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When Colonel Gaddafi was a hero

Libya is world’s top news today. I have my own experience of the country which I present to my readers for whatever they are worth. Khushwant Singh writes.

columns Updated: Sep 23, 2011 12:50 IST

Libya is world’s top news today. I have my own experience of the country which I present to my readers for whatever they are worth.

Over 20 years ago I received an invitation from the Libyan government to participate in a seminar in Tripoli. I readily accepted the invitation. I took an Air India flight to Rome. N D Tiwari was in the same flight bound for England. From Rome, I took the Lufthansa flight to Tripoli. I have yet to encounter a cabin crew. An hour and a half later we landed in Tripoli airport. It was a Friday afternoon. There were no porters on duty. They were in mosques for jumma prayers for two hours. I sat in the airport lounge chanting with the Indian ambassador who had come to meet me.

After the porters had returned to duty they cleared our luggage. A very flustered ambassador dropped me at a hostel where I was to stay. I did not see any beggars or women in burqa on the way. In my room were two books, the holy Quran and the Green Book by Colonel Gaddafi, ruler of the State.

He had become a heroic figure in the Muslim world. Pakistan’s biggest sports arena in Lahore is named after him —Gaddafi Stadium. Like a soldier he lived in a tent. A few attempts to assassinate him failed. It was evident that he regarded the country’s vast earnings from oil his own. After I had dinner served in my room, I read his Green Book, spilling out his views in making a State progressive and prosperous. I was not impressed but realised that I was expected to praise it.

The next morning we assembled in the meeting hall. Most delegates spoke in Arabic. I kept my gaze fixed on a very pretty Tunisian girl who was in a glass cabin simultaneously translating speeches into English. I did not open my mouth.

I was lucky because what happened to me was befriending the Narulas’ — Harpinder and his wife Surina. He was involved in building roads and making lot of money.

Very wisely he did not invest it in Libya but in England and India. He acquired a few hotels in London, a castle-cum-residence in Hertfordshire and a Rolls Royce.

In Delhi, he bought a house in Golf Links, the biggest bookstore Ebony, and a Rolls Royce. Surina also finances the Jaipur literary festival held in January. The source of Harpinder’s wealth was Libya. What they will do now when Libya is in turmoil, I do not know.

Down with Purists

I have often written that language purists are the worst enemies of their mother tongue. The truth is that more a language takes from others, the more it enriches itself. English is the richest language of the world, because it has taken words from all languages it has come in contact. There is no dearth of examples. India has over two dozen languages. English borrowed words from everyone of them. Hindi which is our national language did not. Con-

sequently, Hindi which should have become our link language, failed to do so, and the link language remains English.

Recently, I came across a Punjabi trying to absorb English words. K B Sodhi, retired professor of English, now settled in Ludhiana, translated a selection of Shakespearean sonnets as Sach de Moti comparing the English poet Johan Keats (1795-1821) with Punjab’s Shiv Batalvi (1936-1973). What impact they will have on Punjabi remains to be seen.

I am more excited by the translation of English nursery rhymes made by Surjit Rajinder Singh who after having been a teacher for 40 years has compiled his translations of English nursery rhymes: Twinkle, Twinkle, Nikkey Tare in Punjabi (Unistar). How does one render Humpty, Dumpty sat on a Wall, Baba Baba Black Sheep or Little Miss Muffit sat on a tuffet or Ding Dong Bell Pussy in the Well or Jack & Jill went up the Hill and many others?

Surjit Rajinder Singh has done a commendable job of enriching Punjabi by giving Punjabi children an insight into the culture English children of their age are brought up on. This book should be in every Punjabi home to be enjoyed by children and their elders.

Women power

We have quite a few women wielding power in national politics. There is Jayalalithaa in Tamil Nadu, Uma Bharati in Madhya Pradesh, Mamata Bannerjee in West Bengal, Mayawati in Uttar Pradesh and Mahmooda Mufti in Kashmir.

There are also Sadhvi Rithambara and Sadhvi Pragya Thakur. Have they anything in common? I can think of one common factor: all of them are singles. You don’t have to be a psychologist to infer that they are missing out on something vital in life that accounts for their eccentric behaviour.

The views expressed by the author are personal.