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Seth Zindabad

I was overjoyed to receive what I assumed was a new book by Vikram Seth. It is illustrated with lovely drawings by Prabha Mallya. Khushwant Singh writes.

columns Updated: Mar 25, 2013 11:29 IST

I was overjoyed to receive what I assumed was a new book by Vikram Seth. It is illustrated with lovely drawings by Prabha Mallya.

I will reproduce some samples to tempt you to acquire a copy. It is entitled Beastly Tales from Here and There (Puffin Books).

The anthology has been compiled by poems from China, Greece and Ukraine. After I had read it a few times, I decided to give it to my grand-daughter, Naina Dayal, who is a lecturer in St. Stephens College. Let me give you some samples from the collection:

On the Ganga's greenest isle
Lived Kuroop the crocodile:

Greeny-brown with gentle grin,
Stubby legs and scaly skin,

He would view with tepid eyes
Prey below a certain size -

But when a substantial dish
- Dolphin, turtle, fatter fish -

Swam across his field of view,
He would test the water too.

Out he'd glide, a floating log,
Silent as a polliwog -

Nearer, nearer, till his prey
Swam a single length away;

Then he'd lunge with smiling head,
Grab, and snap, and rip it dead -

Then (prime pleasure of his life)
Drag the carcass to his wife,

Lay it humbly at her feet,
Eat a bit, and watch her eat.

All along the river-bank
Mango trees stood rank on rank

And his monkey friend would throw
To him as he swam below

Mangoes gold and ripe and sweet
As a special summer treat.

'Crocodile, your wife, I know
Hungers after mangoes so

That she'd pine and weep and swoon,
Mango-less in burning June'

Than Kuroop the crocodile,
Gazing upwards with a smile

Thus addressed his monkey friend:
'Dearest monkey, in the end,

Not the fruit, but your sweet love,
Showered on us from above,

Constant through the changing years,
Slakes her griefs and dries her tears.'

(This was only partly true. She liked love, and mangoes too.)

One day, Mrs Crocodile,
Gorged on mangoes, with a smile - Sad, yet tender-turned and said:
'Scalykins, since we've been wed,

You've fulfilled my every wish
- Dolphins, turtles, mangoes, fish -

But I now desire to eat,
As an anniversary treat,

Something sweeter still than fruit,
Sugar-cane or sugar-root:

I must eat that monkey's heart.'
What? 'Well, darling, for a start,

He has been so kind to me;
Think how sweet his heart must be

Then, the mango pulp he's eaten
Year on year must serve to sweeten

Further yet each pore and part,
Concentrating in his heart.'

When Naina dropped in the evening, I gave it to her. Her response was chilly. "Don't be silly Grandpa! It is not Vikram's latest; it was first published many years ago. She showed me the credits page. The first edition was launched in 1992.

Her rebuff did not daunt me. I retorted: "No matter when it was first published, Vikram Seth is immortal.

Khushwant Singh is astute and absolute;
His views are well-formed and resolute,
His comments on others' lives
And of course on others' wives
Are said to be critical and also cute.

(Courtesy: JK Mathur, Lucknow)

Pro Nudity
In the English question paper of the 12th class there was a question "Use the following idioms/Phrases in sentences of your own." Among them was 'Much ado about nothing."

A candidate wrote: "In a TV show one evening a young woman appeared wearing nothing. The next day the newspapers were full of protests and also there were protest-marches on the streets. This was much ado about nothing.
(Contributed by JC Mehta, Delhi)

First Published: Mar 25, 2013 02:11 IST