Nov 29, 2008

Columnists - Khushwant Singh;2008-A wind-up chornicle

It is New Year’s Day, 1st of January 2008. It is bitterly cold — one point above freezing point. I sit huddled by the dying embers of my fireplace and turn the pages of my diary of the year about to end. Every other page records a bomb blast in some city or the other with the numbers killed and injured along with wild guesses about organisations which might be responsible for it. Conclusion — spreading lawlessness, outrageous defiances of authority by the Thackeray trio of Mumbai, Bajrang Dal’s attacks on hapless Muslims and Christians with leaders of saffron brigades promptly speaking in their defence without bothering to get the full story. L.K.Advani’s weekly forecasts of the imminent collapse of the Sonia Gandhi — Manmohan Singh led Congress coalition; Prakash Karat’s senseless opposition to a nuclear deal between India and the USA and at the same time warning us of the perils of resurgent Hindu fundamentalism and joining hands with the same fundoos in the hope of toppling the government. All to no avail. Thank God!

Before I go over the balance of the good versus the bad, it would be proper to record the names of eminent people who passed away and therefore beyond bothering about our wretched state of affairs. In February died Russy Karanjiya, editor of the Blitz at 96, Maharish Mahesh Yogi at 91 in Holland; Baba Amte 94, Sheila Bhatia of the National Theatre and Justice H.R.Khanna at 96. In April departed the Sarod maestro Sharan Rani. In May, the Gandhian Nirmala Deshpande at 79. In June, Field marshal Sam Manekshaw at 94. In July, Chief Justice Chandrachud at 86. In August, the Industrial tycoon K.K. Birla. In September, H.Y. Sharda Prasad, life-time personal secretary to Indira Gandhi and Salauddin Qwaisi MP from Hyderabad. In November, film producer B.R.Chopra at 94 and ex-minister Ajit Panja.

Besides these celebrities, there were many others who perished in man-made disasters. In August, a dam burst changed the course of river Kosi which drowned thousands of villages in Bihar. In a stampede in Naina Devi temple in Himachal over 150 were killed. Another stampede in a temple near Jodhpur around 250 lives were lost. We still have to learn how to get off and get in trains — so stampedes are no surprise. The Gujjar agitation cost around 50 lives. The Naxalites continued their depredations across the country attacking police posts in Uttar Pradesh, Orissa and Andhra Pradesh. They even shot down a helicopter.

Enough of disasters. We had the mildest May on record and the monsoon arrived 15 days before schedule. Six states went to the polls. The BJP extended its domain by annexing Karnataka. It looks set to win more states. However, it failed to dislodge the Congress coalition at the Centre and the Nuclear deal with America went through with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh winning the vote of confidence with flying colours. Our crowning achievement was to plant the Indian tri-colour carried by Chandrayaan-I on the moon.

Kashmir Valley had its first Railway train. Good show: was one gold and two bronzes. However, Vishwanathan Anand regained his place as the world’s Chess Champion. Jeev Milkha Singh became Asia’s Golf Champion. Our cricketers got the better of the series against Australia, England South Africa and Sri Lanka. Tendulkar became the greatest run scorer in Test cricket, Kumble and Ganguly retired from the Test Cricket. We still have Dhoni, Sehwag (he scored three centuries in one match) Yuvraj, Gambhir, Harbhajan, Zaheer, Irfan and others to keep us happy.

Aravind Adiga won the Booker Prize for his novel The White Tiger. Bhimsen Joshi was awarded the Bharat Ratna. I think this highest honour should be restricted to social workers and creative people like scientists, musicians and artists and never given to retired politicians or civil servants.

As I write this, a few weeks of 2008 remain unknown. Another six states are going to the polls. Next to cricket, we are prone to election fever. How Obama won the US Presidency without our vote, was a miracle. Next year we will have our general election. I look forward to the emergence of new leaders — young men and women with a vision of the future. I put my money on two, Rahul Gandhi and Omar Abdullah

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