The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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In every modern gymnasium there is an electronically-powered machine called treadmill. It has a broad rubber belt which starts moving on the press of a button. Anyone who wishes to take a brisk walk or jog stands on the belt and switches it on to any speed he or she wants. It gives you good exercise, with the illusion that you are getting somewhere whereas in fact you are exactly where you were to start with.

The newly-opened negotiations between India and Pakistan have two men at the centre-stage — Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali — both of whom could do well to shed some flab on a treadmill. I do not for a moment think that our prime minister was suddenly overcome by the goodness of his heart when he made a short visit to Srinagar, and offered his hand of friendship to Pakistan. Nor do I believe that President Musharraf grasped the proffered hand because he wants to play cricket in India.

It was not they who pressed the button to set the treadmill going and it will not be one or the other who will set the pace at which it moves. We know the hand that switched it on and will dictate its speed. I for one find nothing wrong with a third party coming to mediate between two antagonists who have failed to arrive at any amicable settlement of the future of Jammu and Kashmir. Nor am I impressed by the likes of Brajesh Mishra and N.N. Vohra, toing and froing between Delhi, Srinagar and Washington and pretending they are privy to secrets none of us know.

The core issue is public knowledge. It is the future of Muslim inhabitants of the valley. They are not happy with our presence in the valley but they do not want to gamble on their future with Pakistan. They have failed to create a sense of security in the minds of Kashmiri Pandits and Sikhs who continue to live among them. And they do not speak with one voice. Is it not possible to arrive at a consensus between India and Pakistan which will give complete autonomy to the valley guaranteed by both the countries and overlooked by the United Nations' In order to arrive at some such settlement infiltration of terrorists into India must stop; transgression of human rights by our troops and the police must also stop. Thousands of innocent lives have been lost and thousands of crores of rupees gone down the drain. Neither India nor Pakistan can afford to continue waging this senseless undeclared war.

Measuring Iqbal

Last month I happened to switch on Pakistan TV. Normally, I listen to their news and political discussions in which India looms large with a lot of anti-Indian bias. But that morning they were celebrating Allama Iqbal’s birth anniversary. President Musharraf was presiding over an international seminar attended by delegates from foreign countries. The one country not represented was India. India has produced as many, if not more, Iqbal scholars and more books on Iqbal in Urdu, English and Hindi than any other country; his poems are better rendered in music by Lata Mangeshkar than by their melody queen, Noor Jahan. Why then did they leave India out of their guest list'

The eulogies of Iqbal I heard on Pak TV were uniformly second-rate, overstressing his role as the propounder of an independent Muslim state. He certainly did so in a few lectures he delivered but this is untraceable in his poetry which is full of patriotic fervour (Indian) and need for a revolution which would topple palaces of kings and burn standing crops of rich zamindars who did not feed the poor.

He wrote in praise of Ram, Guru Nanak, Swami Ram Tirath and is of course the author of “Sarey jahaan say acchha Hindustan hamara”. A fair portion of his poetry is also devoted to the rise and downfall of Islam as a secular power. It is unfair to attach labels on poetic geniuses of the calibre of Iqbal. They speak in different tongues at different times; only their poetry defies the passage of years. I recall a couplet by him:

Too issey Paimaana-e-Imoroz-o-farda say na naap

Jaavedaan, paiham ravaan, hardam javaan hai zindgee

Measure not life by the hour glass

Of yesterdays and tomorrows to come

Life is eternal and everchanging and

Forever renewing its youthfulness.

Winner takes all

Santa Singh and an American are seated next to each other on a flight from Los Angeles to New York. The American asks Santa Singh if he’d like to play a fun game. Santa Singh is tired, so he declines and tries to get some sleep. The American persists and explains that the game is easy and a lot of fun. He says, “I ask you a question and if you don’t know the answer, you pay me $5, and vice versa.” Again, Santa Singh declines. The American, now agitated, says, “Okay. If you don’t know the answer, you pay me $5, and if I don’t know the answer, I pay you $500”.

This catches Santa Singh’s attention. He sits up, yawns and agrees to play the game. The American asks the first question: “What’s the distance from the earth to the moon'”

Santa Singh doesn’t say a word, reaches his wallet, pulls out $5, hands it to the American. “Okay”, says the American, “Your turn.” Santa asks, “What goes up a hill with 4 legs and comes down with 8 legs'” And goes back to sleep.

The American, totally puzzled, takes out his laptop and searches all his references; no answer. He searches the internet; no answer. He sends e-mails to all his friends and co-workers; no answer. After an hour, he wakes Santa Singh up and hands him $500. Santa Singh thanks him and goes back to sleep. The American shakes Santa Singh and asks, “Well, what’s the answer'” Without a word, Santa Singh reaches into his purse, hands the American $5, and goes back to sleep.

Mind your language

A bicycle can’t stand on its own because it is two-tired.

What’s the definition of a will' — It’s a dead giveaway.

A backwards poet writes inverse.

She had a boyfriend with a wooden leg, but broke it off.

You feel stuck with your debt if you can’t budge it.

He had a photographic memory that was never developed.

A plateau is a high form of flattery.

When an actress saw her first strands of gray hair she thought she’d dye.

(Courtesy: Amir C. Tuteja, Washington)

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