The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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When I first went to England in 1934, I ran into a young Sikh about my age who was staying in the gurdwara in Shepherds Bush (London) and getting two meals a day free of charge. Though he had only passed his matriculation examination, he was known as Gyani (learned). He was looking for a job in a factory or to become a peddler. If nothing better came his way, he would become the grantee (scripture-reader) at the gurdwara. A few weeks later, I heard he had hit the jackpot. He went to the dog race, laid a bet on one and won over five hundred pounds — a sizeable fortune in those times. When he returned to the gurdwara, he spread out the currency notes on his bed and slept on them at night to symbolize his rolling in wealth. He moved out of the gurdwara and found another lodging in keeping with his new status. I lost track of him.

When I returned to England in 1947, as a public relations officer in our high commission in London, I met Gyani again. He was a peon, the lowest paid on the staff. Whatever little he earned, he staked at dog races. It was a mugs game but he could not take it out of his system. Gambling had got into his blood.

The human species can be divided into two: those who love to gamble and those who do not have the guts to do so. I belong to the latter category. On the other hand, my late wife loved to try her luck whether it be at a horse race or in a casino. And invariably lost. Many of my friends are gamblers. Some have bridge sessions over weekends and play non-stop from Saturday evening to Monday morning. They play for high stakes and the rich invariably lose money to the poor. I had a cousin whose main income after retirement came from his earnings from bridge. At golf, most players take modest bets of one golf ball for the first nine holes, another for the second nine and a third for the last nine. Others play for much higher stakes running into lakhs of rupees.

Gambling has religious sanction. The Pandavas gambled away their wife, Draupadi, on the throw of dice. The episode reflects poorly on their sense of rectitude and attitude towards women. Gambling on Diwali night is a hallowed tradition. Betting on horses and dogs, at casinos, roulette, stocks and shares, buying lottery tickets, taking bets on outcomes of cricket matches being played in a distant country are different expressions of the same instinct — a base one — to earn money without the sweat of one’s brows. Knowing that to be so, we have let gambling become our second nature. At the most trivial argument you will hear someone challenge “Shart lag jai” — let’s take a bet. Even I who am averse to gambling succumb to an occasional bet of a bottle of Scotch over a quotation or historical event. So far I have not lost one, and friends who took me on never honoured their commitments.

God doesn’t speak to me

Jaya Thadani is the daughter of the late Justice Dalip Singh of the Punjab high court and niece of the late Rajkumari Amrit Kaur, Gandhiji’s disciple and cabinet minister in the first government of independent India under Jawaharlal Nehru. She belongs to the branch of the Kapurthala family which converted to Christianity. Not all members of her family are as devout as Jaya. Though married to a Sindhi Amil, who are more Sikhs than Hindus, she converted to Catholicism, and goes to church every morning, wherever she may be. We write to each other at least once a week. We have much to argue about because she is a staunch believer, I am an avowed agnostic. God speaks to her; he does not speak to me.

With one of her letters, Jaya sent me a magazine, Mission Today, marking four articles which she thought would be of interest to me. One is by Father Christy Fox, entitled, “Prayerful Renderings: A First Step to Listening to God. His argument runs somewhat as follows: the word of god, lectio divina, is today used as a method of prayer. In the Jewish tradition, god spoke through his prophets or through significant events like the Jewish exodus from Egypt and the Babylonian exile.

It is understandable that the Jews were not aware of prophets or teachers like Mahavir, Buddha, the authors of the Vedas, Upanishads, the Bhagwad Geeta, Kabir or Nanak. They also refused to recognize later prophets like Jesus and Mohammed who belonged to the Hebraic tradition. Father Christy takes Jesus Christ as the alpha and the omega of the voice of god as narrated in the gospels.

But what he says is valid for all people interested in communicating with the divine. First read the text, then ponder over it till it sinks into your consciousness. Then, if you have any questions, or are uneasy with the state of things, put your fears and doubts to Him. And wait for His answers. The same rules apply to any thoughtful writing on any subject: read, mull over what you have read till you understand it.

I read the scriptures of different religions on a regular basis. If the language is beautiful, I re-read the passages and often commit them to memory. I also have many questions to which I try to find answers or seek them from friends who have similar interests. I don’t put them to god because I don’t know who or where He is. Needless to say, he in his turn never deigns to speak to me.

The slow stalker

Teacher: Sheela, why are you late'

Sheela: Sir, a boy was following me.”

Teacher: Why should that make you late'”

Sheela: “Sir, he was walking very slowly.”

(Contributed by J.P. Singh Kaka, Bhopal)

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