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The strange dilemma of taking sides

The more I read about conflicting views on major issues confronting the country, the more confused I get. The first is the proposal to reserve 33 per cent seats for women in legislatures. I am against reservations of any kind, writes Khushwant Singh.

india Updated: Mar 28, 2010 01:32 IST

I go through six papers every morning and read three magazines every week. The more I read about conflicting views on major issues confronting the country, the more confused I get. The first is the proposal to reserve 33 per cent seats for women in legislatures. I am against reservations of any kind. All reservations are at the cost of merit and we must not sacrifice merit and patronise mediocrity. There are other ways of elevating people left behind in the race towards excellence than put them ahead of faster runners. Reservations are not known to exist in any of the western democracies, from which we have taken the notion of democracy. What will electing more women in Parliament and State legislatures amount to? Nothing more than putting on masks to hide the ugly reality that our women are discriminated against and we must find means to end the discrimination. Yet I support the women’s reservation Bill because it is admission of guilt and a promise to mend our ways. How much more confused can I get?

The next in my mind is our treaty of nuclear empowerment with the US and other nations which have offered to help us become self-sufficient in producing energy for peaceful purposes. I fully endorse the proposal — more so since our Communists, led by Prakash Karat, his wife Brinda, and Yechuri, were strongly opposed to it.

Now like the government I am in two minds: Should not nuclear powers which help us put up plants, provide material and expertise to run them also fully guarantee us against accidents that occur? They are reluctant to do so. But surely that is a matter of detail which can be sorted out. So I am both for the nuclear deal — the sooner the better — and have reservations about fixing the scale of indemnity in case of accidents. I have become a classic case of confused thinking.

The Kashmir connection

French: Francois Bernier (1620-88) doctor of medicine arrived in India in 1658. After being personal physician to Prince Dara Shikoh, he became doctor of a Nawab in Emperor Aurangzeb’s court and was in the entourage of the Emperor on his visit to the Punjab and Kashmir. He was much taken by Kashmir, the skills of the artisans and the beauty of their women. In his diary he recorded: The Kashmiris are celebrated for wit and considered much more intelligent and ingenious than the Indians. In poetry and the sciences they are not inferior to Persians. They are also very active and industrious. The workmanship and beauty of their palkeys, bedsteads, trunks, inskstands, boxes, spoons and various other things are quite remarkable...But what may be considered peculiar to Kashmir, and the staple commodity, that which particularly promotes and trade of the country and fills it with wealth is the prodigious quantity of shawls which they manufacture, and which gives occupation even to the little children. These shawls are about an ell and a half long and an ell broad, ornamented at both ends with a sort of embroidery, made in the loom, a foot in width.

The Mogols and Indians, women as well as men, wear them in winter round their heads, passing them over the left shoulder, as a mantle. There are two sorts: one kind with the wool of the country, finer and more delicate than that of Spain; the other kind with the wool, or rather hair (called touz) found on the breast of a species of wild goat which inhabits Great Tibet. The touz shawls are much more esteemed than those made with the native wool. They are apt, however, to be worm-eaten, unless frequently unfolded and aired...

Great pains have been taken to manufacture similar shawls in Patna, Agra, and Lahore; but notwithstanding every possible care, they never have the delicate texture and softness of the Kashmir shawls, whose unrivalled excellence may be owing to certain properties in the water of that country. properties in the water of that country. The superior colours of the Maslipatam chittes or ‘clothes, painted by the hand’, whose freshness seems to improve by washing are also ascribed to the water peculiar to that town.

The people of Kashmir are proverbial for their clear complexions and fine forms. They are as well made as Europeans, and their faces have neither the Tartar flat nose nor the small pig-eyes that distinguish the natives of Kacheguer, and which generally mark those of Great Tibet. The women especially are very handsome; and it is from this country that nearly every individual, when first admitted to the court of the Great Mogol, selects wives of concubines, that his children may be whiter than the Indians and pass for genuine Mogols.

(From: Beyond the three Seas, Random House)

Testing times

Santa’s aged mother was ill. The doctor examined the old lady and told Santa: “I am sorry I will have to put her through more tests.” Santa was dismayed and said, “But doctor sahib, how can you put her through tests. She is illiterate and can’t read or write.”

(Contributed by Colonel Trilok Mehrotra, Noida)

The views expressed are personal