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LOVE, LONGING, AND THE CAMERA

Soulful appetite Trade policy

By This Above All Khushwant Singh
  • Published 20.09.08
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Having worked as a journalist most of my life, I know what pests we can make of ourselves when we smell a good story. This true of the media all over the world: no wonder that in English-speaking countries we are known as news hounds, dogs that sniff out secrets. I found an amusing example in Private Eye quoting the plight of the prime minister of Thailand in the Bangkok Post of August 2008. It runs: “I have never seen anyone as foul and as wicked as you,” Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej told reporters at a farmers’ market in the Chatuchak district of Bangkok. “Are you insane? The Prime Minister of Thailand himself wanted to go to the lavatory, and you stood right outside waiting. It is shocking. Have not your editors taught you properly? I was sitting inside, as is my right. What’s the problem? I would like just to shop and go to the toilet, but you keep filming. I scold you so much and yet you are not ashamed. Should I be filmed inside while I am emptying myself? Can’t I have any privacy?”

A reporter later explained what had caused the prime minister’s outburst. “During his live television talk show, Mr Samak had refused to answer any of our questions about his recent cabinet reshuffle. So, after the show, we followed him to the Or Tor Kor market, still asking him questions, which he still refused to answer. Once inside the market, he disappeared into the lavatory, so we waited outside for him to emerge.... When he finally emerged, he was very angry and kept shouting, ‘It is awful, it’s shameful. Your channel owners won’t air my two-hour Thai teaching programme, but they’ll keep filming me as I empty myself.’ Then, after fifteen minutes of uninterrupted scolding, he got into the waiting car and left, still without answering any of our questions.”

Soulful appetite

Turning over the pages of Kuldip Salil’s anthology, Treasury of Urdu Poetry, I chanced upon a couplet by Makhmoor Dehlavi (1909-1956) that caught my eye. It runs:

Mohabbat ho to jaati hai,
mohabbat kee nahin jaati
Yeh shola khud bharak utthta hai,
bharkaaya nahin jaata

You fall in love, you do not decide
whom to love
It is a flame which bursts on its own,
it cannot be ignited

Nothing original about it. Mirza Ghalib had said the same thing more than a century earlier:

Ishq par zor nahin, hai yeh voh
aatish Ghalib
Jo lagae na lagey aur bujhaae na
baney

We have no power over love, the fact
you should know
It is that kind of fire which when you
try to light,

Refuses to ignite,
When you want to put it out,
it refuses to go.

With due deference to the great poets, I dare to suggest that they did not know the first thing about the phenomenon of love and what they wrote in immortal verses were fragments of their fertile imaginings. They lived in rigidly segregated society. They had contacts with women of only two kinds — female members of their families who did not observe purdah from them, and courtesans, for whose favours they made payments in cash. Ghalib, who wrote the best poetry on love, longing and pangs of separation, had a wife who bore him many children, but he did not write about her. It was always about the women he patronized. The same is true of other poets.

Falling in love is in the order of nature. It ensures the continuity of life. The desire manifests itself early in life and reaches uncontrollable dimensions between the ages of 15 and 30. It causes a craving to cultivate an exclusive relationship with some member of the opposite sex. Once satiated, it begins to abate, becomes a routine obligation, and subsides into companionship.

It is well-known that an attractive woman is like a well-laid feast, which a man approaches with whipped up appetite. After he has feasted himself, the woman does not look as appetizing as before. As it is, most Indians do not know what it is to fall in love. They may have crushes in their younger years, but 90 per cent of them have arranged marriages. It is a contrived love blessed by religion. In short, we confuse lust with love. Lust is real, love is imaginary.

Another aspect of love that poets make much of are pangs of separation. No doubt you miss a person you like very much when he or she is absent. What hurts much more than their absence is to be rejected by them and replaced by another lover. While being desired boosts a person’s ego, being rejected and replaced punctures and deflates one’s ego. The moral is to moderate one’s desires, try to detach oneself from emotional and physical dependence on others. That is the secret of a stress-free life and of serenity.

Trade policy

To tempt Western tourists during the Olympics, the Chinese shopkeepers displayed following banners:

At a tailor’s shop: “Ladies and gents tailor. Ladies have fits upstairs.”

Baker’s Shop: “Best loafer in town.” Optician and dentist’s shop: “Eyes and teeth inserted, latest Methodist!”

Furrier’s shop: “Coats made to order from your own skin or ours.”

Restaurant: “Famous for chicken dishes: eat chicken before it is born (egg) or after it is murdered”.

(Contributed by Niranjan Singh Bhatia, New Delhi)