A good way to while away the long May afternoons and evenings is to fantasise about what the landscape of India will be around middle of June. Most of the country will still be very hot and dusty but with a bit of good luck the summer monsoon should be breaking on our eastern and southern sea-coasts.
The cacophony of our politicians will have ended. Newspapers will be giving us hard news instead of reporting expletives uttered by netas against each other. TV channels will also have turned to events more purposeful than covering electoral battles in tedious detail. Many names will have gone into oblivion, many cut to size, a few newcomers will be crowing for attention. Life will return to its dull drudgery of work, food, gossip and sleep.
I’m dodging the one fantasy which occupies more time than others: who’ll be living on 7, Race Course Road? Will the melodious voice of Gursharan Kaur singing Gurbani still be heard in the house every morning and evening? Or will it be occupied by L.K. Advani, Sharad Pawar or Mayawati or any of the others whose names are being tossed about like confetti at a wedding reception? I have no ideas and do my best to curb my fantasising from becoming wishful.
In the early hours of dawn, a peacock raps on the glass pane of the bedroom window of Prem Mohan Kalra. It has been his wake-up call ever since he built his farm house in the outskirts of Delhi 20 years ago. He picks up a bowl of bird-feed and opens the door to his garden. There are a large number of birds awaiting him on the lawns: two peacocks with their harems of peahens, partridges, quails, mynas, doves, pigeons, parakeets as well as his domestic geese and ducks. He strews bird-feed on the lawn and watches them peck at it. It is a brand of Prem-ka-langar. He has also laid a shallow pond where birds can stake their thirst. When they have their fill, they fly off into the woods to supplement their diet with insects, lizards and snakes. They return in the evening and regale Kalra by unfolding their glorious blue-green-gold plumage and dancing their Kathak, wings palpitating with passion while their harem watches with feigned indifference. Then they fold their tails, raise their heads and call triumphantly paon, paon.
Among Prem’s friends are a palm-squirrel, called Reshma, who pries open the tin of dog biscuits and helps herself, and a one-legged mynah who fights off other birds to get her share of the booty.
Peacocks, partridges and other birds visit bungalows in the outskirts of the city like Sainik Farms, farm-houses near Qutub Minar and Faridabad. If the owners feed them, they come regulraly, if they don’t, they stop calling. Those like Prem Kalra form a bond with the birds and are handsomely rewarded.
From his late father, Lala Kishen Lal, Prem Kalra inherited the Rajdoot Hotel and three of his friends: Fali Nairman, his wife Bapsi, and myself. He used to call on us twice a week with a carton of dahi-bara. He plied me with Urdu verses of which he knew a lot more than I. The Narimans did not have much time to spare nor could they understand his mumbled speech. When he died five years ago, we presumed our tenuous association with owners of Rajdoot which neither of us had ever visited had ended. It was not so. His son continues the legacy. Cartons of dahi-bara are delivered to us twice a week. Besides the usual dahi-and-saunth, they have ginger, raisins and banana: a wholesome afternoon meal I relish.
What Prem Kalra has done should emulated by others. He took over a barren, rocky patch of land full of thorny scrub and turned it into a sylvan paradise by planting trees and medicinal plants. He laid out ponds and welcomed birds to share them with his domestic fowl. In recent years Delhi has lost its sparrows and owlets. He has shown the way to bring them back by providing the right habitat and sustenance.
The Great Indian Election
Political masters who ruled our nation
Come with folded hands to every citizen
Ragging for votes to win the election
And resume their game of exploitation:
Parasites who never thought of people’s concern,
Suddenly swarm the entire nation
And promise voters everything under the sun.
Neither basic needs nor jobs and education
Engaged their minds while enjoying power and position
Peace and harmony, they shatter in cities and towns
Their crowded road shows, catchy songs and slogans
And filmy eloquence sway the mob’s emotions
Since ‘ helping the poor’ is their generous aim,
They offer liquor and money without shame
‘Business’ with contractors gets them bundles of notes
Openly they bribe the poor and demand votes.
Since they campaign on the basis of caste and creed
Character and morality, they do not need
When they talk of equal rights and democracy
They new generation goes through their hypocrisy
Rampant corruption, nepotism and defection
Have undermined people’s faith in election
Honest voters, with minds young, clean and fresh
Must remove these deadly thorns in our country’s flesh.
Contributed by M.G. Narasimha Murthy, Hyderabad