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Enlighten me

Whenever I am confused about some Hindu religious text, I write to Swami Ram Swarup Yogacharya of Ved Mandir in Kangra, writes Khushwant Singh.

india Updated: Dec 03, 2005 03:04 IST
With malice towards one and all... | Khushwant Singh
With malice towards one and all... | Khushwant Singh

Whenever I am confused about some Hindu religious text, I write to Swami Ram Swarup Yogacharya of Ved Mandir in Kangra. I do so despite being a non-believer. Often readers misunderstand me and accuse me of deliberately hurting their sentiments. This is far from true; I do so because I want to know, I want to understand.

Swamiji does not misunderstand my intentions and takes great pains to explain meanings of words I don’t understand. In my last letter, I asked him the significance of the word ‘swaha’, which is used at the end of many mantras, e.g. the Gayatri’s first line: Om Bhur Bhuva Swaha. Swamiji’s reply ran into 16 pages written in long hand. Of course, ten of them are on the importance of yagna. About swaha he writes:

“To know any Vedic word, one will have to take into consideration the fact that as God is formless so is the Vedvani of all four Vedas and so is swaha. Therefore, the printed Vedas are not Vedvani, it is called Samhita and Samhita can be destroyed whereas Vedvani is eternal. The pious, eternal and immortal word swaha is recited invariably in every yagya/havan at the end of the mantra. It has got a prayer to God with some meanings.

The meanings are explained below. First word will be in Hindi and then it will be explained in English please.

“Swaha — it is Vedmantra. In Yajurveda mantra 31/7, it is clearly mentioned that Vedvani emanates direct from God. Please remember God is formless and has no mouth etc. This is an example and comparison only to enable us to understand the origination of eternal knowledge of Vedas otherwise neither it is exhaled nor inhaled from God.”

I admit far from understanding him, I am more confused than ever. In Punjab, the word simply means ashes. I had presumed that the word was connected to the act of throwing things like ghee and other items in the sacrificial fire. Have readers any comments to make?

Fine art of publishing

For ingenuity in book production, you have to give the palm to Pramod Kapoor of Roli Books. He has excelled himself in his latest production, India: Then and Now (Lustre). As a matter of fact, it is two books in one. After going through the first half, you start again from the other end, which has a different cover. The text for Then is written by Rudrangshu Mukherjee, professor of history, now with The Telegraph; Now is by Vir Sanghvi, editor of Hindustan Times. Both parts have several gate-folds (a technical term for three or more pages joined together).

Then has an over a yard-long photograph of palaces, monuments and other buildings along the Gomti in Lucknow, taken a year after the Mutiny of 1857 by a British photographer. Other gate-folds are of the Kumbh Mela in Allahabad, the Ganga flowing along the ghats of Benaras, and the Qutub Minar. The Now portion also has its quota of gate-folds: of Bombay, Calcutta and New Delhi. And both have a few nudes of nubile girls thrown in. The present has one of Katy Mirza, the first Indian girl to be Playboy’s bunny girl, her chief asset being a larger-than-life-size bosom. The book is a feast for the eyes.

Needless to say, the book is highly priced. Kapoor is a gambler in the world of Indian publishers. He spends a fortune acquiring rare pictures from museums, art galleries and private collections in India, Britain and the US. He has them processed and bound in Singapore. Though a Punjabi Khatri, he calculates like a bania, always eager to make a handsome profit. I put my doubts to him on his latest venture. He replied: “I have already sold more than half my stock in England and America. By the time it hits the Indian market, I may have to print
another edition.”

Venomous cocktail

If you want to sample an exchange of abuse at a sophisticated level, you can do no better than read what successful authors have to say about each other. Success not only goes to their head, it also fills them with envy and contempt for those who threaten to break their records of sales. If they also happen to be journalists, they have no compunction venting their spleen in the columns they write.

I came across an amusing exchange of abuse between Tom Clancy and Christopher Buckley. Buckley had some unpleasant things to say about Clancy’s bestseller, Debt of Honor. Clancy promptly fired off a fax to Buckley: “Dear Chris: Thanks for the review. You seem to have inherited your father’s hauteur, but, alas, not his talent or noblesse. Revealing a surprise ending for a novel is bad form, lad. For the body of your review, Dr Johnson said it’s 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.’ “I don’t know how he got the fax number,” says Buckley. “He must have gotten it from the CIA.” He faxed back: “Dear Tom: I may be the insect, but you’re still the horse’s arse.”

Humanitarian issues

Customer: Give me 250 gms of meat.
Meatseller: Just 250 gm?
Customer: That’s enough for me.
Meatseller: Your wife a vegetarian?
Customer: No, a humanitarian. She eats me.

Contributed by Baldev Kumar Kumra, Delhi

First Published: Dec 03, 2005 03:04 IST