I have not read President General Musharraf’s In the Line of Fire; I have no intention of doing so. So much of it has appeared in the newspapers with excerpts from the book that I know what it is all about. Though many Indians and Pakistanis including, Nawaz Sharif, have rubbished Musharraf’s account of the outcome of the Kargil misadventure, the Pakistan President maintains that the Army under his command had got the better of the Indian Army and if his Prime Minister had not meddled with his plans, he could have won a stunning victory over India. Most military commanders’ accounts (including our own) tend to read like Sheikh Chilli’s stories.
It reminded me of a party I went to in Bombay in the early 1970s. It was hosted by Pakistan’s Counsel General who happened to be a Bengali from what was then East Pakistan. A large number of Indians were present because of the good liquor that flowed like the Indian rivers. While we were enjoying ourselves, an Indian guest asked me: “Do you know what this party is for?” I replied: “I have no idea. It said nothing on the invitation card.” He had a smirk on his face as he said: “Go and ask your host.” And so I did.
“What are we celebrating?” I asked the host. Very shamefacedly he replied: “Actually, it is the anniversary of Pakistan’s victory in the Indo-Pak war of 1965.”
I was taken aback. “I did not realise you had won the 1965 war.”
He remained undaunted: “We think we won that war. Or at least so we are told by our government in Islamabad, and asked to celebrate it as a Victory Day.”
“Why didn’t you mention that on your invitation card?” He replied: “Because friends like you may not have come.”
“My friend, be sure people like me go anywhere where premium Scotch is served freely. May Allah grant many more imaginary victories to Pakistan over India.”
I don’t know what happened to my Bengali host now. He is probably employed in Bangladesh’s Foreign Service or living in retirement in Dhaka. And no doubt joins celebrations to mark the victory of the Mukti Bahini Freedom Fighters over the Pakistani Army commanders. It is us Indians’ misfortune actually that the outcome of such wars was decided by tossing of coins — ‘heads I win, tails you lose.’ We always lost the propaganda war.
Sibal, Uma and Ghalib
It was a chance meeting between cabinet minister Kapil Sibal and the Kathak dancer Uma Sharma. We had fixed a date but Uma could not keep it as she had a programme that evening. She decided to come the following day. That same evening Kapil had promised to drop in to appraise me of progress of our plans to build a clinic-cum-night shelter in Lahori Gate to be run by Reeta Devi Varma’s Illa Trust. Kapil had never met nor seen Uma dance. That did not deter Uma from pouncing on him as he came. “Kapilji, you are a minister, you must help me celebrate Ghalib’s birthday next December.” Kapil asked her “What do you plan to do?” She replied, “A dance performance in his haveli in Gali Qasim Jan in Ballimaran or somewhere in Chandani Chowk, a qawali and Mushaira near his mazaar in Nizamuddin. We can’t allow Ghalib to be forgotten, Can we?” Sheilaji (CM Sheila Dikshit) and Pawan Varma of ICCR have promised to help.” Kapil paused for a moment before asking, “What do you want me to do?” Without a pause she replied, “I need Rs 5 lakh, one lakh immediately to get things started.” He replied, “Okay, come tomorrow for your first cheque; others will follow as you need them.” Everyone was taken aback by this on the spot decision.
Kapil then turned to me and asked “Where are we with your family project?” I explained that the plans are ready and approved; but no boundary wall has been erected as no contractor was willing to take on the construction in that seamy area, full of drug addicts and ruffians. “We want a wall to enclose the area. Fix a date for laying the foundation stone and the three-storied structure to go up while we brothers who manage the charitable trust are still alive.” He smiled and replied, “I’ll get cracking tomorrow. You will hear from me soon.” Without accepting a drink he left.
I am yet to meet a man with as sharp a mind as Kapil Sibal.
My evening mehfil was in full swing. Uma seemed to shed years of her life and returned to her youth when she could murder people with her nazars. She then sang a song of Ghalib: Muddat huee hai yaar ko mehmaan kiye huey/Josh-e-maikada say bazm chiraaghaan kiye huey. (It’s been a long time since my beloved came/To this house of mine/And light the assemblage with the headiness of wines.)
Epitaph for KS
I composed an epitaph for myself once. It is there on the last page of my book Death at my Door Step (Roli). KV Madhusudhan of Bangalore suggests a variation which is marginally kinder to me:
Here lies Khushwant Singh
Good Heavens! Has he gone?
Don’t ever say heaven or hell;
He did not believe in God.
This is a good riddance. Anyway, may his soul rest in peace.
In the minds of men. Where he carved himself a place with his pen.