Nov 22, 2008

Columnists - Khushwant Singh;Wrapped in ochre,damned in deed

We are told that India is the homeland of sants, mahatmas, rishis and sadhus. We believe we are guided by those who have spent years introspecting or meditating to find out the truth about themselves and the world. After that, they achieve peace of mind and are qualified to become gurus entitled to preach peace and love for humanity. To show that they have no worldly ambitions, they wear saffron or ochre robes, symbolising renunciation. Does this hold good in today’s India?

I give three instances of women who wore saffron and style themselves as Sadhvis. One is Rithambra. Sudhir Kakkar, India’s leading psychiatrist has quoted her speeches spouting hate against Muslims. She is also the author of the slogan ‘ek aur dhakka’ — one more push — to bring down the Babri Masjid. On TV channels, she preaches love and understanding. She is also seen with children, to create the impression of being a loving mother.

Then, there is Uma Bharati, who does not call herself a Sadhvi but wears saffron. She has not made up her mind whether she wants to be a politician or a spiritual leader. She celebrated the demolition of Babri Masjid by embracing Murli Manohar Joshi. She has been the Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh. She is also seen hugging cows and calves, a living image of a gau-rakshak (protector of the cow). We saw her sitting in the front row in one of Asaram Bapu’s congregations and proclaiming in English, “I love you”. That was before Bapu lost his aura and was accused of amassing property. Whatever her other achievements, she is unable to control her temper. We saw her fling her papers and storm out of a meeting of the top-brass of the BJP. And recently, in full view of thousands of her admirers she slapped an important supporter. Realising what the political outcome would be, she ran after him to apologise and kissed him (on the forehead).

Most of all I am disillusioned by the charges laid against Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur. Her doctor father is a member of the RSS. She was an activist of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), the student wing of the BJP. She evidently has a personality problem: a girl with masculine tendencies. She wears a turban, rides a motor cycle, and ticks off strangers she thinks are making passes at girls. What she needed was psychiatric guidance. What she is accused of is being one of the gang that planted bombs in Muslim localities, which took six lives. She is in dire trouble if she fails to clear her name of this diabolical conspiracy. She has shaken my confidence about saintly men and women in saffron or ochre robes. We may have to change the name of our beloved Hindustan to Pakhandistan — the land of humbugs.

New lingo

India and Pakistan have invented a new language that I have named IPA, short for Indo-Pak Angrezi. In Pakistan, it is English mixed with Urdu and Punjabi. In India, it is English mixed with Hindi, Punjabi and Mumbai Hindustani. In both countries, grammar is ignored, as is spelling. In India, the pioneers were the late Devyani Chaubal of Bombay and Shobhaa De of Mumbai. In Pakistan, it is Moni Mohsin. Her weekly column in the Friday Times of Lahore is the most widely read in IPA in both countries. She is the maharani of this bastard language. She made her name to fame with her novel The End of Innocence (Penguin), based in a country estate close to Lahore. Now, a selection of her articles in IPA have been published in India: The Diary of a Social Butterfly (Random House). It makes hilarious reading for those who know a little Urdu and are not fussy about spelling. I give a few samples. This one is on her organising a protest march against the US-British intrusion in Iraq and her family’s reaction. “I’ve chup karaoed everybody — The Old Bag, the Gruesome Twosome, Janoo, even Bush and his English chaprassi, ‘Tony the Phoney’ as Janoo calls him. I’ve chup karaoed them with anti-Iraq war jaloos, which has come on CNN, BBC, even Fox. After all, five thousands women and children marching through Gullberg is no joke, And all khaata-peeta khandani types who are doing it for their principles and not for the hundred rupees the rent-a-crowd types get. Nobody can say after this that we Gullberg-wallahs don’t stand out and speak out — or was it stand up and speek out ? Khair, whatever. Sab ko hum ne impress kar diya hai, and that’s that.”

Again, this is from the impending visit of the Indian Polo team to Lahore: “So much of mazza!! I’m tau going off my rocket with all the parties-sharties, shaadi-vaadis and khannas galore. And the Polo: voh tau even more better. So many polo functions, and all by special invitation only so that no aera-vagheras could get in. Serves them right, I tell you. Trying to muscle in where they don’t belong.

But what a pity keh no glam Indians showed up at the polo. Itna main look forward kar rahi thi, na, to entertaining Shahrukh Khan and Salman and Hrithik in my new sun room with its pink wall-to-wall and apple green velvet curtains. Chalo, next time.”

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