THIS ABOVE ALL
I have lost a
often saddens one more than losing a relation, particularly if
the friend happens to have been someone you admired. This
happened to me when I read of the death of Manohar Malgonkar at
the age of 97 in his estate in Jagalpet in north Karnataka. We
had known each other for almost half a century. The first time
we met remains fresh in my memory.
I was working in
the External Services of All India Radio. He told me of his
past. He had been in the Army during World War II. He rose to
the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in Maratha Light Infantry. After
retirement he became an avid shikari. Having slain eight
tigers, he became a professional, conducting eminent foreigners
to hunt big game.
Then a sudden
change came over him. He swore not to kill anything anymore. He
became a passionate preserver of wildlife. He told me of a
handsome young tiger who used to display himself, sitting in the
middle of a forest road in broad-daylight. He was a sitting duck
for my tiger killer. Malgonkar would drive me to him, and fire a
few shots to frighten him off.
The tiger learnt
not to trust humans, and lived a full life. When Malgonkar
finished his story, I asked him to put it on paper. He did. I
broadcast his story and had it published. That is how his career
as a writer began. He graciously acknowledged it by always
referring to me as "guruji." Then came a series of
novels: Distant Drum, A Bend in the Ganges, The Combat of
Shadows, The Devilís Wind and many short stories and film
scripts. His style of writing reminded me of John Mastersí Bhowani
Junction. It was racy and highly readable.
highly conscious of his Maharashtrian heritage. He wrote Kanhoji
Angroy, Puars of Dewas Senior and Chhatrapatis of
Kolhapur. Malgonkarís writing career ended when manganese
was found in his estate. He became a rich man, and got involved
in mining manganese business. He lived in a princely style in a
palatial mansion, with many acres of garden. He often invited me
to stay with him but I was never able to accept his offer of
hospitality. My son spent some days with him and told me what
wonderful time he had spent with Malgonkarís small family.
Indian voice from abroad
Tabish Khair is a
Bihari, settled in Denmark. He is a professor of English
literature at Aarhus University. He keeps in close touch with
his motherland and visits it once a year to see his parents, and
writes regularly for Indian papers like The Hindu and Outlook
and many others in England and America. He has also published
many novels like Where Parallel Lines Meet, Babu
Fictions, The Bus Stopped and Filming: A
Love Story ó all of which I reviewed favourably because I
found them lucid and absorbing.
Now I have his
latest Man of Glass (Harper Collins) and find myself like
one lost at sea. It has Kalidas, Mirza Ghalib and H.C. Anderson,
all mixed up. Kalidas he read in Sanskrit original at school.
Ghalib was always with him because his mother tongue is Urdu.
Andersonís fairy stories for children, which he must have read
as a child, acquired special significance after he became a
Danish national. I do not know Sanskrit; all I have read of
Kalidas is in English translation. Whatever I read by Anderson,
I forgot long ago. Only Ghalib remains with me.
creations do not tally with my reading of Ghalibís couplets.
To start with, take the first few couplets of his Diwan:
renders the lines as under:
fills the aspects of this earth;
Each manís a
beggar, seeking alms of worth.
I donít think
any student of Ghalib will agree with Tabish Khair. My own
reading is it means that every picture speaks for itself; it
does not need learned explanation. Likewise, the second couplet:
jaani haai tanhai na puunch;
Subah karna shaam
ka laana hai juye-sheer ka.
Tabish renders it
Donít claim to
tell the lonely back of work;
To turn night into
day, replenish dearth.
reminds us of the romance of Shireen and Farhad, and the
condition of her father to let him have access to his daughter.
The same obscurity is found in all his transcriptions. I repeat
that the primary object of writing is communication. In his Man
of Glass, Tabish Khair fails to communicate.
Sign outside a
pathology lab: "For you it may be your urine and stool, but
for us it is our bread and butter."
No smoking here
is strange you sell cigarettes in this store, but you donít
allow the customers to smoke here."
"Donít talk about what I sell. I also sell condoms but I
donít permit anyone using them here."
J.P. Singh Kaka, Bhopal)