It?s a free world Take it in stages

By This above all / Khushwant Singh
  • Published 23.10.04

There is so much emphasis on what one should eat or drink in our religious traditions which have neither logic nor any bearing on health. For some, beef is forbidden but pig meat is okay; in others, beef is okay but pig meat is haraam. Some insist that animals meant to be eaten must be beheaded at one stroke (jhatka); others insist that it should be bled to death (halaal). Vegetarians have kitchen fads of their own: some will not eat onions, garlic, carrots or radishes because they are polluted by contact with the soil. But even they make an exception in the case of potatoes. How can anyone relish a vegetarian meal without spuds?

A couple of weeks ago, I learnt of another food eccentricity. The wife and daughter of a senior Bengali IAF officer told me that in Bengali homes no chicken or chicken eggs are eaten; they prefer to eat duck and duck eggs. I asked them why? Their answer was amusing. Because, they said, Muslims relish chicken, so Hindus should consume ham which Muslims abominate. I have never eaten any pig product in any Bengali home or restaurant.

Among Punjabis, kitchen fads are equally mind-boggling. Though both Hindus and Sikhs strictly abstain from beef (the Namdhari sect of Sikhs gained popularity for murdering Muslim cow-butchers, and were later blown up by cannons, to be acclaimed as martyrs), there is little enthusiasm for pig meat. At most, they take pickled pork (achaar), preferably made of wild boar meat. Ham and bacon can only be seen on tables of the Westernized Punjabis. And far from not eating chicken because they are relished by Muslims, they are the non-vegetarian Punjabis? favourite food. Chicken Tandoori is the Punjabis? national bird.

Does any of this make sense?

It?s a free world

It is a world of its own, as different as Bollywood (Hindi movies produced in Bombay) is from Hollywood. It could have been named Mollywood after Madras; it could as easily be called Chennaiwood. Nowhere in the world are film stars worshipped as gods on earth as in Tamil Nadu. They put up huge cut-outs of their living deities along public thoroughfares, offer aartis by waving salvers of oil lamps in front of their photographs, prostrate themselves if they happen to see the stars, as they do in inner sanctums of temples. They form fan clubs with memberships running into the thousands and confer honorific titles on their adored ones. Thus M.G. Ramachandran was entitled puratchi thalaivar (revolutionary leader ? male), his prot?g? and successor Jayalalithaa Jayaram puratchi thailaivi (revolutionary leader ? female), Shivaji Ganesan nadigar thilagam (tilak on the forehead) and Gemini Ganesan, kadal mannan (king of romance). Equally successful Tamilian actresses like Vyjanthimala Bali, Hema Malini and Rekha missed out the fan clubs and honorific titles because they chose to act in Hindi instead of Tamil films.

I picked up this information from Gemini Ganesan?s auto-biography, Vaazhkai Padagu (The Boat of Life), translated from Tamil into English by his daughter, Narayani Ganesan. Some facts were revelations to me. While Ganesan, like all other Tamilian stars, adhered to their religious traditions like wearing the sacred thread (janaoo), having tonsured at Tirupati and going on pilgrimages, he thought nothing when it came to siring daughters and a son through two wives and a lady friend. Jayalalithaa, a long time friend of married M.G. Ramachandran, had a brief matrimonial interlude before returning to MGR. Vyjanthimala married an already married Punjabi Dr Bali. Hema Malini became the second wife of Dharmendra while he had a wife and children of his own. Bigamy is not regarded as a crime in the film world ? Hollywood, Bollywood or Chennaiwood.

Gemini Ganesan was, as his photographs show, a stunningly handsome young man. He starred in well over 100 films, mostly Tamil, a few in Telugu and Malayalam. According to his version, it was never he who made the first pass; it was always some pretty woman or the other who found him irresistible and took the initiative. To not hurt their feelings, he never said no. He passed on his good looks to his daughters. Rekha exploited them to the hilt and rose to the top. Others, equally comely, went into different professions. The only one I have got to know is Narayani. Now in her forties, she still has a rich, golden brown complexion which glows, dimples and a winsome smile. She too has been married twice; first time as arranged by her parents; the second with a Kashmiri Pandit of her own choice. One child from each husband. And now freed of marriage, a good catch for any man looking for a woman with talent and good looks. Gemini, now 84, is in poor health and lives with his wife Bobji, 80, even in poorer shape in Chennai because one of their daughters is a doctor and medical facilities are readily available.

Take it in stages

Shakespeare propounds in As You Like It that our whole life is like a play, that we are mere actors in the theatre of life, and that man grows through seven stages of development: the first is that of an infant; second of a whining school boy, reluctant to go to school; third of a lover sighing like furnace; fourth of a soldier quick in quarrel; fifth of a justice full of wise saws and modern instances; sixth of an ageing man, shrunk shank, his youthful pantaloon too wide for his thin and lean body; and in the seventh going into oblivion sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans every nothing.

However, these seven stages can better be explained in modern idioms as ?spill, drill, thrill, kill, bill, ill, and will.? A man as an infant spills (corporeal waste); subjects himself to drills (discipline, exercise) in school; experiences thrills (excitement, titillation) as a youthful lover, writing ballads to his mistress? beauty; tends to kill, like a soldier for the sake of honour and glory; resorts to quote bills (laws, legislation) as a mature wise person; ills as an infirm, invalid aged person; and finally writes his will to bequeath his property to his progeny and goes into oblivion.

(Courtesy: C.D. Verma, Faridabad)