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Indo-Ozzie bhai bhai

I can say from my experience that there is not another white race that is less race-conscious than the Australians and there is not another white country where Indians who have made their homes are happier, writes Khushwant Singh.

india Updated: Jan 31, 2010 01:16 IST

There is some thing about the news of attacks on Indians in Australia that does not make sense to me. I have been to Australia a few times, travelled extensively across the subcontinent, been invited to homes of Australians, as well as of Indians and Pakistanis settled there. I can say from my experience that there is not another white race that is less race-conscious than the Australians and there is not another white country where Indians who have made their homes are happier.

I do know that until we get the right answer, we must not allow anti-Australian feelings to develop in India. All these demonstrations and yelling outside the Australian High Commission; the Shiv Sena’s threat to prevent Australians playing in India are childish tantrums which will do us more harm than to the Australians. Whenever we run short of food grains, the first country we turn to bail us out is Australia. So please ponder over the matter and decide for yourself what will be better-whether to strive for Indo-Ozzie bhai-bhai or yell “Ozzies go back”?

On my first visit to Australia I spent a week in a small town with the odd name Alice Springs. It is in the midst of a vast desert. Its main attraction was the pre-historic Ayrec Rock, one solid piece stone with flora and fauna of its own. I met the oldest man of Indian origin who had been living there for more than half-a-century. He was a Baloch who came with the first batch of camel drivers to help lay railway tracks (known as Ghan Railain). I called on him. He lived in a hut. I greeted him saying, “salam valeikam”.

He looked up with unbelieving eyes on hearing a greeting he had not heard for decades. He replied: “valeikum assalam”. “Where are you from?” he asked in English. I replied, “From your vatan, India.” He had forgotten his Balochi and Hindustani; his English was not very good. I wondered how he lived alone in the wilderness. He had put his past out of his mind but not his manners. As I was about to bid farewell to him, he recalled words he could not have used for a long time: “Koi-roti-shoti kahu —have something to eat!” I thanked him and asked, “Have you ever thought of returning home?”

He replied, “This is my home. I am a Dinkum Ozzie.”

Bihar in translation

One of my lasting regrets is that when I migrated from Pakistan to India in August 1947, I did not learn to read and write Hindi. It was not entirely my fault as I got postings abroad and even lost much of the Urdu I knew. I was about to pick it up again in my years in Bombay. I envy those who are equally at ease with Hindi, Urdu and English.

One of them is Rakshanda Jalil of Jamia Millia University. She has written extensively about Delhi in English and translated Hindi novels. Though she is equally adept in Urdu, she does not write it, but uses it as her source material.

Rakshanda Jalil’s latest offering is translations of 10 short stories by Phaneshwar Nath Renu — Panchlight and other stories (Orient Black Swan). I had heard a great deal about Renu but was never able to lay my hands on any of his writing in English translation. I was aware that Renu (1921-77) was a Bihari from a tiny hamlet in Purnea district. He was deeply involved in the freedom movement and was jailed many times. His story Maraa Gayaa Gulfam was made into a highly popular feature film. Renu’s stories have the earthy fragrance of the soil of Bihar.

His characters use English words as they pronounce them: daghdar for doctor, delaiver for driver, laisance for licence. And so on. He reproduces sounds of drums —dhak, dhak, the tinkling of different kinds of bells from those round necks of goats and those round necks of oxen.

The reader is transported to Bihar’s villages with their cowherds and caste panchayats and their outdated ways of thinking and living. You get a taste of all this in the first story, The Wrestler’s Drum, along with Renu’s pride of Bihar. It is about a cowherd who drinks buffalo milk, takes a lot of exercise and becomes a powerful wrestler. At different dangals (wrestling matches) he keeps Bihar’s flag flying. All the other stories selected by Rakshanda Jalil read as well as The Wrestler’s Drum.

Power Failure

The electric train at the suburban station was delayed because of a power failure. When irate commuters complained, the station master retorted : “ I am powerless in this matter.”

(Contributed by Paramjit S Kochar, New Delhi)

The views expressed by the author are personal