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Saturday , February 20 , 2010
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I abstained from commenting on the government’s decision to confer a Padma Bhushan on Sant Singh Chatwal because I was not fully aware of his shady past. I was also biased against him as I am allergic towards self-promoters and name-droppers. Seeing all the hungama created by the Indian media, I thought he would offer to withdraw his name from the list of awardees. In a similar case, a few years ago, Bhai Mohan Singh, founder of Ranbaxy, the largest pharmaceutical company in India, opted out of receiving the Padma award because of media raising the issue of his ousting a fellow founder of the company. But Chatwal appears to have no sense of shame.

More than his habit of name-dropping what I find deeply unsavoury is his lack of sophistication and vulgar display of wealth the newly-rich indulge in. A couple of years ago, he celebrated the marriage of his son in Mumbai. Many invitees were flown in by air and several floors of five-star hotels booked to accommodate them. Huge receptions were given to thousands of guests. He tried to make it the grandest wedding anyone has ever seen.

Earlier this year, Sant Singh Chatwal went on pilgrimage to the Hazoor Sahib gurdwara in Nanded, Maharashtra. He flew in by a chartered plane. The granthis honoured him with a siropa.

It is a sorry tale of a man with vaulting ambition.

Time passes

The two most pleasant months of the year in northern India are February and October. They operate in opposite directions but nevertheless have much in common. By February, winter begins to loosen its grip and fog, mist and chilly winds become a memory of the past. Instead, we have pleasantly cool breezes. The skies are an azure blue and the sun warmer. It is the other way round in October. The scorching heat followed by heavy monsoon fades away into the past. The sky is a clear blue, the sun less hot and signs of the autumn to come can be seen everywhere. More people can be seen in parks and gardens enjoying the fair weather than at other times of the year.

There are other natural phenomena in evidence during these two months that deserve notice. Lie flat on a lawn and fix your gaze skywards. In February, you may see flocks of geese or ducks flying in wavering arrow-head formulations calling out to each other, flying out of India towards their summer abodes in Central Asia. In October, you will see similar waving V-shaped flights of geese or ducks coming in from the reverse direction from Central Asia to spend their winters on Indian lakes, rivers and marshlands. And if you are lucky, you might see a lone cuckoo flying overhead calling koo-koo as it flies from the plains to the hills in February, and flies back in October to spend its winter in the plains. So far no one has been able to fathom how these birds manage to retrace their way during the same times of the year, and how they manage to find the same spots they have been visiting year after year. I am filled with awe and wonder. All I can say is that in February and October, I feel life is more worth living than in the other ten months of the year.

English lessons

A few months ago, the former Japanese prime minister, Yoshiro Mori, was given some basic English conversation training before he visited Washington to meet President Barack Obama.

The instructor told him, “When you shake hands with President Obama, say, ‘How are you?’ President Obama will say, ‘I am fine, and you?’ Then you should say, ‘Me too!’ Then we translators will take over.”

When Mori actually met Obama, he mistakenly said, “Who are you?” Obama was taken aback but managed to react with humour: “Well, I am Michelle’s husband, ha ha!”

Mori replied, “Me too, ha ha!”

(Courtesy: G.S. Sen, New Delhi)

Watch out

A West Pakistani jeep driver screeched to a halt on seeing a road sign in Baluchistan. The corporal with him asked: “Kyun, kya hua? (Well, what happened?)”

“Major sahib, aage ja rahe hain. (The major is going ahead of us.)”

“Major sahib! Kaise malum hua? Kaun major sahib hain? (How do you know that? Who is the major?)”

Yeh signboard padho! (Read this signboard)”, he said, pointing at one.

It said, “Major Road Ahead.”

(Contributed by Gauravjit Singh, New Delhi)

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