I have become familiar with the way people who think they are a cut above the common run of humanity behave at public functions. Seats in front are their birthright, writes Khushwant Singh.Special Coverage
KK Birla’s three daughters and their progeny organised a
as a final ending of the period of mourning for their parents, both of whom died recently within a few days of each other. Although I had worked for Birla and met his wife a couple of times, I did not know any of their children or children’s children. I sensed there would be a large crowd of relatives, friends, employees and celebrities who without knowing any of the Birlas are conscious of the importance of the
. I had no desire to run into them. Nevertheless, when the time came, I asked Kum Kum Chaddha to take me along. I wanted to pay a formal tribute to my one-time employer who I had liked and admired. The keertan would finally put my memories of him to rest.
Birla House, next door to the Gandhi Museum is a five-minute drive from my flat. I got there half an hour earlier so I could find a seat from where I could see people coming in, without my being noticed. I could not recognise the house I had been to dozens of times. It was done up with white curtains bedecked with flowers. The spacious lawn at the back of the house had converted into a large hall, a platform for the singers with huge portraits of Birla and his wife, letter Om made of marigolds, over a thousand chairs in rows to seat those who came. Shobhana Bhartiya, the youngest of the Birla’s daughters came over to thank me for what I had written about her father. I was choked with emotion and could not utter a word in reply. She left me to receive her guests who came pouring in like an unending stream.
I have become familiar with the way people who think they are a cut above the common run of humanity behave at public functions. They make straight for the front row without a glance at the aira gairas seated at the back. Seats in front are their birthright. There was Mulayam Singh, half a dozen Members of Cabinet of whom I recognised Shivraj Patil, Lalu Prasad Yadav and Saifuddin Soz. Among others I spotted Farooq Abdullah, Dr Karan Singh, Isher Ahluwalia. The front row filled up.
Several MPs and politicians arrived a little later: Sushma Swaraj, Ahluwalia, RK Dhawan, Manvinder Singh, Bhim Singh, Suresh Kalmadi. They went round the hall and being frustrated had to be accommodated with more chairs placed in noticeable positions. There were many ex colleagues, ex-friends: Naresh Mohan, Aggarwal, Sudhir Dar, Mrinal Pande, Savitri Kunadi. I had difficulty in recognising them: they had balded, put on weight and become flabby. None of them recognised me: evidently, I too, had aged beyond recognition.
The keertan began on the dot. Most of it was favourite hymns of Bapu: vaishnav jan to tene kahiye, jo peer parayee jaane re and Raghupati Raghav Raja Ram, patit pavan Sita Ram. Most appropriate, as we were in close proximity to the spot where Bapu had died with hey Ram on his lips.
I stepped out before the general exodus began. As I was waiting for Kum Kum’s car to pick me up, arrived Sheila Dikshit.
She gave me a warm hug. I ticked her off for coming after the keertan was over. Getting back home was not easy. The entire road was clogged with cars flashing red lights on their roofs. One VIP on the road is enough of a menace; when there are more than a dozen, it is chaotic. We had to take a round about route to get to Sujan Singh Park. By the time we passed Lodhi Gardens, it was dark. A full moon had risen on the eastern horizon. It was the last day of Bhadon of the year 2065 of the Vikrami calender, corresponding to Monday, 15th September 2008. Poornmashi night of the full moon. I was fagged out but strangely fulfilled having done what I wanted to do.
The unassuming one
Anita Nair is a most attractive young Keralite living in Bangalore with her husband, son, a dog and a variety of reptiles that have made their homes in her garden. She started her career in advertising and spent her spare time doing the rounds of book stores buying successful works of fiction from different parts of the world. Ten years ago she quit advertising to become a full-time writer, globe-trotter, foodie and columnist. Three of her books, Satyr of the Subway, The Better Man, Ladies Coupeand Mistress made bestsellers and were translated into 26 languages. In addition, she produced a collection of poems, several children’s books, edited Where The Rain Is Born and a work of non-fiction. In short, in ten years from being a non-entity, she has become a celebrity. Goodnight and God Bless (Penguin Viking ) is her latest offering to the readers. As the sub-title indicates, it is ‘on life, literature and a few other things with footnotes, quotes and other such literary diversions’. You travel with her to Bogota, Milan, Dusseldorf, Oslo and meet people she met. You savour delicacies prepared by Malayalis, which include varieties of tamarind (imli); you get an inkling as to why only Malayalis understand Kathakali which the likes of me find grotesque; you even spend a couple of days with moplah Muslim family wearing a burkha like Kerala’s famous poetess Kamla Suraiya Das. All of it reads very well, like a glass of warm Horlicks before going to bed for the night. There’s power in her unpretentious simplicity because she tells you a lot about life without sounding pompous.
Flocks of Siberian birds every winter
Migrate all the way to Madagascar.
“What makes them fly?
Come on boy! Try!
“I guess, for a walk the distance is much too far.”
(Contributed by Jayanta Datta Gupta, Kolkata)