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Natwar Singh & dance

When you are a member of a choir, you must sing the same tune as the others, writes Khushwant Singh.

india Updated: Dec 03, 2005 12:46 IST

When you are a member of a choir, you must sing the same tune as the others. If you decide to sing your own tune, you create disharmony and must leave on your own or be thrown out by the conductor of the orchestra. This was the fate that befell Natwar Singh. It was not so much the Volcker report or the doings of his son, Jagat Singh, and his pal, Andaleeb Sehgal, that earned Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh’s ire, but the answers he gave Barkha Dutt on her TV programme that made him cook his own goose.

He knew what his government’s views on Iraq, Iran and Indo-US relations were since, as foreign minister, he was the spokesman putting them across to the world. He chose to air the opposite. I could not believe what I heard. My niece-in-law, Malavika Tejbir Singh, who was sitting by me, exploded, “Chacha, he’s had it! Even the mild-mannered, soft-spoken Manmohan Singh will have to kick him out of his ministry. I’ll take any bet that he will be asked to quit the foreign ministry by Monday.” This dialogue was on Saturday. As foretold by Malavika, he put in his papers on Monday.

What made him act so irresponsibly? Or has he something up his sleeve? Even the Left parties, which have a knee-jerk reaction to the remotest connection of any event in which the name of the US appears, came round to the view that the government was right in dismissing Natwar Singh.

We can gauge Natwar Singh’s mental level from the reports stating his belief that since it was on a Saturday that he’d blurted out his inanities, it must be the baneful effect of Shani. He sent for his astrologer from Bangalore to advise him.

Snail mail

The New York General Post Office has a plaque at its entrance, which carries a quote from Herodotus: “Neither snow nor rain, nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift conclusion of their appointed rounds.” The plaque was put up years ago, when people usually communicated by writing to each other. Since then, telephones, e-mails, faxes etc. have replaced the mail box, which is now largely a repository of junk mail. It is different in India; we continue to depend heavily on the postal services. Till Independence, they were among the best in the world. Today, they are about the poorest. A letter from New York can get to Delhi faster than a letter from Chennai to the capital. Why?

To start with, we have to concede that it was the British who realised the need to have the fastest means of postal services to every corner of the vast subcontinent. They inducted trains, buses, ferry boats and later aeroplanes into the operation. Older people will recall fast trains with brightly-lit compartments for people working through the night, sorting out letters to be dropped at different stations. They were named mail trains or daak gaaris. During World War II, air services were harnessed. Nagpur was the centre from where bagfuls of letters were flown to whichever place had landing strips.

The British left; Indians took over. Rafi Ahmed Kidwai, the first minister to deal with postal services, did his best to make them shipshape. He died before he could do so. By the time Rajesh Pilot took charge, the entire system needed an overhaul. He set up a Social Audit Panel under N. Bhaskar Rao to suggest what to do. Members of the panel travelled all over India, got members of the public to confront officials with their grievances. All suggestions made by the panel were accepted but never implemented.

After Pilot’s tragic demise, Pandit Sukh Ram took over. He reconstituted the panel, replacing Bhaskar Rao with Raju, a former minister of Andhra Pradesh. Panditji then abolished the panel and consigned its suggestions to the archives. Sorting of letters in express trains was abolished in 1984. He opened up postal services to the private sector and a large chunk of it went to private couriers. Sukh Ram faces charges of corruption. Speed mail became a misnomer because there was nothing speedy about it except its name: it moves at a snail’s pace.

I have been in correspondence with P.G. Bhide, Nagpurbased retired deputy director of Postal Accounts Service. He suggests that besides restoring the sorting of letters in mail trains and restarting air mail services with headquarters at Nagpur, debit checking of money-orders at Postal Accounts Office should be abolished and the Savings Bank Control organisation brought back from head post offices to postal accounts offices. I hope the present minister-in-charge of this department will take note.

Babu moshay

Dear Sachin, master blaster

Kindly take a bow

You are batting wonderfully,

Despite a bad elbow

You have truly been moulded

Like the immortal Don

May be bit short in height

But blasted many a ton.

You’re the stable anchor

Needed by the Indian team

For opponents you’re a nightmare

For us a delightful dream

You stand above the rest

A cricketer absolutely wondrous

May your journey be long

And the destination glorious.

(Courtesy Rajeshwari Singh, Delhi)