t be found locally. So a call went out to a number of countries. Finally, a Sindhi was located somewhere in Zaire, Central Africa, who had a similar grouping. The Sindhi willingly donated his blood for the Arab.

After the surgery, the Arab sent the Sindhi a new Hummer, diamonds, lapis lazuli jewellery and a hundred thousand Kuwaiti Dinars.

Once again the Sheikh had to go through a corrective surgery. His doctor telephoned the Sindhi, who was more than happy to donate his blood once again. After the second surgery, the Sheikh sent the Sindhi a thank you card and a jar of almond halwa.

The Sindhi was shocked to see that the Sheikh did not reciprocate his kind gesture as he had done earlier. He phoned the Sheikh and asked him why he had expressed his appreciation in not-so-generous-a-manner as before.

The Arab replied: "Varri Saaie, now I have Sindhi blood in my veins.’’ 

(Contributed by Vipin Bucksey, New Delhi)