My lost friends

My lost friends

I would have enjoyed their company more if I had developed their tastes for literature. They had much in common.

Satinder was an ugly looking Sardar; tall but ugly to look at. He had a fat chubby face with a sparse growth on his chin and an untidy turban on his head. He had an incredibly large repertoire of Urdu verse and was much the most sought after man in India Coffee House. Amongst those who fell for him was a beautiful Hindu girl Rekha. She married him and bore two pretty daughters. Satinder pretended to be a Jat Sikh but was in fact a Khatri Dhawan. One day in a fit of temper he hit his wife. She left him with her daughters and divorced him. He was a broken man and found solace in my home.

He was a very hard drinker and my wife often forbade him from taking more. At a cocktail party in Maurya Sheraton, he drank more than he could stomach. We had to leave early as we were to drive to our summer home in Kasauli next morning. The next day, I read in the papers that he was found dead in his bed by his servant.

The servant came to tell my daughter Mala about it. She immediately left for his flat and found him lying in his bed with dozens of empty bottles lying underneath. She informed his brother-in-law Inder Malhotra. A very reluctant Inder joined her. They were amongst the few to attend his funeral. Later, his daughter returned a watch and a pen he had taken from me. If he had been alive today, I would have been able to share my passion for Urdu poetry with him.

Balwant Gargi had established reputation as a Punjabi playwright. His play ‘Loha Kut’ was widely acclaimed. He became a great favourite of my mother and came often to spend mornings talking to her. As visiting professor of Dramatics in Washington State University, he married a very beautiful American girl. She bore him a son and a daughter. Like most Americans of her generation, his wife had a great appetite for food.

She would polish off at one sitting what three Indian would eat. She also never bothered to learn Punjabi and understand why her husband was revered in Punjab. The Christmas night while she was teaching her children how to play the piano, he undertook to drop Rani Balbir, once his student. In the garage the two had sex. He wrote about it in his autobiography. His wife divorced him, left her son with him and took the daughter with her to the States.

Rani Balbir taught him a lesson. She turned up in Delhi where Balwant lived alone in a tiny Haveli behind Scindhia House and beat him up. Balwant sensed his end was near. He came to say goodbye to me and moved to Bombay. He died there and according to his wishes his body was flown to Delhi for his funeral. Amongst those present was Inder Gujral, then Prime Minister of India.

Mansur Qadir was the leading lawyer in Pakistan. He was not a practising Muslim and a very close friend of mine. When he was in Geneva arguing Pakisan’s case in the Indus Waters Dispute, I was sitting with the Pakistan team. India was represented by Nani Palkiwala. The Indian delegation was surprised and amused to see me sitting with the Pakistanis. Mansur Qadir had great passion for Urdu poetry. My involvement with Ghalib, Faiz and Ahmed Faroz came many years later.

Badey Mian’s orders
I wrote to Badey Mian whose records decide our destinies to send for me as I was tired of living. He consulted his registers and replied: “At the moment all the cells in hell are occupied and there is no room available for you. As soon as a vacancy occurs, I will send for you. Till then hang on and go on with whatever you are doing.” I was sorely disappointed, as I am tired of living. However, since there is nothing I can do against his wishes, I hang on.

Happy days

The horse and the mule live thirty years.
And know nothing of wines and beers
The goat and sheep at twenty die,
And never taste of Scotch or Rye.
The cow drinks water by the ton,
And at eighteen is mostly done,
The dog at fifteen cashes in,
Without the aid of rum and gin.
The cat in milk and water soaks,
And then in twelve short years it croaks.
The modest sober, bone dry hen
Lays eggs for nogs, then dies at ten.
All animals are strictly dry,
They sinless live and swiftly die.
But sinful, ginful, rum soaked men.
Survive for three score years and ten
And some of them – a very few –
Stay pickled till they’re ninety-two.
(Contributed by Kishie Singh, Chandigarh)