The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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I am allergic to policemen. Also a little scared of them as I am of men in uniform. I first met Keki Daruwala over 40 years ago in Agra where I had gone to gather material on ancient monuments. He came to call on me. How did he know of my being in Agra' He said being the police officer-in-charge, it was his duty to find out who came to the city and for what reason. He also said that he was interested in literature and had read a couple of my books. I did not buy his story.

I discovered that he was the son of Professor Daruwala who had taught me English in Government College, Lahore and who later became my senior colleague in All India Radio. He was a most affable and erudite gentleman.

What was his son doing in the police' The next time I met him it was in India House in London. He was with RAW then. Though I have never been involved in any kind of subversive activity, I am wary of people whose profession is to snoop into others’ business. I did not take his forays into writing, fiction or poetry, seriously. It was my allergy towards his profession not his shortcoming. He has been published in respectable magazines and has now come out with his ninth collection of poems, The Map-Maker. I feel ashamed of myself. My Diwali promise is to read all Daruwala has written and forget he was ever a policeman. He is a very good poet who has written on a wide-range of subjects and has sharp ear for the music of words. Take for instance the version of the genesis of life entitled, The Birth of Maya:

There was nothing, neither air nor


not energy, nor ether,

not thought nor dream

(vision had not alighted

on the non-existent eye);

there was no memory

because the past had not been born

and there was no forgetfulness

because there was no memory.

There was no self

because there was no other;

there was no eternity

because there was no time,

and no infinity

because distance had not been born.

There was only trance,

the trance of the absolute.

And the texture of the trance was so


that the texture of space

would be as cement in front of it.

And there was such silence

that the entry of light

would sound like a gong in


The opening poem, “Old Sailor”, is closer to the bone. I quote the last two verses:

The nights move on; you go by

other signs:

it is not dreams I wish to talk


The body speaks of its premonitions:

and you must always hear the body out

the voice of the vertebrae, the neck’s

sudden crick,

a bulge somewhere — the shabby heraldry of gout.

The knock at the slowly closing doors of

the heart;

Will you hear the first rap' The chances

are slim.

And when the body plays a certain note

dreams follow quiet as a silent film

on the same track.

You move to the next act —

a time comes when you don’t know if

the curtain

goes up or down. The other day I found,

what I took for a smudge upon my


was actually the first sign of a cataract.

The short poem, “Draupadi”, neatly sums up the status of women:

The travails of Draupadi

are never-ending.

It seems — some people have it

in their bleeding stars:

first exploited by the Pandavas,

five to one,

then by the Kauravas,

hundred to one

and now by the feminists

in millions.

It’s all in the genes

In my younger days in school, college and right into my sixties I must have played more tennis than Leander Paes or Mahesh Bhupathi. I never made it beyond playing for my college or club, while Paes and Bhupathi became world champions. My cousin, Balwant Singh, excelled in any game he played — tennis, table tennis and badminton; he represented Uttar Pradesh in inter-state tennis tournaments. His son and grandson are also very good at the game.

For a while I had illusions that I might become a good sitarist and a painter. Three months in Santiniketan playing the sitar and painting under the guidance of Surendra Nath Kar, destroyed my illusions. I also knew that Ustad Amjad Ali Khan inherited his mastery over sarod from his forefathers and has passed it on to his two sons. Children of fathers who were good in mathematics usually excel in the subject. Slogging gets you that far but no further and you must have it in your genes to achieve excellence in any vocation.

This is a fitting prelude to my reactions to a letter I received sometime ago from Toronto signed “Hardev”. He was to visit India in a few weeks and wondered if he could drop in on me after he had been to his village in Punjab. At the back of the page were a few line drawings with a lot of animation in them. The letter said nothing about them.

When Hardev dropped in I asked him about the drawings. “They were mine,” he replied. “Whenever the spirit moves me I turn my pen from writing to drawing figures.” I got his lifestory from him. Born in a Punjabi hamlet, he came to Delhi to study art and got a job in the National Gallery of Art. He won a scholarship from the Italian government and found himself in Rome. Back home, he was asked to organize an exhibition of Polish folk art in Chandigarh. He was offered a fellowship by the Polish government. For the next three years, Poland was his home. While organizing exhibitions, he exhibited his own works and was offered the directorship of art galleries in south West Ontario. Since then he has lived in Canada and has become a Canadian citizen. However, the inspiration behind most of his work is the Punjab landscape, the village of his nativity and Indian dancers full of animation. They were always there in his blood.

Searching for the right colour

Three ladies were getting ready to attend the marriage celebration of one of their friends. They decided that each one of them would wear a sari that matched the colour of her husband’s hair. The first said, “My husband has grey hair, I’ll wear black.” The second said, “My husband’s hair is black; I’ll wear black”. The third said, “What should I wear my husband is bald.”

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