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Taking refuge in nostalgia...

Was it worth opening old wounds? They may have filled up but the poison of communal hatred is still in our minds, writes Khushwant Singh.

india Updated: Aug 26, 2006 02:46 IST
Khushwant Singh | with malice towards one and all...
Khushwant Singh | with malice towards one and all...

There was a time I made three visits to Khan Market everyday. It is across the road from my flat. The first was in the mornings, when the shops opened, to buy provisions. The second would be in the evening to see the raunaq, pick up magazines, browse over books and have some gup-shup with the proprietors. We had much in common: all were Punjabi refugees from Pakistan, mostly from the Frontier Province, a few like me from Lahore. The third visit was after dinner, mostly at the insistence of our dog, Simba. My wife, I, our son and daughter would follow him as he would lead. At Khan market, my wife would buy him an ice-cream cone. We would then proceed to the paanwala buy the rolled up betel leaves and go backhome.

With the passage of years, things began to change. The first generation of Khan Market shopkeepers died.The paanwala’s shop became a fancy general store. Simba died. My son moved to Bombay, daughter got married and moved to her husband’s flat. My wife died. I became too old to cross the road. I could only look longingly at the Khan Market shops. No one missed my disappearance: most thought I had joined my forefathers. As a matter of fact, I was still around but somewhat alienated. I felt they were dishonouring the name of Dr Khan Sahib, elder brother of Abdul Ghaffar Khan, ‘Frontier Gandhi’ after whom the market was named.

The impasse was broken by an exhibition of photographs taken by the Time-Life’s Margaret Bourke-White of the massacres of innocents during Partition. It was Pramod Kapoor of Roli Books’ idea to match the pictures with extracts from my first novel Train To Pakistan. Hugeposters were on display round the market. Sheila Dikshit, CM, Delhi, inaugurated the exhibition. I was asked to be present. I went reluctantly.

Was it worth opening old wounds which had healed? I felt it was. The wounds may have filled up but the poison of communal hatred was still in our minds. It keeps erupting periodically in different parts of our country. For the murder of Mrs Gandhi by two Sikh bodyguards, thousands of Sikhs were murdered in cold blood. Destruction of Babri Masjid was followed by bomb blasts in Bombay. There was massacre of innocent Muslims in Gujarat following a train set on fire at Godhra. It was a timely reminder of what happened in the biggest mass migration in the history of the world (over 10 million uprooted and a million innocent people — Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs, butchered).

The lesson is clear: if you don’t want these things to happen, purge your bodies of communal virus in your blood stream. Repeat Bapu’s words like a mantra: “Hate kills the man who hates.”

Hello? Hello?

I simply can’t understand why my telephone goes dead almost every month. Having only one line and no cell-phone, I have to beseech my neighbours to lodge a complaint on my behalf.

Recent deaths of my phone have fallen into a pattern. Two yamas (they always come in twos) come to examine the box outside. I sit back and relax. The phone goes dead again in a few days time.

I get somebody to lodge a complaint which is duly noted down and numbered. Nothing happens for a couple of days, usually on weekends or holidays. Ultimately, the same two men arrive, tinker with wires and reanimate my instrument. For the trouble they take, I give them a tip and cup of chai. I ask them what had gone wrong. The usual answer I get is ‘Cable Fault’ — whatever that means. I have stopped giving baksheesh or chai. So my telephone gets killed more often. It did not happen when BM Khanna was the big boss because people working under him knew he was a good friend. Nor when I was an MP and later member of the Social Audit Panel. It happens now because I am a nobody. My neighbour Reeta Devi of Cooch Behar has devised a way of restoring life back to my telephone. She asks some high-ups, some Minister’s PA to tell the telephone wallas that Minister Sahib wants to speak to me; so would they put life back in my phone — ek dam! It works. The only word I can think of is disgraceful.

Fixing papa

Teacher: How old is your father?

Sunny: As old as I am.

Teacher: How can that be possible?

Sunny: He became a father only after I was born.

Bapu’s gift

Teacher: Because of Gandhiji, what did we get on 15th August?

Students: A holiday.

(Vipin Bucksey, New Delhi)

First Published: Aug 26, 2006 02:46 IST