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Diwali, the past and present

Khushwant Singh writes about how he celebrated Diwali this year and what keeps him going.

columns Updated: Nov 25, 2012 23:52 IST
Khushwant Singh

This Diwali was depressing for me as I was not able to celebrate it. There were years when after having lit diyaas in my home, I drove round the city to see how others were celebrating it. This was followed by a drinking session in the home of my life-long friend Prem Kirpal. Much liquor went down the throats of friends, a lot of money changed hands as gambling was a must on Diwali night. Alas! all this is in the distant past. This Diwali I sat wrapped in a shawl in my arm-chair and watched through my window what other people in my block of flats were doing. I saw them light diyaas and put them in their windows. I saw them come into the lawn that separates our blocks and let off fire crackers. Having gone hard of hearing, I could not hear the bangs but saw flares of fire shoot up in the dark sky. A mood of acute depression descended on me. I asked myself “Why am I going on living ? Isn’t it time for me to bid the world a final farewell ?” I was reminded of the lines by the poet Daagh who put the same question to himself

Zeest Say tung ho ai Daagh

To Jeetey Kyon ho?

And he answered his own question:

Jaan Pyaree bhi nahin

Jaan say jaatey bhi nahin

I am not in love with life

(and yet)

I am unable to put an end to it.

II Believe it or not

“I was returning to New York from San Francisco.” Forty-one-year-old Jonah Falcon told reporters in Manhattan, “when I was stopped at the airport by security guards. They said they’d seen a suspicious bulge hanging down my left thigh, and they wanted to know if I had something in my pockets. When I said that it was just my penis, they refused to believe me, and made me go through a metal detector, and then through a body scanner that shows you naked. Even then they wouldn’t believe me, and they gave me additional screening for two hours before finally letting me board my flight. At one point, I even offered to whip it out for them, so they could see for themselves and let me onto the plane, but they still refused to believe I was not carrying a weapon.”

Falcon (whose penis is 33 centimetres when erect, and has featured in several television documentaries) had earlier been defended by his mother. “They should leave Jonah alone. His organ size is genetic, there’s nothing he can do about it. He was born like that, he was always big for his age. We live in a world where too many men see their manhood in their penises. The problem here is not his penis, it’s society’s need to fixate on it.”

(courtesy Private Eye)

III Secularism :

Preetam Giani who has been writing to me very often, has sent me a letter pronouncing on Secularism. His original name was Mehboob Ali and he lives in Abbottabad (Pakistan). He writes: “Secularism doesn’t ( or shouldn’t) mean — that, in a secular state/society, followers of any religion are discriminated against or victimised. So the USSR wasn’t a secular state but an inverted-theocratic one.

That the secular state pursues a policy of promoting theism over monotheism, polytheism, pantheism or agnosticism. Not at all.

That the majority religious groups in a secular state continue to oppress minority groups, as is alleged to be the case in post-independence India.

On the other hand, Secularism does (or should) mean: That church and state are clearly and unmistakably separated.

That followers of no religion can claim any special privileges, such as the use of loudspeakers for their calls to prayer or clerical sermons. They should convene and participate in their religious gatherings without disturbing anyone else, on a par with the organisers and spectators of a pop concert or sports event.

That the laws in a secular state do not discriminate against or are in favour of any adherent, ex-adherent or non-adherent of any religion, and that these laws are upheld and enforced at every level.

That all fundamental human rights, including the important right to free speech, are enshrined in the constitution of the secular state, effectively invocable by every citizen.

That all religions, as well as all forms of irreligion, are tolerated (not necessarily respected) equally and impartially in a secular state.”

How Preetam Giani has continued to survive in the atmosphere of religious bigotry that prevails in Pakistan baffles me. Muslims will take mocking Allah in their stride, but a word against their Prophet will drive them to religious frenzy. It is summed up in the saying : Ba Khuda Beyganna Basho, ba Mohammed hoshiar — say what you like about God, but beware of what you say about Mohammed.

IV Modern Lingo

Popular dialogue of the last century by Shashi Kapoor: “Mere paas maa hai.”

Popular dialogue of this century by Robert Vadra : “Mere paas saasu maa hai.”

(contributed by Vipin Buckshey, Delhi)