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FLUTTERING IN THE WIND
KHUSHWANT SINGH

Every people all over the world have created symbols that emphasize their separate identities. The commonest among them are their flags. Indian rulers were no exception. In the Mahabharat, there are references to dhawajas (flags). Muslims monarchs had alams. Many communities had separate flags of their own — as some have to this day. Hindu and Sikh flags are triangular; most others are rectangular. Hindu flags are usually saffron; Sikh ones are yellow, with the khanda kirpan emblem in black. Muslims opted for green with a crescent moon and star. Amidst all this confusion of flags, how did we evolve the tri-colour as our national flag? The story is well told in A National Flag for India: Rituals, Nationalism and the Politics of Sentiment by Arundhati Virmani. She was a Reader in History at Delhi University and now is the professor in École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales in Marseille, France. She has done meticulous research on the subject and put life into what may appear at first sight as a footnote in a book on Indian history.

There were many designs made to represent India, starting with Sister Nivedita’s vajra design in 1909. Bhikaji Cama unfurled one in red with the sun, a crescent moon and Vande Mataram printed in Devanagri on it. C. Rajagopalachari made a tri-colour in 1923 in white, green and red with the charka imprinted in the middle. And believe it or not, Lord Mountbatten designed one for Pakistan with the Union Jack in one corner. Finally came the flag as we know it today, with the circular emblem printed on white, and saffron and green on either side. And to remind us of its importance is Shyam Lal Gupta’s stirring song:

Vijai vishwa Tiranga pyara

Jhanda ooncha rahey hamaara

Read this book. You will enjoy it.

Principles and practices

One of the many ways to judge the development of a country is by examining the number and kinds of books its people read. It will reveal the ratio of literacy and the main preoccupations of its population. India is not doing too badly in this regard; in fact, it is way ahead of the so called third world countries. Perhaps the pioneer in the field of producing cheap paperbacks in Hindi is Dina Nath Malhotra of Hind Pocket Books, which he set up in 1958. Instead of publishing editions limited to under 5,000 copies, he started with 50,000 copies of a novel in Hindi. The experiment paid off. He has never looked back since. He was given the acclaim he deserved, he being the first Indian to receive the Unesco’s international book award in 1998. He was honoured with a Padmashree in 2000 for promoting book reading in the country.

Dina Nath, now in his late 80s, has put his life’s experience in Book Publishing: Principles and Practices. It tells you all about the people who go into the making of a book: the author, publisher, printer, salesman, reviewer and reader. The generators, that is, the author and the publisher get a measly 10 per cent each; the salesman, that is, the bookseller gets a whopping 40 per cent; and the rest is the cost of paper, printing and binding. I, as an author, feel that I deserve more: so does the publisher who stakes his money on the venture and often loses out. The bookseller gets much more than his due.

Dina Nath regards publishing as a noble profession. He has nothing to say about the ignoble practices indulged in by some of his fraternity. Quite a few don’t tell authors how their books are doing and do not pay them a paisa. And then there is a whole lot of publishers, starting with Writers’ Workshop of Calcutta, who make authors pay for their publications. They are known as the vanity publishers who thrive on the authors’ desire to see their name in print on a book. So not all is as hunky dory with Indian publishing as Dina Nath would have us believe. He also writes that India has no literary agencies. That may be true about our own bhashas, but there is certainly one for English: Osian’s of Renuka Chatterjee.

Same-boat brothers

While waiting in the reception room of a physician I was visiting for the first time, I noticed his certificate, which bore his full name. Suddenly, I remembered that a tall, handsome boy with the same name, Bhim Sain Verma, had been in my pre-medical class some 40 years ago. Upon seeing him, however, I quickly discarded any such thought. This balding grey-haired man with the deeply lined face was way too old to have been my classmate. After he had examined me, I asked him if he had attended the local degree college. “Yes,” he replied. “When did you graduate?” I asked. “In 1974. Why?”

“You were in my class!” I exclaimed. He looked at me closely and then asked: “What did you teach?”

Sleep tight

Banta: “What made you oversleep this morning?

Santa: “There are seven of us in the house and the alarm was only set for six.”

(Contributed by Shivtar Singh Dalla, Ludhiana)

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