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A monsoon perspective

In some ways, the Presidential elections have been like pre-monsoon showers. They have washed away other news by the downpours of Pratibha Patil and Bhairon Singh Shekhawat, writes Khushwant Singh.
None | By Khushwant Singh
UPDATED ON JUL 14, 2007 12:25 AM IST

In some ways, the Presidential elections have been like pre-monsoon showers. They have washed away other news by the downpours of Pratibha Patil and Bhairon Singh Shekhawat. Now that there is some respite in the sticky race up Raisina Hill to Rashtrapati Bhawan, we can put aside our umbrellas and take a look at other things that happened.

For one, the Sensex shot up to unprecedented heights. I don’t know what that exactly implies except that my savings, meagre as they are, invested in shares and mutual funds are worth a lot more than I thought they were. My auditor, who plays about with my bank account, assures me that I can now afford to buy a new car and occasionally indulge myself eating in expensive restaurants. But as it is, I have sold the car I had because I felt driving at my age would imperil lives of others on the road and I also resigned my membership of clubs including the elitist, Golf and Gymkhana, because I had stopped using them. And I never ate in expensive restaurants except at somebody else’s expense. So instead of spending, I saved more and more. In real terms it amounts to very little, but it makes me feel good to know I have something put aside for a rainy day.

What is true of me is equally true of the Indian middle class. But the gap between the prospering middle class and the impoverished millions is as wide as ever: as if the showers of prosperity had left them high and dry as those stricken by drought and hunger. Prosperity that has come to the rich and the well to do has not percolated down to the poor. Nor does corruption seem to be on the way out. We have a lot more to do before we can relax on our charpoys and enjoy the rains.

Our traditional Bikrami calendar is closer to the changing seasons than the Roman calendar we follow.

According to the Bikrami Saavan, the month of rains begins on July 16: It is then we can expect the skies to open up and shower all their bounty and hopefully, give us another bumper harvest. So look at the brighter side of life — at the dark rain clouds gathering overhead, feel the moisture-laden breeze on your body, watch pretty girls swinging on their jhoolas, see peacocks spreading out their feathers to dance and hear their exultant cries: peeooh, peeooh.

Our National Heritage: Urdu

The Indian book market has been flooded by works of Urdu poets rendered in Devanagari and Gurmukhi with transliterations and translations in English with meanings of difficult words in footnotes. There are obviously plenty of buyers who can’t decipher nastalik in which Urdu poetry is usually published.

It is a sign of good health. The lead was taken by KC Kanda of Delhi and TN Raz of Panchukla. Now Star Publications have brought out works of most famous Urdu poets ranging from Zafar, Zauq and Ghalib down to Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Ahmed Faraz and Qateel Shifai in Devanagari and English. The latest to join the band of pioneers is Commander Rajesh Sharma who retired from the Indian Navy a few years ago and lives in Noida.

The remarkable thing about him is that he cannot read Urdu but loves it with a passion that has lasted his life. He is gifted with a good memory. As a boy of eight he started attending mushairas and taking down verses he heard being recited in his notebook in Devanagari. Once without knowing it, he happened to be seated behind Bashir Badr on the stage. Badr asked him what he was doing. He said he wanted to commit them to his memory. After Bashir Badr, who was the star performer of the mehfil had recited his poem, the boy made friends with him and once went to meet him in Bhopal.

Sharma never lost his interest in Urdu poetry. Earlier he published works of old masters in Devanagari script with their translations in English prose. Recently, he has done the same with works of latter-day poets: Urdu Ghazals: Gagar mein Sagar II (Akshey).

Urdu poetry continues to be reincarnated in Hindi and Punjabi scripts. What is dying a slow death is the nastalik script, not its soul force. All it needs now is to be given official recognition by the Ministry of Education.

This Arjun Singh can, and I hope will, do. He should ignore linguistic bigotry, be it of Hindu-Hindi protagonists or Muslim-Nastalik upholders and include Urdu poetry in Indian literature textbooks for schools and colleges. If he does so, his name will go down in history books as the saviour of our Urdu national heritage.

Tit for Tat

When writers fall out, they take great pains to belittle each other with literary barbs.

I came across an amusing exchange of permissible abuse between Christopher Buckley, novelist and editor Forbes magazine and frequent contributor to The New Yorker. He gave a very adverse review of Tom Clancy’s novel Debt of Honour, which had much the bestsellerlist in America.

He called him “the most successful bad writer of his generation.” (I could make quite a long list of Indian authors who fit this description).

Clancy shot back a stinker: “Thanks for the review. You seem to have inherited your father’s hauteur, but, alas, not his talent or nobleness.” Revealing a surprise ending for a novel is bad form, lad. For the body of review, Dr Johnson said it best: ‘A fly, sir, may sting a stately horse, and make him wince, but one is but an insect, and the other a horse still’.”

Stung by the insult Christopher Buckley shot back an email: “I may be an insect, but you are still the horse’s arse.

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