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TRIBUTE TO A DEPARTED FRIEND

As I switched on my television in the afternoon of Friday, January 27, I saw them showing Kartar Singh Duggal taking some books out of his book shelf. I concluded that he must have died. So it turned out to be. And thus a friendship that had lasted 72 years came to an end.

I first met Duggal in 1940 when I made my home in Lahore to start a practice as a lawyer in the high court. I had plenty of time on my hands and decided to know more about Punjabi literature. Till then, my knowledge of it was limited to a few bawdy verses and a passing acquaintance with Bhai Veer Singh’s poems. I set aside one evening per week to invite Punjabi writers to my home to read what they had written. Those who came included Mohan Singh of the Sikh National College, who was acknowledged as the best poet of the times, the playwright Balwant Gargi and Devinder Satyarthi, who imitated Rabindranath Tagore by growing his hair and sporting a flowing beard running down to his navel. He specialized in compiling Punjabi folklore. And there was Kartar Singh Duggal, who was working with All India Radio. Though they did not write in Punjabi, Krishen Shunglu and his wife, Shakuntala, were always present. My only contribution was a bottle of the cheapest Scotch whisky, which was then priced at Rs 11, and plates of pakoras. At every session, Duggal read out a short story he had written.

This went on till mid-1947. Then Hindus and Sikhs began to be forced out of what was to be Pakistan. When Muslims and Sikhs were going for one another’s throats, Duggal, a devout Sikh, and Ayesha, younger sister of Sultana, wife of the eminent Urdu poet, Ali Sardar Jafri, fell in love with each other and got married at the Golden Temple in Amritsar. On the partition of the country, they migrated to Delhi. So did I. For the next four or five years, I lived abroad — England and Canada. When I returned home, we resumed our meetings. Duggal rose to become the station director of AIR and, on retirement, the head of the National Book Trust. When my daughter, Mala, returned from England with a degree from Cambridge University, he appointed her the editor of children’s books. Duggal often dropped in to give me his latest books. They included a translation of my novel, Train to Pakistan. His rendition of the Adi Granth in simple Punjabi will be the lasting work of his life.

Duggal was a very devout Sikh. Every morning after reciting japji, the morning prayer, and writing a story or two, he left for the broadcasting house. He broke the journey to spend an hour or so at the Gurdwara Bangla Sahib to listen to keertan from Asa di Var. He was one of the contributors to a compilation of articles written by people about their religions. Duggal’s essay entitled “Why I am Sikh” carried his photograph with the joora (top knot) and a flowing beard. I was not impressed with his essay.

Duggal was one of the most prolific Indian writers. He wrote in four languages: Punjabi, Urdu, Hindi and English. According to Vandana Shukla of The Tribune, he produced 26 volumes of short stories, 13 novels, 15 plays, eight volumes of poetry, two autobiographies and nine volumes of criticism. I don’t think any living Indian could match his record.

Word power

The latest issue of the Private Eye of London has an interesting item in its column, “Funny old world”, about English words banned from usage. It reads: ‘“The Telecommunications Act of 1996 is perfectly clear,’ Muhammad Talib Doger of the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority told a press conference in Islamabad, ‘in prohibiting the transmission of messages that are indecent or obscene. We now have the technology to enforce this, so from November 21, all mobile phone operators are required to screen all text messages, and filter out any words on our list of banned terms. So far, this list contains 1,695 words, and more will be added as they come to our attention.’

‘The move has caused outrage amongst mobile phone users, with the campaigning group, Bytes for all, threatening to challenge the order in court. ‘The list is absurd,’ said spokesman Shahzad Ahmed, ‘it includes phrases like monkey crotch, flatulence, athlete’s foot, kiss ass, fairy, quickie, damn, and ‘go to hell’, even ‘deeper and harder.’ We are witnessing a ruthless wave of moral policing by the PTA. By forcing telecom operators to filter out these allegedly offensive words to make our society moral and clean, the PTA has made a mockery not only of itself but of the entire country.’

‘Twitter users were both bemused and amused. ‘What is an ‘ass puppy’?’ asked one, while another wanted to know ‘the vile significance of Yellowman’. Sabina R9 tweeted, ‘I think PTA just enhanced the vocab for us. Never knew words like these ever existed.’”

Solve the riddle

Santa: What do you understand by the food security bill?

Banta: Andheri nagri chaupar raja

Takey seyr bhaji takey ser khaja.

(Contributed by Ram Niwas Malik, Gurgaon)