No marital bliss

If there was a marriage doomed to fail, it was that of Minoo Masani and Shakuntala Srivastava. Ironically it was love marriage between a Parsi and a Hindu Kayastha. No sooner they married, they began to drift apart. They stopped talking to each other.

Then filed a suit for a mutually agreed divorce. Their only child, son named Zareer, who is proud of being gay, has written about how love turned into dire hate within a matter of months. And All is said: Memoir of a Home Divided (Penguin Viking) narrates his parents’ break-up in beautiful prose. Minoo was deep in politics. He along with C Rajagopalachari, founded the Swatantra party and won an election to the Lok Sabha. However, the Swatantra party was a non-starter and soon faded out of existence. Shakuntala became an ardent admirer of prime minister Indira Gandhi. Since then,  husband and wife were at opposite ends of the political pole. There was little chance of their holding together.

I befriended Shakuntala. She used to spend her summers in London as a lodger with an English family living in a suburb. On two successive summers I also happened to be in London on writing assignments. We got closer to each other. She came to my hotel every evening. We had a drink or two in my room. Then went to the pictures — usually The Curzons in Mayfair — a small cinema house which showed foreign films. Then dined together in a French or Italian restaurant. Last summer when I did not go to London, she was taken ill. It was something serious like cancer. After suffering acute pain, she succumbed to it a few weeks later. I was heart-broken. I keep gazing at her photograph with her husband in the jacket of the book. I say to myself  “It can’t be true. I will not let you desert me.” I had a strange feeling that her picture gave me a smile.

Return post

Prime Minister’s wife, Gursharan Kaur, occasionally sends flowers to my grand-daughter Naina, who lives across the corridor, Reeta Devi who lives in the neighbouring block, and to me. I promptly send her a letter of thanks in an envelope marked “personal” at the Prime Minister’s residence on Race Course road. On two occasions, my letters were returned to me with the note “addressee unknown”. I had to send them back by hand. However, I marvelled at the efficiency of our postal service - Shabash!

My honours’ list

Every Republic Day, I draw up my own honours’ list for Bharat Ratna and Padma Awards. I impose two pre-conditions. First, anyone known to have canvassed for any award should be banned from receiving any honour. Nine out of ten men and women do so. If discovered, they should never be considered for being honoured. If found out later, the title should be taken back. This is the practice in England. My friend, Jack Lyons, had a knighthood conferred on him. Later, when he was discovered to have been involved in shady deals, his knighthood was cancelled. There was a strong element of anti-semitism in the cancellation. Jack Lyons migrated to Israel — a very bitter man.

My second suggestion is to set up a convention that recipients of awards should not attach them to their names or use them in letter-heads. Nine out of ten Indians do: Padma Shri, Bhushan, Vibhushan, Shri or Shrimati. And so and so. It is cheap and vulgar. Let others use them and describe the recipients but he or she should not do so. In England, many titles like the Count, Earl, Lord or Sir are put before the person’s name, but the majority do not use them. Mark Tully, who has made India his home, was knighted many years ago and also got a Padma Bhushan, he has not used one or the other. He always remains simple Mark Tully.

Indo-Pak differences

Joke doing the rounds in Pakistan:
In India, government decides age of army chief.
In Pakistan, army chief decides the age of government!

(Contributed by Vipin Buckshey, Delhi)


Sheetal Sharma

I am ever eager to write about people who confrom to the Gita’s ideal of service: “Perform your duty without looking for fruits of your labour (Karman-ev adhikarastey, maa phaleshu kadaachana). One such person who came to my notice is Sheetal Sharma, Secretary of the society that manages DAV schools and colleges. It is India’s largest non-governmental educational organisation.

Sheetal was reared in an academic atmosphere and married an academic. Her father was vice-chancellor of Vikram University and later president of the DAV college managing committee. Her husband was an IAS officer and after retirement vice-chancellor of Kurukshetra University and Director of National Defence College. Sheetal is a product of the Delhi School of Economics and B. Ed from Punjab University. She has visited England, Canada, USA, Egypt and Russia to study the education system prevalent there. She has put her experience to produce a series of publications entitled “Look Around.” Her latest series “Hello Life” (Tulip publications), profusely illustrated, is to equip learners with life skills. She has specialised in helping disadvantaged children, distressed and mentally disabled and old people (I fall in the last category). I look forward to her visits as she is an attractive woman, full of smiles and laughter.

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