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Memories: Where the dead go

columns Updated: Mar 27, 2011 00:46 IST
Khushwant Singh
Khushwant Singh
Hindustan Times
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If I was asked to draw up a list of 10 of the best contributions to English literature made by an Indian, without hesitation I would include Vikram Seth’s Golden Gate and A Suitable Boy.

I do not intend to explain why but draw the readers’ attention to another aspect of his ingenious behaviour.

I read in the papers that while attending a literary gathering he wrote a message in Malayalam. He picks up languages as he comes across them. He dropped in a couple of weeks ago and showed me examples of his latest passion — calligraphy.

He had samples of them in different languages including Mandarin and Arabic. He gave me one in Arabic and beneath he wrote why he was doing so — in Urdu. I was most impressed and have the page framed as a memento of his visit. I turned to another topic.

“Are you religious?”

“I have my own code of ethics.”

“Do you believe in God?” I asked.

He hesitated before replying. “I am not sure. There ought to be one.”

“Where do we go when we die? What remains of us?”

He was more positive in his one word reply: “Memories.”

One thing more about Vikram I did not know: his sense of punctuality. He carries a timer in his pocket. He kept strolling on the road till it beeped to tell him that it was 7pm, the boorha Sardar’s time to receive guests. Five minutes later it rang again to tell him that he had five minutes to say goodbye.

Loving Delhi
I am intrigued by the fact that Dilliwalas have shown more attachment to their city in the last few years than ever did since the partition of the country in 1947. I suspect it is due to the change in the nature of its population.

During British rule, muslims accounted for 40% of the population. When over 30% left for Pakistan and more replaced by Hindus and Sikhs from Punjab, NWFP and Sindh, they had no emotional attachment to Delhi and all their nostalgia was for the towns and cities they had been forced to quit.

Delhi was merely a temporary refuge for them and they would go back to where they came from. It was not the same with their children and grand-children. They cultivated a sense of belonging to the city. I recall a series of lectures organised by Praminder Singh at the India International Centre.

They were on a wide variety of subjects delivered by men and women who were specialists in their fields. They spoke about Delhi’s history, its monuments, its trees, birds, food, dialect — whatever.

The attendance was surprisingly large. The auditorium was packed to capacity and the loud-speakers installed outside for those who could not find seats. The lectures were later published as a book and made to the best-sellers list.

Besides that, most schools and colleges organised trips to historical sites on a regular basis. Many coffee tablers with excellent photographs appeared in the market. The leading role in the dramatic rise in the love for Delhi has been played by Rakshanda Jalil. She was till last year with Jamia Millia Islamia.

Rakhshanda Jalil specialises in exploring little monuments of Delhi. Her latest offering is Invisible City: The little known monuments of Delhi (Niyogi Books). Photographs as good as I have ever seen are by Prabhas Roy. It is much the best book on the Delhi you do not know.

Bereavement
Bereavement is that wound
Which leaves one broken and marooned.
Is it God’s design
To bring warmth and cheer,
To build a hearth and home,
Then to wreck it all?
Must a stately saga
Have a dissonant end?
The universe is subject to nihilistic force
And our births and lives and deaths run a meaningless course.
Bereavement is that wound,
Which leaves one puzzled and marooned.
(Courtesy, Sanjay Yadav, Bhopal)

Ageing
What is old age? When you start turning off the lights for economical reasons instead of romantic ones.

Saas Bahu
Dear mother-in-law,
Don’t try to tell me how to raise my
children. I am married to one of yours and believe me, there is room for improvement.

(Contributed by Amrinder, Delhi)

The views expressed by the author are personal