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Cool, it’s just monkey business

Australians regard themselves as Dinkun Aussies — good Australians. For them the English are Pommie Bastards. However, their accent still sounds like that of London cockneys, write Khushwant Singh.

india Updated: Feb 02, 2008 00:02 IST
Khushwant Singh | With malice towards one and all
Khushwant Singh | With malice towards one and all

Now that our battles with the Australians on their home turfs are over and our boys return home to a warm welcome, it is good time to go over Harbhajan Singh’s spat with Andrew Symonds and calling him a monkey. Before I do that I’d like to say a few words about what I think of the Australians.

I think very well of them. I’ve visited Australia twice, spent many weeks travelling across the vast continent from Alice Springs in the desert inhabited by camels, kangaroos, wallabys, ostriches, Emus, Dingos and aboriginals to large modern cities like Freemantle, Sydney, Canberra, Adelaide and Perth. I met all kinds of people from judges, politicians, academics and workmen.

I found them to be warm and friendly. Two characteristics I noticed as particularly Australian. They are about the most fearless people I’ve met. Swimming in shark-infested seas and occasionally being eaten up by them, playing with crocodiles and deadly reptiles as if they were harmless lizards or snails is something unique to them. They are also very touchy and won’t put up any kind of snobbery. When you take a taxi, never sit in the rear seat but alongside of the driver. And chat with him as if he was an old buddy. They are particularly sensitive to any allusion of their being descendants of English criminals who in early years were sent to penal settlements in Australia.

They regards themselves as Dinkun Aussies — good Australians. For them the English are Pommie Bastards. However, their accent still sounds like that of London cockneys.

A popular anecdote is about an English author who was autographing her first novel in a Sydney bookstore for those who bought it. An Aussie lady came up with a copy and asked: “Emmachizzit?” The novelist lady signed it “For Emmachizzit”. The Australian was simply asking for its price “how much is it?”

I return to the case of Symonds versus Harbhajan Singh. Describing humans as species of animals is common to all languages. What matters is tone and temper in which it is said. The commonest currency are monkeys, donkeys and dogs. They can be used with affection or anger and may not have racist innuendos. So when Bhajji(it really should be Bhajjo) called Andy a monkey, it need not necessarily have been a racist slur. Come to think of it, most white people with pink complexions do resemble the rhesus. If Andy had returned the compliment by calling Bhajji a Bandar, it would not make sense. But if he had called him a langoor, it might have smacked of racism. Similar references in a friendly tone are inoffensive.

My late friend Wilburn Lal often called me a chimp (for chimpanzee); I hit back by calling him a baboon. My children when they were in school in Paris had to suffer having their surname ‘Singh’ pronounced ‘Singe’ which in French means monkey. Likewise calling a person a donkey or an ass need not necessarily be abusive but calling him a gadha is. My other friends Prem Kirpal whose poems and paintings I criticised as bizarre always retaliated by saying : “O Khotey, what do you know of art and literature?” It is strange that the animal closest to and most loved by human is never used as a term of affection: a dog as a kutta, a term of derision.

Bhajji has been a thorn in the Aussie’s bottom. A few years ago he snatched a victory out of their hands in a Kolkata test match. They did not abuse him. They called him a turbanator, a killer in a turban. Why does he get so gussa and call them monkeys? It is what is known in his language as doosra – it is not cricket.

As Others Saw Us

Father Antonia Monserrete came to India with a party of Jesuit Priests hoping to convert Emperor Akbar to Catholicism. Though they saw a lot of the Emperor in Fatehpuri Sikri and Agra, They failed in their mission. Monserrate travelled with Akbar leading his army against rebellious brother through Punjab. This is what he wrote about Lahore.

"The city is second to none, either in Asia or Europe, with regard to size, population and wealth. It is crowded with merchants who foregather there from all over Asia. In all these respects it excels other cities, as in the huge quantities of every kind of merchandise which is imported. Moreover, there is no art or craft useful to human life which is not practiced there. The population is so large that men jostle each other in streets. The citadel alone, which is built of brick work laid in cement, has a circumference of nearly three miles.

Within the citadel is a bazaar which is protected against the sun in summer and the rain in winter by a high-pitched wooden roof – a design whose clever execution and practical utility should call for imitation. Perfumes are sold in this bazaar and the scent in the early morning is most delicious. The remainder of the city (outside the citadel) is widely spread. Its buildings are of brick, Most of the citizens are wealthy Brahmins and Hindus of every caste, especially Kashmiri.

The Kashmiris are bakers, eating-house keepers and sellers of second-hand rubbish, a type of trade which well suits their Jewish descendants. (Beyond the Three Seas, edited by Michael Fisher, - Random House)

Opium Addict

An opium addict (amli or apheeme ) went to a doctor and said “Daktar Saheb, please give me some medicine to cure me of my disease. After I have eaten a full meal, I have no hunger left.”

The doctor gave him a bottle of pills and said, “Take two pills after you have fallen asleep and two before you wake up.”

(Gudarshan Singh,Chandigarh)