The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Mahatma Gandhi kept a daily diary all his life. I have been keeping one for the last thirty years. However, what he recorded in its pages was very different from what I have been noting down in mine. I am entirely in agreement with him that a diary is a most valuable personal document, and that every educated person should keep one.

Before we go into the merits and hazards of keeping diaries we should be clear in our minds, what is and what is not a diary. An engagement book is not a diary. In it you only put down engagements you have to keep that day, meetings and conferences you have to attend, people you have to call on or expect to receive. You consult it first thing in the morning to plan out your day.

A pocket diary also does not deserve to be called one. It is a convenient thing to carry about on your person, jot down names and phone numbers of persons you wish to communicate with later. At the end of the year you sell it to raddiwala as you sell your engagement book.

A proper diary should be written at the end of the day. It should record all that you have done since you got up in the morning, people you met, places you went to, events of national and international importance. Per force it has to be of proper size with pages large enough to contain what you have to say. I can best illustrate this point by what I put in it every evening before I retire. At one time I used to note down the time I got up (I still do), the temperature and weather conditions, the state of my health, names of trees that came into flower; birds, and animals (not domestic) I saw — and of course people I met, concerts I attended and other trivia. My diaries came in very handy in preparing the series of programmes, The World of Nature, which I did with Sharad Dutt for Doordarshan. They are the basis of my book, Nature Watch.

Many well-known writers kept diaries which were either published in diary form or formed the basis of their novels. Writing something every day is a good exercise for budding writers.

Gandhiji had laid down strict rules for diary keepers. In an article, “Importance of diary”, which he wrote for Harijan Bandhu of January 20, 1933, he said, “For one devoted to the truth, it serves as a sentry because its entries have to be true. If violence done, work shirked, it has to be mentioned…Of course there is one condition: we will have to be honest; otherwise the diary becomes a counterfeit coin.”

So far so good. I go along with the Bapu about the need to be honest. Also, in his insistence that there should be no lapse. But I am not sure when he says, “Our wrongdoings must be mentioned in it.” Dear Bapu, must a businessman or a politician record the amount of black money he received on that day' Must he record the numbers of his accounts in a Swiss bank' Such entries can be lethal admission of guilt and can land their authors in jail. Noting down names of ladies you might have entertained over an innocent cup of tea who later become pregnant through somebody else who in his turn implicates you as the possible father can be most embarrassing. Your diary will let you down. No one will believe you only gave her a cup of garam chai and did not do any chher chaar. Your diary will become your direst foe.

Bapu goes on to say “No self-praise be recorded.” I am in entire agreement; I regard self-praise and even talking about oneself as a form of vulgarity. But he goes on to say, “Faults of others should not be stated”. Why not' If I did not note down peoples’ shortcomings as braggarts and name-droppers, how could I write my column on which I make my living'

A life devoted to the study of the Sikhs

As it often happens, foreign scholars do a more thorough research on Indian themes than Indians themselves. When it comes to the Sikhs, Cunningham, followed by Trump and Macaulliffe, were the pioneers. And the latest is the New Zealander, W.H. McLeod, Emeritus professor at the University of Otago in Dunedin. Since he is seriously ill, I wish to record the gratitude of my community for what he has done for it.

After getting a doctorate from the School of Oriental Studies in London, McLeod came to Batala to teach English. He was there for nine long years. The choice was to do research on the Arya Samaj or the Sikhs. He chose the latter. He learnt Gurmukhi, studied the Sikh scriptures, janam sakhis (life stories) of Guru Nanak and whatever else was available on the subject. His first book, Guru Nanak and the Sikh Religion, was published in 1968. It shook Sikh scholars out of their complacency as he cast doubts on the authenticity of Guru Nanak’s travels to Basra, Baghdad, Makka and Madina as well as to distant parts of India and Sri Lanka. His second book, The Evolution of the Sikh Community, was published in 1976. He gave a lucid account of how from modest beginnings as a Bhakti cult, Sikhism spread to the Jat peasantry to become a formidable force. Eight other books folowed. I did not go along with McLeod on his later works, particularly one on rahit maryadas (traditional rituals), in which he highlighted the writings of nondescript granthis of little repute or consequence, pronouncing fatwas as some maulvis do. Nevertheless my respect and affection for the man remained. It was too much to expect emotional involvement in the fortunes of a community to which he did not belong.

I am told he has recently published his autobiography. I have not yet laid my hands on it. It should be worth reading. Besides writing on the Sikhs, he nurtured a number of Sikh scholars, two of whom were arraigned before the Akal Takht to atone for their sins.

Elections are near

Hints of elections from several quarters/ Is it kite-flying or testing the waters'/ Watch these signals, guess no more/ Symptoms tell the disease for ever more.

When astrologers are in great demand/ Much astronomical fees they can command/ When patriotism comes to the fore/ Elections, be sure, are in store.

When molehill becomes a mountain/ When high levels the accusations attain/ When politicians promise the moon/ Elections, sure, would come soon.

When wild charges are just assumed/ When buried corpses are exhumed/ When farmers suddenly become dear/ You can be sure elections are near./ When foundation stones come dozen a day/ When projects are cleansed by the day/ When they talk of development without reason/ We are surely close to the election season./ When padyatras and rallies are galore/ When even the soft-spoken turn stentor/ When leaders visit villages in droves/ We are heading towards election throes./ And when like water flows the booze/ When every lips shoots the choicest abuse/ When talk is not talk but bark instead/ Like it or not, elections are on your head.

(Contributed by J. R. Jyoti, Secunderabad)

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