The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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At the place (now in Pakistan) and time I was born, no one bothered about birthdays. No records were kept and not even Hindu and Sikh families had horoscopes cast for their children. It was only after my parents migrated to Delhi and my father had to fill in my date of birth in the school admission form that he put in a date which came to his mind. It was some years later when I had to take birthday gifts for boys and girls that I started celebrating my own, on a made-up date. By the time I finished school, I finished with birthday parties as well. Sometimes friends sent me greeting cards or rang me up, nothing beyond that. We celebrated the birthdays of two of our ten gurus, as Jains celebrated that of Mahavira and Christians their Christmas.

Our leaders, if they celebrated their birthdays, did so in their homes with members of their families and also friends. No one ever dreamt of making them a public event at public expense. Ever heard of Bapu Gandhi cutting his birthday cake' Or the Anglicized Nehru throwing any party for his supporters' Or Rajendra Prasad, Radhakrishnan, Tagore, Zakir Hussain, Sardar Patel, Subhas Bose, Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi or any of the stalwarts of past generations' No, public celebration of birthdays of public figures at public expense is a recent phenomenon. Do these people really think their birthdays are of any interest or importance to the common people' No, they laugh at them. So do their chamchas, after they have gorged themselves on chocolate cakes, pakoras, mithaee and chaats. These netas do not know the word sophistication, nor the difference between culture and crass vulgarity. This is a free country where everyone has a right to celebrate his or her advent on earth as he likes. And we have no law forbidding people making fools of themselves.

Season for pleasure

There was a time when just before Holi I used to drive round the Ridge and go to Suraj Kund just to see the flame of the forest in bloom. This otherwise nondescript small-sized tree came into its full glory only for a brief week, but it was a sight for the gods. It has several Indian names like Palas, Dhaak, and Tessoo and it is found across the length and breadth of our country. Its beetle-black buds contrasted with the bright, and its curving petals resembling a parrot’s beak gave it a spectacular look. It is not commonly known that the battle of Plassey (1757) came to be so named because it was fought on a field that had lots of Palas trees in bloom at the time.

I do not drive out any more and am content to see an imitation of Palas in the coral trees which grow in some of our parks: its petals are of the same colour as the palas but are not curved. Neither flower has any fragrance. Now I sit in my nature-perfumed garden among colourful cinnerarias, salvias and ixora. Some years ago I planted what I was assured a kadam. It grew very rapidly to a great height and has a thick foliage of large leaves. It has become the favourite of a variety of birds including green barbets which call all day long. It gets pale flowers which have no odour. It is not a kadam; no one has yet been able to tell me what it is. During the time of Holi, it begins to shed its leaves. The slightest whiff of air, and they come on my head and all around me like confetti showered over a newly-married couple. My gardener sweeps them twice a day but for a week the pat-jhar (leaf-shedding) continues unabated till the tree is stripped bare. And suddenly new fiery-red leaves appear which gradually turn to green. Within a few days, the tree is thick with leaves as before and a safe haven for birds.

I am closer to nature in my little garden than when I am driving round parks and gardens. There is a noticeable drop in the number of sparrows. And while we are coming to the end of March and mango trees are in flower, I have yet to hear the koel which by now should have regained its full-throated cry, koo-oo, koo-oo. What’s happened then'

Though all too brief, this is the pleasantest time of the year in northern India. Whichever way you turn, there are flowers; whenever you pause to listen, there is bird song. Mir Taqi Mir caught the atmosphere of spring time in a few memorable lines:

If you like to visit the garden, go now;

For this is the month of spring;

The leaves are green and flowering trees

Are in full bloom;

The clouds hang low

And rain is gently falling

The heart feels like a throbbing wound,

The tears have turned to one red flood

This crimson-faced poppy of love

Dries up life and drains blood

This is the time when fresh, green


Appear upon the trees;

And branch and twig of plant and


Are bent with bloom and seed

With blaze of roses’ colour, Mir,

The garden is on fire;

The bulbul sounds a warning


Go past, O Sir, beware!

Possessed by cricket

I switch off the TV, I must confess,

When Pakistan is scoring fast

For I cannot bear my B.P. soaring,

I don’t want my heart to sink

I pretend to read instead or out of the

house quietly slink

To find the traffic and housewives’

chatter dead

For on the block is every head.

And when India wins, we win a war

Where going crackers is a natural


As Lahore, Rawalpindi and Karachi.

Fume and fester and faint naturally.

Hysteria and depression, exultation

and anarchy

A mad, mad frenzy

Baying for blood, seeing the adversary


Shouting and gloating, going in the

faces red,

Two possessed neighbours, so mutually


Two armies of eleven, self-made, self-


Wounded psyche, the smouldering


Gnash their teeth, growl and grind —

I see a ray of light in it, for in this

Our hostilities a harmless expression

find —

For it’s a war in its own right

And terrorism of a kind.

(Courtesy: Kuldip Salil, Delhi)

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