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Afzal deserves imprisonment

People like Afzal Guru do not deserve to be remembered as martyrs but as villains who did grave disservice to their community and country, writes Khushwant Singh.

india Updated: Oct 07, 2006 00:26 IST

Mohammed Afzal Guru has been convicted and sentenced to death. He is meant to be executed on the morning of October 20. I hope the President accepts his family’s plea of mercy and commutes the death sentence to imprisonment for life.

Afzal Guru has had a fair trial, and was found guilty of high treason. He masterminded the plan of attack on our Parliament in which several innocent lives were lost. There was no redeeming feature in the case that could justify a lighter sentence.

Such people deserve to be spat upon. So why spare him the fate he rightly deserves?

I offer two arguments in favour of commuting the death sentence to imprisonment for life. One, I consider executing people for heinous crimes a medieval barbarity which has been abolished in many advanced countries. Two, by killing him we will make him a martyr in the eyes of a section of people blinded by fanatical hatred towards our country. Protests organised in Kashmir are proof that we are not short of such lunatics. People like Afzal Guru do not deserve to be remembered as martyrs but as villains who did grave disservice to their community and country. Let him languish in a high security prison for the rest of his life and let him do something constructive like teaching children and cleaning latrines morning and evening.

Second-rate sellers

I have often wondered why I find so many books which become bestsellers in the United States, uniformly second-rate. I discovered that public opinion in matters of literature is unreliable — most of all in English-speaking America. They purchase books like sandwiches. They read them because their neighbours are reading them. They sell like proverbial hot cakes. Rarely do they measure up to expectations of connoisseurs of literature. I came to this conclusion after plodding through a current bestseller Marley & Me by John Grogan (Harper Collins). It is on The New York Times bestseller list.

It’s about the human-animal relationship. In this case, a young newspaper reporter, his wife and their three children. They have a Labrador puppy, named Marley. who grows up with them till it dies at the age of 13. As a dog lover, I found several parallels from the book with our family’s relationship with our German Shepherd, Simba, who had to be put to sleep at 14.

The Grogans bought their highly pedigreed Labrador at a fancy price, after having it examined by a dog psychiatrist for his temperament. We got our Simba for free; we had no idea about his pedigree except that he was Alsatian. Nor bothered to have his temperament tested, Alsatians are known to be aggressive. The Grogans had Marley neutered and made into a eunuch. We never even thought of humiliating Simba in this way. He was grateful to us for being understanding. Except for his last year, we hardly ever took him to a vet. My wife treated him like her own child and at times had him lying in her lap all night. He often pushed me aside to sleep on my bed. The Grogans, though very caring, sought the help of outsiders. They took Marley with them wherever they went — from Florida to Philadelphia. So did we from Delhi to Shimla or Kasauli every summer.

When Marley died, the Grogans buried his remains in their garden. On the same day they saw a photo in the Pets-for-Sale column in a local paper. It resembled their Marley. So they promptly went and bought it as Marley’s reincarnation. When Simba was put to sleep, I was abroad. My daughter sent me a telegram reading: “Simba died peacefully.” We never got another dog, we felt no one could or should replace Simba. The Grogans reduced their Marley to an ‘it’; our Simba remained a ‘he’ till the last. The two words express our different approaches to our loved pets.

I was sorely disappointed with Marley & Me. It is in banal, pedestrian prose, unsuitable for a deeply emotional relationship. It made me realise that reading American bestseller lists is a stupid reason to pick up good books — as stupid as asking Bollywood stars what we should read. I did it with Da Vinci Code and gave it up halfway. I plodded through Marley & Me to the end — more than ever convinced that America’s bestsellers should be sold to Indian kabaari-waalas.

Requiem to Sabharwal

Full of brilliance, culture and
foresight,
Our youth being brave and full of fight
The future of India is really bright.
Only occasionally, they murder their teacher
Normally, they only break furniture
They hold up traffic, fold up classes
They would like to be political leaders, corporate bosses
They must have money and fun
So, what if they have to use the gun
For, the election to the Union must be won.
They are inventive, enterprising and bright
Instant stardom is their right,
So well behaved they are, such pictures of courtesy
Because our society
Teaches them mercy, manners and morality,
They’re so peace-loving, patriotic, free from guile
Because we set such brilliant examples all the while,
So, we should be proud of what we have done
Because they are our, our very own children.

(Courtesy: Kuldip Sali, Delhi)