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ON A LONG MARCH TO PEACE

This above all

In a country as vast as ours with so many races, religions and ways of life it is difficult, if not impossible, to meet demands of different groups. All of them grumble about the step-motherly treatment they get from the Central government. In some, agitations go beyond protests to defiance of law and resort to arms. When that happens, the state has to come down heavily and put them down by force. There is loss of life on both sides and much innocent blood is spilt. We witnessed this in Punjab and Kashmir; we have been living with tribal unrest in Assam, Nagaland and Mizoram. In such conflicts a journalist has a limited role: he has no authority to negotiate and can only put two sides of the case to the parties involved and plead for sympathetic understanding.

Such a role was imposed on me in our dealings with the Nagas by no less a person than Jayaprakash Narayan at the time when Lal Bahadur Shastri was prime minister. Along with Reverend Michael Scott, I met Naga leaders like Phizo who was then in exile in England. We sifted all the material Naga leaders gave us against atrocities committed by our armed forces and presented it to the prime minister’s office. It was disdainfully brushed aside as subversive propaganda. Naga insurgency continues, so does my association with the Nagas. I have met Chief Minister Jamir a few times; my main contact is Neidino Angami, president of the Naga Mothers’ Association and a social worker. Periodically, she introduces me to young Nagas agitating for a free Nagaland.

Last week four of them came to see me. I told them I had failed to understand their demands because they were never explicitly spelt out and most of them were non-negotiable. They talked of a “Sovereign Republic of Nagaland”. They are divided into over two dozen tribes that spill into neighbouring China and Myanmar, and into Mizoram and Manipur. They cannot draw a map of this so-called Sovereign Republic of Nagaland which could also be acceptable to China and Myannar. Even at its most expansive dimensions, it will be landlocked and economically unviable. Though they seemed to agree with me, they repeated the word sovereignty many times. “Why don’t you negotiate for more autonomy'” I pleaded with them. They seemed to agree. “All we want at the moment from the PM’s office is a sympathetic consideration of our point of view,” they said. I am sure they will get that once guns on either side fall silent.

Singing in the wilderness

An Indian voice singing Indian classical music in the desert wastes of west Asia and European countries could justifiably be described as wasting her sweetness in the desert air. It will now be heard in the land of her nativity from the owner of the voice in person and release of albums covering a vast range of musical modes from dhrupad, dhamar, khayal, thumri, dadra, Sufiana down to folk songs and bhajans. It belongs to Zila Khan, presently living in Aman with her doctor husband, Khalid Anwar Sheikh, and their ten-year-old son, Faizan. I did not have to go very far to hear her. She came to see me with her promoter, Modi and Sadia Dehlavi. She sat cross-legged on my sofa and without much fuss filled my sitting room with sweet sound. Zila has an impressive ancestry: daughter of Ustad Vilayat Ali Khan, one of the greatest sitar player of our times, grand-daughter of Ustad Inayat Khan, great grand-daughter of Ustad Imdad Khan. Instrumental music was in her blood; she is the first in the family to take to singing as her vocation.

Zila is one of the five children of Ustad Vilayat Ali Khan and spent her childhood in Calcutta. When her father rose to pre-eminence as a sitarist, for reasons best known to him, he packed up his bags and migrated to Dehradun. The only explanation he gave, “If anyone wants to hear me play, he can come to Dehradun.” What makes him stand out as unique among the great artists of today is that while all others crave and canvas for official recognition and awards, Vilayat Ali Khan spurned them with contempt: bravo! That is enough for anyone to fall in love with his daughter. She is comely and sings like an angel.

Short cut to scholarship

There are ways you can make others believe you are an erudite scholar when in fact you are nothing of the sort. I should know because I have indulged in this practice all my life. What you need is a good memory and dictionaries of quotations compiled by established writers and know when to use them. I have both a reasonably good memory and shelf — full of books of quotations, Sanskrit, Latin, Persian, Urdu and English. I did not have one in Punjabi and whatever I quoted was from my scanty knowledge of the sacred scriptures. Now I have exactly what I needed to pass off as an authority on Guru Nanak’s writings: Sayings of Guru Nanak — Guru Nanak Bachanawali, compiled by Harnam Singh Shan, retired professor of Punjab University. He had first compiled and published them in 1969. A new edition with translations in English has been republished by the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee. It has 830 quotations from the Guru’s baanee arranged under English headings. So if you have to speak or write on any subject from god to the devil, purity, impurity, caste, chastity, need for physical and spiritual cleanliness or any other subject, you will find a relevant quote in this compilation.

It would have added to its value if Hindi, Urdu and English transliterations had been printed alongside the original, because not many people can read Gurmukhi . However, if they wish to know the original, they can get somebody to read it out to them. Memorize a few and whenever you want to impress a Sikh audience, first greet everyone with Wahguru Ji Ka Khalsa Wah Guruji Ki Fateh; then load your speech literally with quotations from the Gurubaani and you will be awarded by thunderous applause.

When the lotus starts fading

When Modi is likened to

Great Vallabh Bhai Patel

When Laloo Yadav is arrested

And put in a Patna jail.

When L.K. Advani proclaims

After every second day

Government to be pro-active

With regard to J and K.

When Prime Minister unfolds

Pak’s ulterior design

And warns after every militant

attack

Restraint is not a weakness sign.

When BJP discovers

Its lotus is going to fade

And rushes to Ayodhya temple

To pray to Ram for aid.

(Courtesy Ram Singh, Patiala)

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