The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
Email This Page

Never in my long life of 87 years have I suffered a worse winter than I did this year in Delhi. Right from Christmas to this day, it has been a succession of foggy mornings, a pale sun which gave no warmth and icy winds which chilled my aged bones. The lower temperature hovered between freezing point to five degrees celsius. Birds fly thousands of miles every summer and winter to warmer climes; so did I in the past years when I flew down to Goa to fill my lungs with fresh, warm sea breeze which lasted till Basant Panchmi, by which time winter loosened its stranglehold on northern India. This year I felt I was too old to travel and would make Delhi as conformable for myself as I could. I regretted the decision.

I brought more trouble on my own head — literally. I had my head massaged with warm oil, shampooed it with hot water and sat out in the garden to let the sun dry it. The sun was there but without any heat. By the time my head was dry, it was gripped with cold. I am familiar with the symptoms. It starts with sneezing. I have worked out by experience that when sneezes come in pairs, two at a time, there is nothing much to worry about. But when they come in singles, beware. All my calculations went haywire: sneezes came in explosions, more than six at a time. Then running eyes and a running nose, a constricted throat and head like a block of wood. I decided to heal myself. I tried Vitamin C tables with aspirin and hot lemon juice, run with lime and hot water, rasam twice a day. Nothing worked. Friends flooded with advice: take tulsi leaves and garlic in hot water, take two packets of lemonsip, take homeopathic pills and so on. Sneezing and running nose turned to phlegm, sinuses got blocked, giving me a throbbing headache; After six days I consulted my doctor. By then the cold had almost run its course. His medicine finally killed it. I survived yet another cold war.

Break her bangles, cut her hair

There are aspects of Indian life so abominably cruel that we do our best to pretend they do not exist and therefore we do not have to do anything about them. One such is the treatment of widows. They are not wanted by their late husbands’ family and their parents refuse to take them back. Their heads are tonsured, sindoor removed from the parting in their hair, bangles smashed, fine clothes taken away to be replaced with plain white. Many are dumped in ashrams in Varanasi or Vrindavan to become victims of pandas, priests and patrons of temples. The Hindustani word for a widow and prostitute is the same: randi.

A couple of years ago, Mira Nair tried to make a film on the subject in Varanasi and got permission to do so. Her equipment was smashed up by hooligans and her crew hounded out of the city. Now Pavan Varma, our high commissioner in Cyprus, has written a moving poem: “Widows of Vrindavan”; it has been choreographed and performed in Bharatanatyam by Pratibha Prahlad. Pavan writes of a young Hindu bride widowed before the marriage has been consummated:

And then they said:

She must wear white

Cut her hair

Break her bangles

Remove the kajal

Wash the sindoor

Let her renounce meat, give up


Adopt white! White, the colour


Bleach the mehndi; or anything else


Even remotely

The dreams of a bride.

She is dumped in an ashram in Vrindavan and laments:

I cannot find Krishna

In this temple town

Of overflowing sewage,

Where pandas breed

In concrete cess pools,

And devotees walk on filth

Without anyone noticing

I cannot find Krishna

In this holy city.

Although I chant His name.

From seven to ten

In the morning.

Every evening.

She ends up as a common whore:

We live in the shadow

Or whore houses,

Prey for priests

Landlords, rickshaw drivers

Policemen, shopkeepers

In fact, any male in sight.

Pratibha, despite achieving a degree of excellence as a dancer is not really suited to play the role of a widow forced by circumstances into prostitution because she is never likely to become a widow. She is an unmarried mother of identical twin boys conceived through artificial insemination. Who the donor is no one knows. She is 50 years ahead of our times and lovely to behold.

There still remains Saddam

We have defeated terrorism worldwide

Except for Saddam

So we can strut about with pride

And kiss our palm

All that we had to do was to frown

And the factories of terror turn turtle

and drown

Whether in Sudan or Pakistan —

The best example of it is the rise of

Fazlul Rehman,

The Pakistani taliban;

But there remains Saddam

But for whom the world is beauteous

and calm,

World’s enemy number one

To kill whom will be fun

And lesson to one and all

No, no, no failure, no attempt to divert


From al Qaida or bin Laden,

See, whether in Bali or Delhi or hotbed


Or New York, potentially

The world is completely fearless and


But alas, unfortunately when it comes

to Iraq

Even the UN begins to bark

And rather than continue to fight

India and Pakistan unite.

(Courtesy: Kuldip Salil, Delhi)

Email This Page