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Wasted monsoons

The most important event of the year in our national calendar is the advent of the summer monsoon, writes Khushwant Singh.

india Updated: Jun 16, 2006 01:21 IST

The most important event of the year in our national calendar is the advent of the summer monsoon. It takes place sometime between the last week of May and the first week of June. The first to get the news are the people who live on the Malabar Coast. Then it spreads along the Western Ghats across Maharashtra and across the mainland, extending from Gujarat to Jharkhand to spread across the Indo-Gangetic plain, embracing Rajasthan, Haryana, Punjab, Kashmir and Himachal. A week or so earlier, another monsoon wind builds up over the Bay of Bengal and sweeps northwards from the Andaman and Nicobar Islands to drench Orissa, Bengal and Assam. And a few weeks later, winter snows on the Himalayas melt and fill rivers. We also have brief winter monsoon showers between Christmas and Republic Day. In short, whether the monsoons are plenteous or niggardly, they give us enough water to last us the year, that is if we conserve it.

Most villages have a pond or two and a few wells. During hot summer months, many dry up. With a little effort, we can ensure that every village has at least three ponds — one for buffaloes to wallow in and boys to splash about, one to breed fish and a third to provide drinking water. All three must be filled during the monsoon, by channelising rain water.

These ponds or tanks must be laid out before the rains set in, i.e. sometime in April or May. And it has to be a joint effort made under the guidance of a person who knows about conservation of water and fish farming. Services of such a person should be made available by the government, and the leadership and initiative provided by village panchayats. They must be stimulated to do more than settle family disputes and meddle in inter-caste liaisons.

A fine publisher

With the death of Ravi Dayal on June 3, India lost its most distinguished editor-publisher in English since Independence. He was only 68. He smoked bidis and in due course developed lung cancer. He survived surgery and seemed to be on the way to recovery. But just over a day later, his heart stopped beating.

Ravi was the younger son of Bishumber Dayal, who died in the prime of his youth, leaving his two sons in the care of his widow and under the guidance of his younger brothers. Both boys were bright students. The elder, Virendra Dayal, read History at St. Stephen’s College, won a Rhodes scholarship to University College, Oxford, joined the IAS and later the United Nations.

Ravi, too, read History at St. Stephen’s, won a Tata fellowship and went to the same college at Oxford. As soon as he got his degree, he was offered an editorial post by the Oxford University Press. He worked with OUP for 25 years, many of these as chief editor and general manager, the first Indian to be raised to the position. In 1987, he took premature retirement to launch a publishing concern of his own — Ravi Dayal Publisher.

He left his mark by Indianising OUP. Till he took over, its list was overloaded with English writers and scholars. He injected Indian blood into the publishing house. But for him, many Indo-Anglian poets, playwrights and novelists like Arvind Krishna Mehrotra, Keki Daruwalla, Gieve Patel, Firdaus Kanga, Shama Futehally and Mukul Kesavan might have been ignored. His Civil Lines was specially designed to give newcomers a break. Amitav Ghosh, who could have commanded huge advances and high royalties, stuck faithfully to Ravi Dayal. Many novelists like Kiran Nagarkar sought his advice before selling their books for high prices. He also published A.K. Ramanujam’s translations of ancient Indian classics, as well as the translations of Allama Iqbal’s Shikwa and Jawaab-e-Shikwa.

Ravi’s attitude to publishing was refreshingly different from others. They read a manuscript keeping in mind whether or not they will make a profit. He only looked at its quality: whether or not it deserved to be read by people. He priced his publications low to make them available to people of modest means. For him, it was not a business but a vocation, and he went about it with missionary zeal. No huge advances announced to the media to fool people, no lavish parties to grease critics, no compromise with vulgar reading tastes.

He had his eccentricities, uppermost being inverse snobbery. Though an Oxford product, he smoked bidis rather than cigarettes, cigars or pipes. He drank only India-made liquor — be it gin, vodka or whisky, and politely declined to share my Scotch.

He inherited a house in Ranikhet from his aunt, Leela Row Dayal, India’s first women’s tennis champion. On each visit, he made it a point to stop at Garmukteshwar on the Ganga. That is where a part of his ashes were immersed. The remaining have been kept aside at the request of Salman Haidar, his oldest friend. He will take them to their favourite haunts in the Kumaon hills, around Nainital, where they spent their childhood together.

Deft-nitions

Reality: Parking is such a street sorrow.

Adultery: One man’s mate is another man’s passion.

Fact of Life: Saas for the goose is mother for the gander.

(Contibributed by Rajeshwari Singh, Delhi)