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HindustanTimes Sun,20 Apr 2014

Khushwant Singh

Of holy men, power, sin and literary responsibilities
Khushwant Singh
June 11, 2011
First Published: 22:59 IST(11/6/2011)
Last Updated: 01:37 IST(12/6/2011)

Ever since we came into our inheritance in 1947, men and women of religion have tried to  influence public opinion and the government. Our first Prime Minister Jawahar Lal Nehru was an agnostic.  He was a widower and there were quite a few women in his life, including Padmaja Naidu and Edwina Mount-batten. There was also Shraddha Mata, a tantric, mentioned by Panditji's private secretary M O Mathai in his scurrilous book as having borne a child through her.

She was an attractive Sadhvi. I went to meet her when she was staying in Nigambod Ghat amongst burning funeral pyres.

She shifted to Jaipur where the Maharaja gifted her a small fortress in which a few families were living among snakes and black dogs. I called on her whenever I was in Jaipur.  She admitted she had an affair with Panditji but could not marry him because he was Brahmin and she was a Kshatriya. In any event she did not try to influence his judgements.

Holy men came into their own with Indira Gandhi. The most prominent was Dhirendra Brahmachari.

He was provided a government bungalow with a large garden where he kept a flock of  black cows whose milk he claimed had medicinal properties. A handsome bearded Bihari, he wore flimsy white kurta and dhoti even in the coldest days of winter. He was a daily visitor in Mrs Gandhi's home and office. 

He did well for himself. He had a gun factory in Jammu and flew his own aircraft between Delhi and Jammu. He was killed when his plane crashed.

Then there was Chandraswami. I don't remember what he did besides being much in the news for his being close to many VIPs before fading out. And now we have Baba Ramdev, the most formidable holy man with a large following. He is basically a teacher of yoga. Yoga is a scientific way of keeping fit - nothing more.  To claim that he can cure cancer by yoga is nonsense. But his threat to fast till his demands are met put the government in a tizzy. What exactly he wants the government to do to wipe out corruption is not clear.

But before assuming a holier-than- thou pose he must explain how he came to own landed property in and around Haridwar.

Corruption is all-pervasive; there are no miracle cures. We have to tackle it from all sides. Teach little children from nursery that it is a sin and let a whole new generation come up which is free from this taint.

Young Media Baroness
Between them - the two Sarkar brothers - Aveek and Aroop own pretty well the monopoly of the print media of West Bengal. They own the Anand Bazar Patrika, The Telegraph and several magazines. They provide sustenance to Bengali writers and poets as well as stand by the exiled Bangladeshi writer Tasleema Nasreen.

It appears they have decided to pass on managerial responsibilities to their next generation. I do not know the details but know Aveek's daughter Chiki. A couple of years ago she took over Random House India, a rival publishing house to Penguin India, of which her father held 42 per cent shares. I represented him as a consultant drawing an honorarium and got all its publications free of charge.

When I first met Chiki Sarkar, I assumed she must have just come out of school. She looks a lot younger than her years. She is an Oxford University graduate and has experience of publishing with Bloomsbury. The authors she handled included Jhumpa  Lahiri,  Anita Desai, Mohammed Hanif, Daniyal Mueenuddin, Rujuta Diwekar and Shehan Karunatilaka.

A year later she took over as head of Penguin India. She came over to say hello to me. She is cheerful and twitters away like a sparrow. She asked me if I had any advice to give her. I replied, "Your first priority should be to look your age. You are 34 but look ten years younger."

SMS verse
Ram ne Raavan ko Maara (R-R)
Krishan ne Kans ko maara (K-K)
Godse ne Gandhi ko maara (G-G)
Osama ko to Obama key hatho marna hi tha
(Courtesy Jagjit Puri, Panchkula)

No one is safe in Pakistan
Not even 'Osama Bin Laden'
Everyone is safe in Hindustan
Even 'Ajmal Kasab'…
(Contributed by Vipin Buckshey, Delhi)

The views expressed by the author are personal.


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