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Keeping the score in cricket, and democracy

My only antidote is to read news coming from Pakistan. On incidences of violence and corruption, they score over us as they often do in cricket matches. We succeeded in establishing democracy in India; they failed miserably to do so, writes Khushwant Singh.
By Khushwant Singh | None
UPDATED ON JAN 03, 2010 01:11 AM IST

When I read news of bomb explosions, clashes between protesters and the police and new cases of corruption among our politicians, judges and civil servants, I go into deep depression and ask myself: “How can this wretched country move forward, banish poverty and ignorance with so many people in the top layer of our society engaged in filling their pockets with other peoples’ money?”

My only antidote is to read news coming from Pakistan. On incidences of violence and corruption, they score over us as they often do in cricket matches. We are the same people and gained independence the same time. We succeeded in establishing democracy in India; they failed miserably to do so. For most years of their existence as an independent state, they were ruled by military dictators. Our democratically-elected leaders were immune to corruption. Not one of our presidents or prime ministers was ever accused of making illicit money.

In Pakistan, it was the other way round. Their military dictators, howsoever ruthless they may have been in dealing with their detractors, were never found guilty of filling their own pockets, while their democratically-elected leaders from Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, his daughter Benazir, her husband Asif Ali Zardari, as well as his principal opponent, Nawaz Sharif, made vast fortunes and put them in Swiss banks or buying real estate in Europe, America or the Emirates.

The recent decision to annul the amnesty granted by General Parvez Musharraf to Zardari and two cohorts reads like crime fiction. It is not eight, or 80, or 800, but 80,000 who are to answer charges of corruption while holding office. The figures involved are mind-boggling.

President Zardari, commonly known as ‘Mr 10%’ is known to have stacked away billions and bought huge estates to add to his late wife’s un-earned wealth. Among the accused is Pakistani defence minister and a few others. They have been prevented from fleeing Pakistan. We may well wonder what has gone wrong with our Pakistani cousins? What happened to the dreams of making the Garden of Eden (Chaman-e-Pakistan) and the Land of the Pure?

To hear or Not to hear

That was the question facing me. I was losing hearing steadily over the last few years — one after the other sounds I could hear clearly faded out: calling of birds, soft music and, finally, human voices. I made light of it and when asked why I did not get hearing aids, shrugged off the suggestion by replying “it saves me from a lot of bullshit.” It got worse and worse.

One evening an old friend A.R. Kidwai, who has retired after 17 years governorship, dropped in. He has a very soft voice. I could not hear what he was saying. And told him so. “Why don’t you get hearing aids?” he asked, plucking them out of his ears. “It would only cost you three lakhs — with rebate a little less. I can arrange it all in your home.”

After he had left, I thought over the matter. Three lakhs was a tidy sum and I was not even sure I would last that long. I put the matter out of my mind.

I was bullied by Harjeet Kaur, owner of Hotel Le Meridien to allow myself to be cross-examined by Koel Purie for her TV channel. She is the daughter of Arun Purie, owner of India Today, Harper Collins and much else. I went reluctantly. There was a sizeable audience — the elite of the city including the prime minister’s wife Gursharan Kaur. I saw my daughter go up to Koel who was on the stage giving directions to the camera crew and told her that I was hard of hearing. She nodded her head. I was escorted to the dais and took my seat facing her. I asked her, “Are you going to make an ass of me ?” She smiled and replied: “Surely not! I’ll let you say what you like on questions I put to you.”

The interview began. She had done her homework: read some of my books, asked my friends what kind of a person I was. I was impressed: ravishingly beautiful, beautifully turned out, animated, oozing with self-confidence and professional competence. It lasted little over half an hour. I got home totally exhausted and swore I’d never again appear on TV.

However, I was anxious to know how it had gone. A month after the recording, it was shown on her channel. A day before I asked Kidwai to arrange a hearing aid for me. He brought Dr Aditi Shekhar, audiologist and her sales manager Deepak Pareek. She peered into my ears with a torch, pumped some kind of wax in them to take impressions of the inner labyrinth of both ears. They were back again with the hearing aid and literature on how to use them. It was a near miracle. Sounds I had not heard for years came back louder than ever before. I heard a barbet call. People I could not hear earlier in the day yelled at the top of their voices. But I was able to hear every word that Koel said and every sentence I spoke. All said and done, it was personal vanity and desire to get an ego-massage that made me shell out so much money on the eve of my life. My answer to the question to have a hearing aid or not is a compromise: put in your ears plugs when you want to hear; pluck them out when you have had enough.

III. Selective Hearing

This anecdote sent by Vipin Buckshey was close to the bone as I am both elderly and deaf. Here it is.

An elderly gentleman had serious hearing problems for many years. He went to the doctor and got himself a set of hearing aids that allowed him to hear 100 per cent. A month later, the doctor remarked, “Your hearing is perfect. Your family must be really pleased that you can hear again.” The gentleman replied, “Oh, I haven’t told them. I just sit around and listen to their conversation. I’ve changed my will three times.”

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