The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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I believed the war in Iraq would last about three days, at the most, one week. I am not the only one who went wrong. We believed that Saddam Hussein was not only a ruthless dictator who oppressed his own people but also waged unprovoked wars against his neighbours. The Iraqis hated him and would rise in rebellion when foreign liberators fired the first shot. We thought the first to revolt would be Shias, who form the majority of the population. The Kurds would also exploit the situation and declare an independent state of their own.

None of this turned out to be true. Instead of welcoming American and British troops as liberators, the Iraqis regarded them as hostile invaders; their national pride was wounded and they rallied round Saddam as defender of their country and their faith. It became a jihad against foreign infidels. The Shias refused to avail of the opportunity to overthrow Saddam, who is Sunni, and put a Shiaite in his place. Only Kurds joined the Americans in the hope of carving a state of their own. What is more surprising is that many heads of Muslim nations who severely criticized Saddam became mute when Muslims all over the world raised their voices against the allied forces in Iraq. So the villain of yester years became a hero. It is a phenomenon beyond my comprehension.

However, I still hold firmly to my belief that Saddam is as evil a man as Osama bin Laden. Both would be better off living in retirement in Mecca than holding positions of power. I am also convinced that the war will end in the victory of the coalition. What will become more problematical is how the vaccuum left by the disappearance of Saddam and his Baath party be filled. Whatever regime the US installs in his place will be looked upon as puppets and traitors.

The anger will be directed more against fellow Muslims who betrayed them in their hour of trial because their leaders did little more than allow the common people to voice their protest. I make pointed reference to Pakistan. It is a member of the security council. Why didn’t its representative threaten to walk out unless America stopped its march into Baghdad' It did not because Pakistan has made a deal with the US and is allowed to do no more than make gestures of sympathy and send medical aid and food to the Iraqis. By contrast, India behaved with more rectitude. Our relations with Iraq were always closer than those of Pakistan. Our air force trained their pilots, our army officers trained their army. Indian builders played a major role in the reconstruction of their roads and buildings. It could be said that Iraqis trust Indians more than they trust any other people. This should provide India another opportunity to play the leading role in the reconstruction of Iraq after the guns are silenced.

Speaking in many tongues

I am often asked why I don’t write in my mother tongue or in Indian languages. I can read and speak Urdu and Hindi. I admit I am more at ease with English (which I regard as an Indian language) than with any other. It also gives me a much wider readership at home and abroad as well as bring me more money. I came across a poem by Malayalam writer Kamala Das (now Kamala Sourayya), who writes primarily in her mother tongue but has also written a couple of books in English as well. She sums up the dilemma of Indo-Anglian writers very neatly:

“..I am Indian, very brown, born in

Malabar, I speak three languages, write in

Two, dream in one. Don’t write in

English, they said.

English is not your mother tongue. Why not leave

Me alone, critics, friends, visiting cousins,

Every one of you' Why not let me speak in

Any language I like' The language I speak

Becomes mine, its distortions, its queerness

All mine, mine alone. It is half English, half

Indian, funny perhaps, but it is honest,

It is as human as I am human, don’t

You see' It voices my joys, my longings, my

Hopes, and it is useful to me as cawing

Is to crows or roaring to the lions, it

Is human speech, these peace of the mind that is

Here and not there, a mind that sees and hears and

Is aware…”

A matter of habit

Russians, followed by their Polish neighbours, are the world’s hardest drinkers of hard liquor. Their national favourite over the ages has been Vodka distilled from potatoes. In both countries the word is derived from Voda or Woda, meaning water. It is colourless, looks like water and they gulp it down neat without mixing it with soda or water. However, it is a spirit stronger than Whiskey or brandy.

Consequently, you see more drunk people lying sprawled on the pavements of cities like Mosqow and Warsaw than in any other city in the world. The incidence of cirrhosis of the liver in both countries is very high. At long last they have come to realize that it is not good for their health.

The consumption of Vodka has begun to decline and the younger generation of Russians and Poles are settling on to beers which have low alcoholic content. In most other countries Vodka has replaced gin (which also looks like water but is as potent as Vodka) as the base for making cocktails, but is rarely taken on the rocks in Western countries or India.

I am sure decisions taken by some of our state governments to make beverages with low alcoholic contents like light ales, lager beers, ciders and fruit drinks are sensible. Prohibition has proved a costly failure wherever and whenever it has been imposed; controlled, sensible drinking short of getting drunk, is good for a person’s health and minimizes governmental interference in peoples’ private lives.

Costly solution

There are pesticides in bottled water

There is metal in vegetables and greens

How can I use ground water'

Washing of vegetables is beyond my means!

I asked KS “What is the solution”'

He gave me advice, frank and fine.

“Eat roasted meat twice a day.

Instead of water, drink foreign wine!”

(Courtesy: G.C. Bhandari, Meerut)

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