Monday, February 19, 2007


A room and a thought to spare

Khushwant Singh

February 16, 2007

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Millions of Indians must have been relieved to hear that Taslima Nasreen’s visa which was due to expire in a week has been extended to her life-time so that she can become a citizen of India. A fatwa pronounced by some Bangladeshi bigots — for her turning a free thinker — has put her life in jeopardy in Bangladesh. Thousands of Bangladeshis have been illegally sneaking in from their country to India, finding means of livelihood, getting ration cards and voting rights.

We have not been able to do anything about them. Here we have a case of an eminent novelist who came to India legally and is threatened with expulsion. Her only crime is that in her novel Lajja she exposed rampant corruption and religious skulduggery in her homeland and reneged from her faith. She has every right to do so. Mullahs pronounced the sentence of death on her. It is our sacred duty to protect her from harm.

We gave refuge to the Dalai Lama and thousands of his Tibetan followers. They proved to be law-abiding and hard-working citizens. Though the Chinese government has often upbraided us for granting them asylum, the rest of the world has applauded our extending hospitality to them. One can understand our government’s reluctance to act in haste lest it offend the government of Bangladesh but some kind of assurance should be given to Taslima Nasreen that she need not worry. She can stay in India for as long as she likes.

In an article published in The Outlook, Taslima exhorted Muslim women to “burn their burqas”. It created an uproar in orthodox Muslim circles. The Koran and the Hadith were quoted in support of as well as against women wearing burqas. It is assumed that it is a matter which concerns Muslims only. This is not so: it concerns all of us because Muslims are an integral part of our society. Non-Muslims would like to be closer to Muslims, their families visit Muslim homes and receive them in theirs. This is not possible if bigoted Muslims persist in segregating women folk and bullying them to wear burqas when they step out. Segregating women is a relic of the medieval past and should be discarded in the interests of the Muslim community.

I fully support Taslima’s call to burn burqas. Other Muslims nations are fast getting rid of them. Pakistan and Bangladesh have had women prime ministers and ambassadors. Pakistan, Tunisia, Libya and many other Muslim countries have women soldiers. Who are these mullahs and their female counterparts to tell us that wearing a burqa is a religious obligation? It is not; it has become an emblem of jehalat — ignorance and backwardness.

Delightful nonsense

I can’t recall another book that opened the floodgates of my childhood memories as much as The Tenth Rasa: An Anthology of Indian Nonsense, edited by Michael Heyman, Samanyu Satpathy & Anushka Ravishankar (Penguin). I wish the publishers had changed the title to a more selling one, calling it Indian Nonsense. It would have more sense without the Tenth Rasa.

Children of my generation knew a lot of nonsense verse by heart. It faded out of memory with the onset of years and we rubbed out what remained as too childish to be remembered. I tried to recall what I once knew by rote. The most popular one was as follows:

Akkar dukkar bhumbai bhau/
Assee, nubbey, poorey sau
Sau mein laaga dhaaga / Chor nikal kar bhaaga.
Akkar, dukkar, bhumbai bhau. (Eighty, ninety, to a full hundred.
String the hundred by a thread/ The thief ran out and fled.)

Some nonsense verse had educational aims. So we learnt the English alphabet:
ABC Too kitthey gaeo see
Edward mar gayaa / Pittan
gayee see
(ABC Where did you go
Edward died, and so/I went to beat my breast.)

For some reason when we had to cram multiplication tables when it came to nine into nine is 81, we put in verse:
Nau nai ikkasee/ Booko teyree masee
(Nine into nine makes 81
Your mother’s sister is a

Another entirely meaningless favourite was a meaningless jingle you could add to as you please:
Chal, chal, Chameli bagh mein / mewa khil aoonga;
Mewey kee daalee tootgayee / chadar bichhaoonga;
Chaddar ka phattaa konaa / Darzi Bulaoonga
Darzee kee tootee sooee / Loohar bulaoonga
Lohar Ka toota hathaura / ghora dauraoonga.

I can’t bother to transalate this one; none of these are in the book. It has many better examples taken from all our languages. It would appear in Bengali, Marathi and Punjabi, in that order, have more nonsense to their credit than other languages. Bengali has been translated by Sampurna Chatterji, Marathi by Mangesh Padgavkar, Punjabi by Nirupama Dutt.

Sampurna Chatterji has her own masterpiece:
Idli lost its fiddli/ Dosa lost its crown
Wada lost its wiolin/ And let the whole band down.

There was a fish who called himself: Thank You Bhery Maach.
Till the fishermen caught and salted him/ And ate him with the boiled starch.

The bathing Hymn is a mixture of Marathi and English: I found it hilarious:
Om havum bathum namaha/om take offum clothesum namaha
On the body applyum oilum namaha/ Scrubscrubum namaha rubrubum namaha
Scrubscrubum namahe
Om on the body pourum waterum namaha
Glugglugum namaha blugblugum namaha
Glugglugum namaha
Om applyum soapum namaha
Scrubscrubum namaha rubrubum namaha
Work upum latherum namaha.

Can anyone keep a straight face reading this?


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