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A COUPLE OF QUEENS IN SARI

About ten years or so ago the Punjabi University announced the republication of volumes of the Sikh encyclopaedia compiled by Bhai Kahan Singh and published in 1931. I had them, but was anxious to get the new version in the hope that it would be updated. Nothing of the sort; the new version is a replica of the old one without a word added. It does not tell you what happened to the Sikh community in the last 70 years; partition of India, exodus of Hindus and Sikhs from Pakistan, the Punjabi Suba movement or how the new Punjab came into existence. In fact it was a printer’s job carried out at the behest of the university, which took credit for research.

The pattern is being followed to this day. The most recent example is Guru Nanak Dev University of Amritsar. It has announced the publication of 20 books to mark the bi-centenary celebration of the coronation of Ranjit Singh as the maharajah of the Punjab. Some of the editors are the vice-chancellor and the head of the department of history. I expected to see something about the maharajah which I had not seen before. But all 20 are compilations of books and articles published some time ago. No new research has been carried out. At best they could, in Disraeli’s words, be described as plagiarisms with the merit of preservation.

This is not good enough. The chief minister of Punjab, Captain Amarinder Singh, can be forgiven because he has more important work to do, but the governor, * Jacob, who is the chancellor of the university, should look into the matter. So also the Indian History Congress which is due to meet in the Guru Nanak Dev University at the end of the year. No doubt delegates clad in black and red gowns will be presented this set of books. They will see for themselves what passes for research in the universities of Punjab.

Punjab has produced eminent historians in recent years: Hari Ram Gupta, Ganda Singh, Hew Mcleod, Harbans Singh. This legacy must not be frittered away by piracy in the garb of research.

Regal splendour

Pramila Sharma, who has made her mark writing the history of our freedom movement based on cartoons published in British, Indian and American newspapers and magazines during the period, stumbled across one of Queen Victoria draped in a sari. It might be recalled that of all the English monarchs in the last two centuries, none was more loved than Queen Victoria. Even Indians who had begun to resent foreign presence in India had affection for her as a kind of rajmata of the British Empire. Although she never came to India, she had great affection for the country. She sent for a maulvi sahib to teach her Hindustani. And according to gossip in high English society, had an affair with him.

Pramila sent a photostat copy of the cartoon to Prince Charles, heir to the British throne. His secretary acknowledged her communication in the following words: “His Royal Highness was fascinated to see the copy of the drawing “India’s Devotion to Queen Victoria”, and agrees very much that an exhibition of the sort you suggest would well have considerable impact in both Britain and India.”

This is exactly what Pramila Sharma is into doing now. Having a couple of doctorates in Hindi and a few books published, she has sought premature retirement from Daulat Ram College where she has been lecturer, reader, and professor for almost 30 years. Based on an earlier exhibition, “John Bull to Mother India: a historic journey towards self-determination (1877-1947)”, she is converting a part of her residence in Gurgaon into a museum of political-social cartoons published in those times. So Professor Pramila becomes Curator Pramila Sharma. It is to her that I turn whenever I have to face the wrath of Hindiwallas when they imagine I have made snide remarks against them.

Indian is as Indian does

The speed with which Jayalalithaa Jayaram, the chief minister of Tamil Nadu, can do somersaults, leave most people, barring Tamilians, breathless. Some years ago, she expressed herself in favour of Sonia Gandhi as head of the Congress and per force the prime minister of India if and when her party came to power. Now she has taken an about-turn and says that on no account should a person not Indian-born become prime minister. Why this volte face, she does not care to spell out. It does not occur to her that Sonia Gandhi is a better Indian than her for the simple reason that while she had no choice because she was born in India, Sonia chose to become Indian when she could, if she wanted to, retain her Italian nationality. She opted to become Indian long before she entered politics. That is why she has become the more accepted bahu of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty than her Indian-born sister-in-law, Maneka Gandhi. People like L.K. Advani and I had a choice of either remaining in Pakistan and become Pakistanis or come to India and reclaim our Indianness. If Advani had stayed on in Karachi, he would not have joined the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and become deputy prime minister of India. My choice was restricted. If I had stayed on in Lahore, I would not be writing these columns.

What remains an enigma is Jayalalithaa’s unshaken hold on the common people of Tamil Nadu. For them she can do no wrong. She is convinced herself that she is destined to go further: her astrologers have assured her of that. Atalbihariji and Lal Kishenji, look out.

Reflections on an insane world

Day in and day out we tell the world

Of terror, its treachery, its inhumanity,

Day in and day out we show Powell and

Straw, Russia and Malaysia

The proofs of Pakistani duplicity

And seek their help fervently

To end this insanity

But at the end of every day

Kashmir is an internal matter of our

country.

We don’t like hypocrisy

We don’t mind thousands of lives being

lost or being bled white daily,

We’ll not allow give-and-take of even an

inch of our territory.

There is no role whatever for the world

community

Even if Kashmir kills the whole country

Pakistan is mad, bad, as it has never had

The taste of freedom, the feel of

democracy,

As obstinacy and animosity are its

guiding stars

So there will be wars.

We care two hoots for the international

reality

For, it Pakistan can wage a nuclear or a

thousand years war

Do you think we’ll think twice and lag

behind them

In insanity!

(Courtesy: Kuldip Salil, Delhi)

Open door policy

A jail in Iceland lets its prisoners out every day to work for local farmers. They are on their honour to return to jail each night. Recently one inmate didn’t get back until midnight and was scolded by a guard: “Next time you’re so late, I won’t open the door.”

(Contributed by Reeten Ganguly, Silchar)

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