Award drama

He retired a few months ago to settle down in his alma mater, Jamiah Milliah. I can’t recall when I met him first time, but I enjoyed his hospitality in Raj Bhawans of Kolkata and Chandigarh. I owe a lot to him. He had the Rohtak University confer an honourary doctorate on me. When I found going to Kasauli tiresome because of traffic snarls, he arranged police escort for me. With sirens blaring and no stops to pay toll taxes I was able to get there in a little over four hours. He continues to drop in off and on to see if I need help to cope with old age problems.

Some time ago he came with a few elderly men and women and told me that they intended to give me some kind of award and asked to fix a date. I did not catch what the award was for, but since I never turn down offers of awards — my motto is never look a gift horse in the mouth to count its teeth to find out how old it is. I said, “Thanks, any evening that suits you will suit me.”

Some weeks later a Mrs Choudhary rang me up and fixed date and time for giving the award to me. I still did not have a clue what it was for but invited her and others to come over and join me for drinks at 7 pm sharp.

I poured myself a stiff Single Malt and waited. They arrived on the dot. Eight members of the Secular Life Society along with a photographer and a tall handsome, strapping six footer Deepak Vohra, Indian Ambassador in Poland. Kidwai was unwell and could not come. What followed was a charade which went somewhat as follows: presentation of a bouquet of flowers — snapshot, garlanding — snapshot; shawl round my shoulders — snapshot. Presentation of citation — snapshot, presentation of a bronze head of the Buddha — snapshot. The prettiest of the group explained to me that the Buddha was a symbol of secularism (I was not aware of that). I asked that what would they like to drink — Scotch, wine, vodka? All of them replied “something soft”.

Even Vohra refused liquor. He had an odd manner of coming to attention like a soldier when he spoke: “But you enjoy your drink,” said a lady sitting next to me. She picked my glass and put it to my lips. I put it back on the table and said: “I can’t enjoy my whisky in a room full of teetotallers.” The pretty one asked me, “would you like us to leave?” I replied, “If you want me to enjoy my drink, yes.” They walked out without finishing their soft drinks.

It was all over in 15 minutes. And I did not know what the ‘tamasha’ was about. I added another slug of single malt in my glass and drank in silence till dinner time.

The next morning I took a look at the framed citation. It was for promoting secularism. I rang up Mrs Choudhary to send me details of the society and her role in its activities. She came next evening. She is a Bihari Brahman, born in village Brahmpur in Madhubani district. She went to Kolkata where her father was posted and did her schooling and college education: she is fluent in Bengali. She had an arranged marriage with Anil Kumar Choudhary and has two daughters. She has acted in Bengali films and represented India in cultural programmes in Finland and Estonian. She appears on Doordarshan programmes. It seems the only one who did not know about her was myself. She is now chairperson of the Secular Life Society, set up in 1986 to propagate its ideals.

There is nothing great in being secular. I follow the dictionary which makes it clear that secular is the opposite of religious. I regard people who subscribe to community-based organisations are not secular. So there was nothing exceptional I had done to merit the award. I am sure A R Kidwai was behind my getting it.

Down with fanaticism

This is a true story of an incident which took place in a Gurdwara in Noida. A Hindu who excelled in singing Gurbani had been invited to do the Kirtan. A large crowd turned up. Amongst it was a lady friend of mine who went all the way from her home in South Delhi to Noida to hear him. Everyone was enchanted by the man’s melodious voice. The young man who was acting as the Granthi recited the Ardas and then spoke: “I want to say something important,” he said.

“I agree that it was a very good kirtan and I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. But I think no one who has not unshorn hair and beard should be allowed to sing in a gurdwara.” The fellow evidently did not know about Sikh ‘maryada’ (tradition).
If I had been there, I should have told him: “O khoteya (you donkey) do you know that till the partition of the country in August 1947, the principal Ragis of the Golden Temple were Muslim descendants of Guru Nanak’s first disciple Bhai Mardana. All Sindhi ragis like famous Bhai Chella Ram are cleanshaven. At the bhog ceremony of my closest life-long friend, Prem Kirpal the Kirtan was sung by a Muslim Jatha based in Delhi.

Although the Noida fellow did not think about hurting anyone’s feelings, he did so by his stupid bigotry. If I had been there, I would have got up and slapped him on his face. I hope he reads this column and tenders an abject apology in the Noida Gurdwara Sangat.

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