I have a sinking feeling that there is much more involved in the so-called mutiny of soldiers of the Bangladesh Rifles than just grievances against the conditions of service. And that the worst is yet to come. It was more a rebellion designed to topple a democratically-elected government than an angry outburst against senior officers. We will get to know the truth as witnesses come out with the evidence and are cross-examined. With the little experience of having appeared as a defence lawyer in a couple of court martials in pre-Partition India, I can say that they are conducted better by army officers than by civilian magistrates. They are fairer and speedier when army officers are involved. The sentences awarded are also more severe. For the murder of an officer, the only punishment is death by a firing squad. However, in the case of the BDR, there will be far too many men convicted of murder and if all of them are shot dead, the repercussions are almost certain to be very grave and will shake the country’s political and social edifice.
There is good reason to fear for the safety of Sheikh Hasina Wajed. She must be given proper security lest she meets the same fate as her father, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, who, along with many members of his family, helped to found independent Bangladesh.
After seeing what is going on in Bangladesh and Pakistan (the latest news being the attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team), if we Indians feel smug about being a superior people, we can be forgiven for our arrogance. We should count our blessings that we are better off than our neighbours — and thank our lucky stars for being so.
Ask any person interested in literature who knows Urdu and English about the best translations of Urdu poetry, and without doubt the answer will be those rendered by Victor Kiernan. Kiernan’s translations of Faiz Ahmed Faiz and Allama Iqbal are close to the originals and extremely enjoyable. He died in February this year at the age of 95. I had the good fortune of meeting him and his Gujarati wife, Shanta Gandhi, during his sojourn of Lahore. At that time, I was not even aware that he knew Urdu.
Victor Kiernan was a man of extraordinary talents and vast erudition. He came from a lower-middle class family and was educated in the Manchester Grammar School. He won a fellowship to Trinity College, Cambridge. He earned his tripos in history, topping the list of examinees, and got a research grant for four years.
He was a committed Marxist and a member of the British Communist Party. In 1938, he met Shanta Gandhi in London and married her. Perhaps his marriage made him decide to come to India. He first joined the Sikh National College in Lahore and then moved to the most unlikely institution for a Marxist, the Aitchison college, which was chiefly meant for the sons of Punjab’s landed aristocrats. He was teaching there till 1946. It was there that he picked up Urdu, befriended Faiz and fell in love with Urdu poetry.
His marriage to Shanta Gandhi ended in a divorce. She became a film actress and did some memorable roles — then faded out of my picture. I have no idea where she is or what she does now. In 1984, Victor married Heather Massey who survives him.
Victor would have liked to stay in Cambridge or Oxford but his avowedly Marxist leanings were not acceptable to his conservative colleagues. He moved to Edinburgh University and taught there till his retirement in 1977. Amongst his many students was Prakash Karat, the general secretary of the Communist Party of India (Marxist).
Victor never bothered about recognition or status. In Edinburgh, he lived in a dingy little flat crammed with books. He did not bother to have a car and went about on a cycle (much like our Professor Irfan Habib). The range of his interests included religion (Hinduism, Christianity, agnosticism) history, Shakespeare, Wordsworth, Iqbal, Faiz and much else. He had written books on all these topics. In one word, Victor Kiernan was a genius in the truest sense of the term.
Five Punjabi women from highly affluent families of Ludhiana flew to Toronto and from there, motored for 70 miles to the Niagara Falls. They were met by a Punjabi-speaking tourist guide who started like this: “This Niagara Falls is the greatest and noisiest waterfall in the world. The River Niagara falls from a height of 173 feet, over a breadth of 400 feet, and the noise generated is equal to 20 fighter jets flying together. Now, dear ladies, will you please stop your chatter just for a while so that we can hear the Niagara Falls?”
(Contributed by Jaidev Bajaj, Pathankot)
Back to school
Q: Why are our members of parliament like school children?
A: Like school children who love school when it is closed, our MPs too love the Parliament when it is closed.
Q: What is the relationship between girl and gold?
A: The value of girls keeps going down, the value of gold keeps going up.
(Contributed by K.J.S. Ahluwalia, Amritsar)