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The truth about winning awards

Recipients of academic honours should not put PhDs before or after their names, writes Khushwant Singh.

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Khushwant Singh
Khushwant Singh

The Republic Day began with a pleasant surprise. I read my name in the morning papers among those to be given State honours. Pleasanter still was to see names of friends including my late son-in-law, Ravi Dayal, the first Indian publisher, honoured posthumously. My family was overjoyed. We had no doubt that it was the doing of the Sonia Gandhi-Manmohan Singh led Congress Government. Our names would not have been on the list of the Vajpayee-Advani led BJP government. It would have got some other worthies of their line of thinking to honour.

Honouring Teesta Setalvad, editor Communalism Combat — who has been a thorn in the side of Narendra Modi of Gujarat and the Shiv Sena, as well as being the one who exposed the congenital liar Zaheera Sheikh — would have been unthinkable under a BJP regime. However, this is how honours are doled out in countries like England and France, where award giving is still in vogue.

Many people are of the opinion that we should scrap awards because they are far too often conferred to favourites and the deserving are overlooked. They cause heart-burning, envy and ill-will. There is an element of truth in this point of view. For instance, in England, people who give large donations to the party in power are given Knighthoods and peerages.

Fortunately money cannot buy awards in India. But sycophancy does. Lobbying by people not interested in getting them is legitimate, even desirable. But lobbying by aspirants is in bad taste and should disqualify those who indulge in it. I have written to ministers and officials involved in selecting awardees to consider some who I felt deserved being honoured but have never asked anyone to consider my own name. If I did so, I would not be able to see my face in the mirror. However, I know many, particularly in the artistic and literary circles who have done so and got away with it. I give a few examples from personal knowledge. One aspirant cast the decisive vote in her own favour to win a Sahitya Akademi Award; another went from minister to minister to get Padma awards. The most blatant was of a lady who was advised by the President of an Akademi to get me to write to him recommending her name. I wrote to him saying I had been approached, the lady should be black listed. She got the award and so did her husband. The President continued to deliver sermons on the need to maintain high standards of morality.

Another point I wish to make is that winners of such awards should not attach them to their names. Far too many do so either before or after their names, and print them on letterheads. So you have Padma Shri, Padma Bhushan or Vibhushan Shri or Shrimati so-and-so. It’s not the done thing.

Attaching honourary doctorates to names is also undesirable. Recipients of academic honours should not put PhDs before or after their names. Only those in the medical profession should be allowed to put Doctor before their names.

I apologise to indulge in sermonising. Its been on my mind since a long time; I wanted to get it off my chest.

Loving animals and birds

When Steve Irwin, the famous crocodile hunter was killed by a sting ray in September, last year, I concluded that only Australia produced daredevils who could capture dangerous animals like crocodiles, alligators and venomous snakes with their bare hands.

I was wrong.

Many Indians have been doing so down generations, and do so to this day. Among the most famous was Reuben David of Ahmedabad. He not only captured crocodiles and snakes but also had tigers, lions, langoors, bears and a variety of birds in his home and the zoo he set up. He formulated his own herbal medicines to keep his friends in good shape. His life has been written by his daughter Esher David, My Father’s 200 (Rupa). Her line drawings illustrate how close he was to birds and beasts: he had been living with them. He sat by a female crocodile while she was laying her eggs and helped her to incubate them. It is a true life-story of how harmonious human-animal relationships can be, any person who gives his love to an animal or a bird will have it returned in full measure. The book is specially meant for teenagers. The books are specially meant for teenagers but makes an equally fascinating read for grown-ups. The only things about the book that irritated me were the compliments paid to her father by celebrities printed at the end of every chapter.

Blind Faith

Poojanandji advises: “Go and worship in the temples”. I visited many temples. At one temple, a huge crowd had collected. Every person, according to his capacity, was carrying with him a glass, a pitcher or an urn to worship the idol. Every person was a more eager than the next to bathe the deity.

They were pushing aside one another to go forward. Who knows the deity may vanish before his turn came? The deity was being bathed not with faith but with milk. That same milk, mixed with water, was flowing down the drain. On both sides along the way to the temple, naked, hungry and starving children stood yearning for just a drop of milk and small pieces of bread. And these devotees in their great concentrated devotion, could see only an imaginary deity embodied in stone. They had no eyes for those children, lying on the road side, living under the shadow of death. I said to my friend Bhramit who was walking by my side, “Where have you brought me? I am not a devotee. I cannot bear to see this sight”.

“I’ve brought you here for that very reason — just see the greatness of your divine and spiritual country — where the living ones are doled out; death and flowers are showered on the dead. Here it is luckier to be a stone—because then you would at least be worshipped.”

(Contributed by CL Bharam, New Delhi)

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