Reservations about women’s reservation
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Reservations about women’s reservation

The very concept of reservations is based on the inability of some sections of the society to avail of opportunities open to them. And it is invariably at the expense of those who deserve them on merit, writes Khushwant Singh.

india Updated: Jun 26, 2009 23:55 IST

Many years ago I witnessed an amusing scene in London which I have never forgotten. A Sardarji and his wife were out on a stroll. He dressed in coat, tie and trousers, was walking in front; she in salwar-kameez and a dupatta following a few steps behind him. They were talking to each other. He was speaking to the empty space ahead of him; she was replying to his backside. Evidently they were new migrants from some Punjabi village where a wife is expected to follow her husband. He had learnt to wear English style clothes but not yet learnt that in the West man and wife walked along-side, not one following the other. The picture came back to my mind when I read of the ongoing debate on the Women’s Reservation Bill, giving 33 per cent representation to them in Parliament.

I too have my reservations. I have no gender bias. If I have any, it is in favour of the female gender. I worked under a female boss (Mehra Masani) for two years and learnt to respect her ability and competence in running the Overseas Services of the A.I.Radio. She deserved to be made director general but was superseded and the job given to a man. I thought it was unfair.

Pandit Nehru as Prime Minister did his best to give women equal rights: The Hindu Code Bill gave them equal rights in inherited property, made bigamy a crime and gave them right to divorce and alimony. They were also given the right to vote as they wished. Educated Indian women made full use of these rights; illiterate women were reluctant to use them.

The very concept of reservations is based on the inability of some sections of the society to avail of opportunities open to them. And it is invariably at the expense of those who deserve them on merit. In the long run, doing favours to people of a caste or belonging to the female gender has to be at the cost of rate of progress and the country. You can take it from me that if it is passed into a law, seats open to all women will be filled by female relatives of politicians: wives, sister, daughters, daughters-in-law, nieces etc. Those reserved on basis of castes and sub-castes by women who knew little about the ways a democracy works. I can understand women elected to village panchayats because they have first hand knowledge of problems of fellow-villagers. But I question the wisdom of putting them in State legislators and the Parliament.

Tennis fantasies

As I watch the French Open and later Wimbledon on the TV, I recall my favourite tennis story— a true one: there was a keen player of the game who played four to five sets every evening well into his seventies. He developed heart trouble and went to consult a cardiologist. The doctor advised him to stop playing the game or he would be in serious trouble. “No,” replied the patient, “I will continue playing as I do now. I would like nothing better than collapsing after hitting a winning smash.” And so it happened. The man collapsed and died on the tennis court — but not after hitting a winning smash but after serving a double fault. I played tennis to my mid-eighties. Once in an exhibition match I was paired with Leander Paes against Aveek Sarkar and young Ramanathan Krishnan. Paes called me ‘uncle’. Krishnan served as gently as he could. Nevertheless, I was so exhausted at the end of the set that as soon as I got home, I went to bed.

Alas, tennis has become a spectator sport for me. But I am an avid spectator and fantasise about players I watch: I’ve had a crush on Steffi Graf and was appalled when she fell for that baldy Andre Agassi who wears Jamaica shorts, walks in quick mincing steps and spits on the court. I wonder what the Williams sisters, Serena and Venus would be like in bed. Or the two Russian girls who played the finals at Roland Garros in Paris. They did not look very appetising on the clay court. I don’t like players squealing like pigs when they serve or hit back. I wish there was a rule against making noises while playing. I agree with Pete Sampras that Federer is the best tennis player the world has ever seen. But why is he such a cry-baby? He broke down when he won the finals; he broke down again when Agassi handed him the trophy. How does his wife cope with him when he begins to shed tears ? Does she cuddle him or smack him and tell him to “behave like a grown-up, for God’s sake.”

My tennis fantasies are never complete without dreaming of two pretty players from Hyderabad. During my college years it used to be Haji Khanum — an athletic beauty who performed like a Prima Ballerina. I believe she married more than once, (both non-Muslims) and faded away I know not where.

And there is today’s heart throb, Sania Mirza. She made it to world’s first 30 but is likely to get married soon and may want to be an obedient wife. I wish she makes it to the top before she becomes a mother.

Tit for tat

An Iranian walks into a bar in America late one night. An American guy takes the stool beside him. ‘Are you one of those ‘ians’ ? asks the American, with a contemptuous smile. The astonished Iranian asks, ‘What do you mean?’ “No difference, Arabian, Iranian, Indian, all the same,” says the American in a humiliating tone, laughing out loud. The Iranian asks instead, “Are you one of those ‘keys’?” “What would that mean,?” the American asks. The Iranian replies, “No difference: donkey, Yankee, monkey, all the same.”

(Contributed by Vipin Buckshey, New Delhi)

This column will not appear for the next two Saturdays — July 4 and July 11

First Published: Jun 26, 2009 23:51 IST