Most of my Muslim friends fasted during Ramazan and went to mosques to pray on Eid-ul Fitr than ever before. I can understand that in the rising tide of religious intolerance they wanted to assert their Islamic identity. Why I bring up the subject is even more difficult to explain.
I read a selection of Nursery Rhymes written by an English woman 70 years ago, for her oldest son but published recently: Rhymes for Ranga (Random House). The rhymes are by Freda Bedi, illustrated by Anna Bhushan.
Allow me to tell you how and when I met the Bedis. B.P.L. Bedi and his English wife Freda arrived in Lahore in the 1940s and made their home in Model Town. It is said to have been a tent accessible to everyone. They made a very handsome couple — both six footers and fair complexioned. BPL was very proud of his Sikh lineage — Guru Nanak was a Bedi.
Freda was known to be a socialist and against the British Raj. She took part in India’s freedom movement and was the first British woman to serve six-months in Lahore jail. After partition the couple moved to Delhi. BPL tried to make a living as a publisher but failed. They migrated to Italy. He set up a religious cult of his own. Freda converted to Buddhism. Kabir their second son became a very popular star of Italian Television.
Once in London he invited me to lunch with his second wife. All the waiters and waitresses recognised him. We had gourmet meal with vintage wines. They refused to give him a bill — It was an honour to have him as a guest. Rhymes for Ranga was like the distant peals of temple bells. I was enthralled. I give two examples of her nursery rhymes, on Sighting the Eid Moon and the other on Basant.
SIGHTING THE EID MOON
Tahira, Fahmeeda / Shameem Khatoon
All danced together for / The little Eid Moon.
Danced in a circle / In their little room
Danced all together for / the little Eid Moon.
This way / That way / Three in a line, /Three feet beating / All in time. /
Noodles this evening / Pulao at noon /
Sweet Yellow rice is / For you, little moon.
Bibiji fasted /
A whole month long /
Now it’s all over / Let’s sing a song:/
‘o’, thread of silver / Night’s precious boon
Rising within us / Little Eid moon!
Guru Nanak said to God
(white his beard as snow untrod)
‘Whatever tree or fruit it yields
Does mustard grow in the Heavenly Fields?
Curd from the pitcher, well-water sweet
Out in the fields the man must eat;
Whole wheat bread and mustard grant
The heart of Punjab is the sarson plant.
Where is the winter’s unsheathed lance?
Spring comes with a lyric and bhangra dance.
My daughter has yellow veils in her dower
The heart of Punjab is the sarson flower.’
‘Guru Baba Nanak, look
Tender your eyes like a country brook
Whatever tree or fruit it yields:
There’s a carpet of gold in the Heavenly Fields.’
The digit 13 has come into play in the Commonwealth Games. The total number of letters in the name of Suresh Kalmadi, Chairman of the Organising Committee, is 13. Again the total number of letters in the name of Sheila Dikshit, Chief Minister, Delhi sums up to 13. To cap it all, the total number of Stadia where sports events are to take place are 13! (Courtesy: K.J.S. Ahluwalia, Amritsar)
A pretty young girl was kidnapped by a gang of dacoits. She was tied up land then the gang leader approached her menacingly.
Girl (screaming): “Don’t you dare touch me. I am a married woman.”
Gang leader: “You need not worry, sister, your honour is safe. I am gay. If only those stupid men of mine had kidnapped your husband, instead of you!”
(by Rajeshwari Singh, New Delhi)