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Springing pleasant surprises

What a wonderful way we ushered in spring this year. The Railway Budget was good, the general Budget was even better and our cricketers won international laurels, writes Khushwant Singh.
None | By Khushwant Singh
UPDATED ON MAR 14, 2008 10:49 PM IST

What a wonderful way we ushered in spring this year ! While our parks and gardens were a riot of colours with flowers and flowering trees in full bloom, we had a succession of events which filled our hearts with joy. First was the Railway Budget. Lalu Yadav was at his wittiest best. While Members of the Opposition kept shouting slogans, he went on uncorned spelling out in detail how rail fares would be reduced, railway stations modernised, more tracks laid out etc. etc. His witty asides even brought a smile on the face of the usually dour Speaker Somnath Chatterjee. Lalu’s budget was good. The general budget presentd by Chidambaram was better.

They heard him in respectful silence because there was nothing worthwhile they could find to fault him. After the good and the better came the best from distant parts of the world. Our under 19 cricketers won laurels at Kaula Lumpur. To crown all victories our slightly older boys triumphed over world champion Australia on their turfs in Adelaide, Sydney and Brisbane. The scenes of joy were contagious. Seeing our boys leap on each other, run round the stadium waving the tricolour, wrapping it round their bodies as they carried the winners trophy on their heads was a thrilling sight. The scene was repeated over and over again on all our TC channels. It brought tears of joy in my bleary eyes. I wanted to shout: Jai Hind, Bharat Mata Ki Jai. There was no one to hear me, as I live alone.

Can you recall another year in which we had so much to celebrate?

Author’s suicide

Some years ago I happened to be traveling by air from Cochin to Delhi. I found myself sitting across the aisle from Margaret Alva who was then a Minister in the Central Government. We were on nodding terms. No sooner were we airborne and the fasten seat-belts sign had been switched off, I opened the book I had been engrossed in reading and was nearing its end. It was Richard Crasta’s The Revised Kama Sutra (Penguin). As tea was being served, I waived the book towards Mrs Alva and asked Margaret have you read this?” She blushed and replied with a smile: “We are not all like that.” Her embarrassment showed she had evidently done so. It was about the Catholic community of Mangalore to which both she and Crasta belonged. It had a lot about clandestine love affairs between priests and nuns and how lust overcomes man-made rules against sexual relationships. It was raunchy, hilarious, witty and extremely well-worded. I gave it a favourable write-up in one of my columns.

A few months later when Crasta called on me in Delhi, I asked him if it was auto-biographical. He did not like my trying to grill him and evaded giving me a straight answer. However, I felt India had produced another great writer in English of the calibre of Salman Rushdie, Vikram Seth and Amitav Ghosh. However, for some years little else appeared from Crasta’s pen. Now I have his latest entitled The Killing of an Author (Invisible Man Books). He explains why he was not able to make it to the top. It is about his travails in finding a good American publisher and the agonies he suffered soliciting opinions of authors who earned millions of dollars in royalties.

Richard Crasta made it to the coveted Indian Administrative service. He might well have gone as far as any one else in the service and ended up as a Secretary of a Central Ministry or the Governor of a State, but he wanted to become a writer. He took leave and went to the States, joined Columbia University courses in Creative Writing, attended writers seminars and for some time worked with a literary agency. He found these agencies were a racket. They took 200 dollars to examine a manuscript; every employee was expected to read up to six a day and return it with appropriate compliments regretting its inability to place it with a publisher. It was dishonest but raked in lots of moolah. He gave it up and returned to his service in India. Then back to the States to have another go with his own The Revised Kama Sutra in hand. He sent copies to well-known authors and publishing houses. When he got praise, he was on cloud nine, when he got rejection slips, he was in depths of despair. His loving wife, a practicising psychiatrist treated him for Insomnia, hyper-sensitivity and other mental ailments. He became a drug addict. He picked up quarrels and became a very prickly (no pun meant) character.

When he did not like the jacket of his book prepared at his instance by his London publisher, he vent his spleen holding forth at the Speakers Corner on Hyde Park. Back home, now living in Bangalore, he chews the cud of bitterness and has developed suicidal tendencies. No one wants to kill him; he wants to do it himself. It is a pathetic tale of self-pity and self-flagellation. Also, a very readable essay on masochism.

India we do not know

General J.J.Singh, retired Chief of Army staff, who was recently appointed Governor of Arunachal Pradesh happened to be on a visit to Delhi. He sent me a note regarding his Memoirs he is writing, saying he would get in touch with me on his next visit to the capital.

I thought it wise to ask him to let me know about it well ahead of time. I addressed my letter to the Raj Bhawan but the name of the Capital of Arunachal Pradesh eluded my memory. I rang up my secretary Lachhman Dass. He replied, “ I will check up and ring back.”

I rang up my neighbour Reeta Devi who is Assamese, married to a Cooch Bihari and has lived closer to the region. She replied,” I am not quite sure, I will give you a ring in a few minutes.

Then I asked my grand-daughter who is a bit of a Sabjanteewalee. She replied, “ I think it is Itanagar. You check up.” Lachhman Dass rang back: Eye Tee A Nagar”. So did Reeta. It all went to prove how little Indians know about our own country. I feel ashamed of myself .

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