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I AM NOT A HUMBUG

The varieties of man-woman relationship are mind-boggling. Many years ago, a young English girl, a qualified architect, came to India. She found herself in Calcutta with very little money. She was directed to the gurdwara in Hooghly where she could stay and eat free of cost for a few days. The sewadar of the gurdwara let her in and gave her daal and chappatis. He could not speak a word of English; she, not a word of Punjabi, Hindi or Bengali. He showed her around Calcutta. They went on foot, trams and cycle rickshaws. Without much exchange of words, they became lovers and decided to get married. He took her to his village in Punjab where they lived together. She adapted herself to village life, eating Indian food, and going to the fields to defecate. There was a lot of meeting of the bodies but no meeting of minds. Both realized their relationship could not last. Their short-lived romance ended at Delhi’s Palam Airport. They spent the early part of the night lying on the lawn out-side. When her flight was announced, they simply wished each other Sat Sri Akal and went their separate ways. The English girl turned the episode into a touching love story which was later published in England and India.

We have a parallel story, more bizarre than the sewadar and the girl-architect. An English upper-middle-class woman divorcee with five grown-up children comes to India to set up a travel agency. On arrival at the Indira Gandhi International Airport in Delhi she is received by a Haryanvi taxi driver holding a placard with her name, Jill Lowe, in his hands. He has been deputed by his employer to received the lady and take her wherever she wants to go. He is in his early forties, a widower with four children living in his village. He can only speak a few sentences of English. He takes the lady across India. At Orchha (Madhya Pradesh) they find only one room in the rest house which they have to share.

They spend the night making love and decide they were made for each other. She spends some days with his family in the village, eating with them on the floor, sleeping on a charpoy and going out to the fields to relieve herself. They go through several marriage ceremonies, a final one in court. They are now living in a flat in Delhi and running their own taxi service. The lady has turned her experience into a autobiographical novel: Yadav: A Roadside Love Story (Penguin).

The Yadav came to call on me. I was told he loved his drink; I had a bottle of Scotch laid out for him. He did not touch it. When his wife, one of my nieces who had dropped in and I poured ourselves drinks, he took his mug of tea to another room because the smell of alcohol gave him a headache. He is no Romeo. He is dark-skinned but well preserved. She is a genteel, soft-spoken lady and looks younger than her years. She looks after him like a mother. She took him with her to meet her family in England hoping he would settle down with them. He could not stand the English climate or the food and flew back to Haryana. There is still not much meeting of minds. I wonder how long the mutual infatuation will last.

The two stories got me thinking about the strange combinations and permutations in men-women relationships. Do people fall in love before they have sex' Or does sex come first and is hopefully followed by love' Do differences in ages of the two determine their future' Usually men marry women younger than them but there are many cases where they marry women old enough to be their mothers. Can there be a close relationship between men and women in the same age group without a physical relationship' I do not think so. As an English poet wrote “one who falls in love without taking it to the final conclusion, is like one who goes on a sea voyage only to become sea-sick.”

Reading for the words

I read the holy scriptures of all religions: Hindu, Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Sikh — because they are beautifully worded. Since I am not familiar with languages in which they were originally written (except the Sikh’s Granth Sahib) I read their translations. Every one of them has been translated several times by scholars in an effort to make them word-perfect. Without subscribing to any particular faith, I enjoy reading its holy books. I find nothing contradictory in my behaviour.

I stand rebuked. My long-time friend, Jaya Thadani, daughter of the late Justice Dalip Singh, is a devout Catholic. I have not met her for almost forty years because she lives in London with her Sindhi-Hindu husband for most of the time and they spend some months of the year in the United States with their son, daughter-in-law and grandchildren. She refuses to return to Delhi: her India was Lahore and she finds the social and political climate in India unwholesome. We write to each other regularly. I look forward to hearing from her. In the last few letters, she reproached me for having the wrong approach to scriptural texts. With her last letter she sent me Thomas à Kempis’s Counsels on the Spiritual Life (Penguin). Chapter five of the booklet is “On Reading The Holy Scriptures”.

À Kempis writes that “in the holy scriptures truth is to be looked for rather than fair phrases…we should seek food for our souls rather than subtleties of speech, and have no concern to appear learned”. According to him, I read scriptural writing for the wrong reasons: for fair phrases, subtleties of speech and to appear learned. I am not the slightest bit contrite. The language of scriptures, not their logic, appeals to me. I also succumb to the temptation of showing off my scant knowledge by quoting from them. But at no time have fair phrases or subtleties translated themselves into a set of beliefs or subscription to a particular religion. I enjoy good writing. I like reading poetry, poetic prose and witty phrases. I am not a humbug.

Let’s scare Saddam

Colin Powell walked into the drawing room of the White House unannounced to find himself in a room filled with the CNN and BBC television cameras. He was shocked to see President Bush and Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, face to face, with drawn swords in their hands, lunging at each other.

“Hey!” Powell shouted; “What the hell’s going on there' You can hurt yourself with those things!” “Don’t worry!”said Bush, “We are only engaging in sabre rattling to scare the hell out of Saddam!”

(Contributed by Priya Nath Mehtaq, Gurgaon, Haryana)

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