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Rampant flattery is worse than bribery

For quite some time I wondered about two words which appear in our theology but have no equivalents in any other language. What do ‘Aum’ and ‘Swaha’ mean? Khushwant Singh writes.

columns Updated: Sep 17, 2011 22:53 IST
Khushwant Singh
Khushwant Singh

For quite some time I wondered about two words which appear in our theology but have no equivalents in any other language. What do ‘Aum’ and ‘Swaha’ mean?

One is used as an opening word and the other as the ending in the first line of Gayatri Mantra: “Aum Bhoor Bhuva Swaha.” Can some reader enlighten me?

While monetary corruption has been debated threadbare, a form of the same evil which is more rampant and has not received any attention is Khushamad/Chaploosi or flattery. It takes many forms but the object is the same i.e. to promote oneself.

First there is flattery by applause. I recall some meetings of Indian students in England, addressed by Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. At the end of the meeting a girl used to shout at the top of her voice: “Tum jeeo hazzaron saal, saal key din hon pachhas hazzar” — “Live thousands of years and may every year be of fifty thousand days.” Panditjee who was notoriously short-tempered with his countrymen looked highly pleased with himself.

It was in London where I was posted as a Press Attache to the High Commissioner, Krishna Menon that I came across the most blatant form of flattery and from a Punjabi ICS Arthur Lal, who could hardly speak Punjabi but spoke English fluently. I heard him say to Krishna Menon, “You have a greater mind than that of Stalin.” I thought Menon would snub him. Instead, Arthur became his favourite subordinate.

Lal dropped Arthur from his name and began to call himself Anand Shankar Lal. Menon recommended his name for the Secretary-General of the United Nations. America, which had accepted BK Nehru for the post, refused to support AS Lal’s candidature. So the chance of an Indian being UN’s Secretary General was lost.

Yet another form of flattery is to build up the name of a favourite rival and proceed to demolish them as best as they can. They chose to make Sardar Patel into Nehru’s principal political adversary and then put him down to gain Nehru’s favour. So the word ‘Patelite’ was coined for people who opposed Nehru.

This Khushamad paid handsome dividends. Nehruites came to be regarded as forward-looking liberals; Patelites were portrayed as backward-looking. Though no money was spent, it served its purpose.

Name Dropping
As rumour got round that I was on the way out, some acquaintances decided to pay me what can be best described as hello-goodbye visits. Amongst them the best known was Gursharan Kaur, wife of the Prime Minister. She is a VIP in her own right, as one who discharges her duties as the wife of the ruler of the country.

I was under the impression that she was a very soft person who spent a life-time cooking daal-chappati for her husband wherever he happened to be — Washington, New York, Bombay and Delhi.

My first surprise was when she took my hand in hers to greet me. It was a wrestler’s firm grip. I expressed my surprise. “You are a toughy.” She expressed agreement with me. “Yes, I am a toughy.”

I asked her about her husband’s health by putting to her my stock question: “How long does he sleep?” She replied, “Around five hours at night. He does not sleep during the day.” I went on to the next question: “Does he ever lose his temper?” She shook her head and replied: “He keeps it inside and has never come out with it.”

We then chit-chatted about the country and its politicians. She was candid in her replies, but careful in her choice of words. She called for an end to our dialogue by lowering her head to receive my blessings. I put my hand on her greying mop of hair, and blessed her by wishing her a long, healthy life.

She must be more than 30 years younger than me. I felt a sense of fulfilment as she took her leave.

No Happy Returns
A young girl invited a young man to her birthday.
Man: Congrats! I will come. Which birthday is it by the way?
Girl: Seventeenth.
Man: If I don’t forget, last time also you said it was 17th.
Girl: Yes, I am not one of those who change their statements every other day. I stick to my word.

(Contributed by JC Mehta, Delhi)
Views expressed by the author are personal

First Published: Sep 17, 2011 22:47 IST