On taking a look around

Updated on Jul 28, 2007 12:28 AM IST

If you can spare time from feeling sorry for yourself and the wretched state of affairs in our country, take a look at your neighbours, writes Khushwant Singh.

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None | ByKhushwant Singh

Sometime when you can spare time from feeling sorry for yourself and for the wretched state of affairs in our country, take a look at your neighbours.

On our western side we have a military dictator fighting a last ditch battle against a populace infected by rabid rabble rousing Mullahs. They don’t want their dictator, but they don’t know whom they want in his place. On the north we have the Gorkhas. They have cut the bloodstained hands of their erstwhile monarch; the prime minister rules half their country, and the rest is ruled by Maoists or anybody unidentifiable. On our eastern side we have Bangladesh Bandhus, also ruled by the army, with most of their political leaders behind bars. Nobody knows what the future holds for them. And to the south we have Sri Lanka, torn by civil strife for over two decades and as yet no end in sight.

Having looked around, you turn an unbiased gaze towards your own country. We have never had a military or a civilian dictator. We elect our own rulers — presidents, prime ministers and chief ministers. We have our quota of venal politicians, but they command no respect. We have an independent judiciary though it moves at a sluggish pace, at least it moves. And people still have faith in it. We have a free media and no one dares to tamper with its freedom. We eat at least one square meal a day. And drink what we like. I agree things could be a lot better but they are not bad. Just look around at your neighbours — and count your blessings.

Bharat Ram

A ninety-year-old friendship came to an end on 10th of July, when Bharat Ram died. We had not been in touch for some days; someone told me he was not well. I did not realise it was his last illness. I read of his death in next morning’s papers. I went numb.

I put my head between my knees and closed my eyes. I went over our past years together. We came together in the nursery class of Modern School. My elder brother and I had joined a few months earlier. Bharat and his younger brother Charat came soon after. We called them Bharto-Charto. Both wore pig tails — chotis.

One day some fellow stuck the remains of a chewing gum on them. They could not wash away the sticky stuff and had to snip them off. That had stayed in my mind. Also, that he was an average student, but despite his thin bania built, a good sportsman. He was the school’s best hockey player, he played centre forward and a great goal scorer. At college he became a tennis champion and a cricketer. Later in life he took to golf, which became his life’s passion.

He was the mainstay of the Delhi Golf Club and kept it free from petty wrangling. At one stage he got addicted to Bridge and spent his weekends playing it round the clock.

While we were still at school, his father Sri Ram rose to become one of the biggest textile manufacturers in the country and his Delhi Cloth Mills were rated the fourth richest. The family then moved from Chawri Bazar to New Delhi.

Sri Ram and his brother Shankar Lal built themselves two huge mansions, side by side where now stands The HindustanTimes building on KG Marg. The British conferred Knighthoods on both of them. Unlike most of the first generation rich, Sri Ram’s family never made vulgar display of their wealth.

Bharat’s elder brother Murlidhar and uncle were into Urdu shairi and organised Indo-Pak mushairas every year. Bharat’s wife Sheila had Pandit Ravi Shankar to teach her to play the sitar which she learnt with a professional skill till she was taken by spiritual pursuits and spent more time at the Radha Swami Dera in in Himachal. The eldest son took to classical Hindustani music and participated in sangeet sammelans. Their home on Sardar Patel Marg had some exquisite sculptures and miniatures. Bharat was a connoisseur of art, painting and music. He was a lover of all things beautiful. He also grew exotic roses.

There was an amusing side to Bharat. He was taken up by Gandhi’s call for hand-spun Khadi. He spent an hour spinning the charkha and found nothing odd about it.

There were times when we spent our holidays together. Once Bharat, Sheila, Vinay and Sheila’s son Arun, then a baby some months old came to stay with my parents in Mashobra (Shimla). Sheila suddenly went dry. My wife was feeding our son Rahul, took over Arun and breast fed her during the rest of their stay.

Bharat never lost his temper nor spoke harshly to anyone — not even with spongers who pretended to be his friends. He never lied or used hurtful language. But he could be very curt with people who tried to do sifarish. Presiding over a huge business empire which also ran schools, colleges and hospitals, he had to interview applicants for jobs. He had a strict rule: if any candidate “put in a word” in his favour, he tore up his application. He was a man of strong will-power. He was a chain-smoker. When his doctor warned him of the risks, without a second thought he quit smoking.

I was not surprised to learn from my daughter that she had never seen such a huge crowd at anyone else’s funeral as she saw at the Lodhi Road cremation ground at Bharat’s — the Prime Minister and his wife, Sonia Gandhi and Rahul, cabinet ministers, golfers, school and college teachers, doctors, mill executives, above all friends by the score. Bharat had no enemies. He was, in short, a good and loveable man like no one I have known.

Keeping the Flag flying

Once again Jashan-e-Bahaar has been organised to welcome the season of rains with recitations of poetry in song and verse by selected Urdu poets from India, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.

It’s a mix of Muslims, Hindus, Christians and Sikhs. All the sponsors are non-Muslims: Siddharth Shri Ram, Rajiv Kumar (of Takshila Society), Pawan Verma (ICC head), and Bindeshwar Pathak (of Sulabh International). As in years past, the moving spirit is Kamana Prasad, now HE Kamna Sood, wife of India’s Ambassador in Kabul. From Pakistan come four poets led by Ahmed Faraz and Ma Fahmida Riaz. From India: Nida Fazli, Munawwar Rana, Shahryar, Johnny Foster, Shikha Srivastava, Deepti Mishra, Shiv Kumar and others equally distinguished.

Who says Urdu is a language of only the Muslims? Who says Urdu is dying out in India?

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