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THE MANY WORD WARS

The first casualty in any war is truth. While rival armies fight each other on land, sea and air. War reporters fight each other with false reporting in their despatches, on radio and television. Blatant falsehood is a part of the war game. During World War I (1914-18), an Urdu poet summed it up in one line: ďKabza German ka, fateh sarkar kee hotee haiĒ (the Germans take the territory, our (British) government claims victory).

It was much the same during World War II. While the axis powers were over-running Europe, North Africa and Asia, Allied propaganda talked of stout resistance and casualties inflicted on the enemy. When the tide of the war turned against the fascists, it was their turn to claim victories while Allied powers were knocking on the gates of Berlin and Americans pulverizing Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Near comical was Pakistani propaganda during the 1971 war for the liberation of Bangladesh. Pakistan radio kept up a barrage of imaginary victories over the Mukti Bahini and the Indian army, airforce and the navy. Nobody except gullible Pakistanis believed it. They were in for a nasty surprise when they got the news that Dhaka had fallen and 93,000 Pakistanis had laid down arms before the Indians.

Lying during war is becoming more difficult and counter-productive. There are too many war correspondents on different fronts. Lies can be easily checked and often admitted by agencies that first spread them. In the Iraq war, coalition powers were represented by a network to reporters in and around Iraq.

They started off by stories of mass surrenders by Iraqi troops and eagerness of the common people to finish off Saddam Husseinís tyrannical regime. There were no mass surrenders nor any signs of Iraqis rebelling against the regime. Not even the Shias who, we were told, wanted to get rid of Saddam who is Sunni, joined the invading troops.

Coalition mediamen changed their tune and admitted setbacks. Their reporting gained credibility. Saddamís information minister and army spokesman took up lying on a massive scale. While American tanks and armour rolled on towards Baghdad and their aircraft pulverized buildings, he talked of heavy losses they were inflicting on the Americans and victories they had gained. After a few days, nobody took a word they said seriously: it was all empty bravado to boost their morale. Propaganda aside, it was the common Iraqis who won respect and admiration of the world for the stout resistance they put up against impossible odds.

Temper of doom

Irritation, anger, rage ó all three are different stages of the same phenomenon we call anger. It starts with irritation (chirchirapan, khich-khich) develops into anger (ghussa) and explodes into a rage (prakop). It is the second on the list of cardinal sins in Indian tradition: kaam (lust), krodh (anger), lobh (greed), moh (attachment) and ahankar (arrogance). More than the other four, it is krodh which destroys relationships, puts sons and daughters against their parents, causes animosity between siblings, breaks up marriages and life-long friendships, leads to quarrels and fisticuffs, raises oneís blood pressure and brings on heart strokes.

One thing common to these five cardinal sins is that they are curable. You donít have to consult a doctor or go to a chemist to get a pill to get the better of your libido, desire or exaggerated self-esteem. You are your best doctor and can treat yourself without drugs of any kind. All you need is to become aware of these failings, think about the harm they have done to you and resolve to get rid of them.

However, there may be biological reasons for short-temperedness. When a child has tantrums, his parents try to discover what causes them. Some children are more likely than others to fly off their handles, get into fights with their siblings or schoolmates. This may be caused by some stomach or brain malfunctioning. Parents are advised to have them medically checked up and once they have been cleared, counsel them on how to control their tempers and warn them of the price they have to pay for not doing so. Thereafter, every adult owes it to himself or herself to do so by themselves. Some problems may persist in later life. I recall a lady I was devoted to and dedicated my second novel to her losing her temper with me without any provocation. I dropped her out of my life. So did many of her other friends and admirers. Later, we learnt that she had a tumour in her brain which ultimately took her life. By then, it was too late to make amends.

I have some more observations on the subject. Ill temper usually goes with authority. In families, it is the monopoly of the parents, mainly the father. In schools and colleges, it is with teachers against students; in jobs, with bosses against their underlings. Judges can be short-tempered with lawyers appearing before them; lawyers have to suffer their rudeness and wait till they are elevated to the bench before they can talk down to lawyers. Ministers can be brusque and tick off people working under them or anyone who crosses their path. Can you imagine Sahib Singh Verma, a lowly-paid librarian of a school, abusing the crew of a flight' At the time, he could not have afforded air travel. But as minister, he became arrogant and rude towards people who could not hit back. See the same Sahib Singh Verma bowing low as he namaskars the prime minister. I used to see Krishna Menon behave the same way. When Prime Minister Nehru came to London for some conference, Menon was all over him: carrying his overcoat and brief case and sirring him. No sooner was he back in India House than he was ticking off members of the staff, throwing files at them and shouting at them to get out.

I also worked with Krishna Menon and many others like him who tended to be more ill-tempered in the mornings than in the afternoon. It may have something to do with bad digestion or poor flow of their gastric juices. Too much alcohol in the evening can also make one short-tempered. Perhaps some doctor could enlighten us.

I have no specific remedies for bad temper besides becoming aware of it and keeping oneís mouth shut till after it has subsided. Silence is the most powerful antidote to krodh. Swallow it with your spittle, never put in words.

A real tear-jerker

Husband: Why are you crying'

Wife: This TV show I am watching is so realistic.

Husband: I agree many soaps are extremely touching, but you are seeing a cookery show.

Wife: Yes, I am! But canít you see that the chef is cutting onions'\

(Rajeshwari Singh, Delhi)

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