Indo-Ozzie bhai bhai

Sweet and sour

There is something about the news of attacks on Indians in Australia that does not make sense to me. I have been to Australia a few times, travelled extensively across the sub-continent, been invited to homes of Australians, as well as of Indians and Pakistanis settled there. I can say, from my experience, that there is not another white race that is less race-conscious than the Australians and there is not another white country where Indians who have made their homes there are happier.

What is even more inexplicable is that there are not many Australians who can tell the difference between Pakistanis, Bangladeshis, Sri Lankans and Indians to be able to single out Indians to vent their resentment.

Who then are these to get white hoodlums who pick on Indians and leave out other brown races? I do not know the answer. But I do know that until we get the right answer, we must not allow anti-Australian feelings to develop in India.

All these demonstrations and yelling outside the Australian High Commission, the Shiv Sena’s threat to prevent Australians playing in India are childish tantrums which will do us more harm than to Australians.

Whenever we run short of food grains, the first country we turn to bail us out is Australia. Thousands of Indian students are studying in Australian universities. So please ponder over the matter and decide for yourself what will be better, whether to strive for Indo-Ozzie bhai-bhai or yell ‘ozzies go back’?

Dinkum Ozzie: On my first visit to Australia I spent a week in a small town with the odd name Alice Springs. It is in the midst of a vast desert. Its main attraction was the pre-historic Ayres Rock, one solid piece stone with flora and fauna of its own.
There I met the oldest man of Indian origin who had living there for over half-a-century. He was a Baloch who came with the first batch of camel drivers to help laying railway tracks.

I went to call on him. He lived in a hut and was cooking his meal. I greeted him “Salam valaikam”. He looked up with unbelieving eyes on hearing a greeting he had not heard for decades. He replied, “Valaikum Assalam”. “Where are you from?” he asked, in English. I replied, “From your ‘vatan’, India.”

He had forgotten his Balochi and Hindustani; his English was not very good. I wondered how he lived alone in the wilderness. He had put his past out of his mind but not his manners. As I was about to bid farewell to him, he recalled words he could not have used for a long time “Koi roti-shoti khau — have something to eat!” I thanked him and asked him “Have you ever thought of returning home?”
He replied, “This is my home I am a Dinkum Ozzie.”

Bihariputra - Renu
One of my lasting regrets is that when I migrated from Pakistan to India in August 1947, I did not learn to read and write Hindi.
It was not entirely my fault as I got postings abroad and even lost much of Urdu I knew. I was able to pick it up again in my years in Bombay. I befriended the Zakarias, Quratulain Haider, Ali Sardar Jafri, Sahir Ludhianvi and other Urdu poets. The passion, for Urdu continues.

But all I knew of Hindi is in English translation: Prem Chand, Nirmal Verma, Bhisham Sahni, Ageha Jainendra Kumar Jain and many others. I envy those who are equally at ease with Hindi, Urdu and English, one of them is Rakshanda Jalil of Jamia Millia University.

She has written extensively about Delhi in English and translated Hindi novels. Though she is equally adept in Urdu, she does not write it, but use it as her source material.

Rakshanda’s latest offering is translations of 10 short stories by Phaneshwar Nath Renu — ‘Panchlight & Other Stories’.

I had heard a great deal about Renu but was never able to lay my hands on any of his writing. I was aware that Renu (1921-77) was Bihari from a tiny hamlet in Purnea district. He was deeply involved in the freedom movement and was jailed many times.

His story ‘Maara Gaya Gulfam’ was made into a highly popular feature film. Renu’s stories have the earthy fragrance of the soil of Bihar. His characters use English words as they pronounce them: ‘daghdar’ for doctor, ‘delaiver’ for driver, ‘laisance’ for licence. And so on. He reproduces sounds of drums ‘dhak dhak’.
The reader is transported to Bihar’s villages with their cowherds and caste panchayats and their out-dated ways of thinking and living. You get a taste of all this in the first story: ‘The Wrestler’s Drum’ along with the Renu’s pride of being a ‘Bihariputra’, son of Bihar.

It is about a cowherd who drinks buffalo milk, takes a lot of exercise and becomes a powerful wrestler. At different dangals he flows challenges from different parts of India — Punjabis, Pathans, Rajputs and keeps Bihar’s flag flying. All the other stories selected by Rakshanda read as well as ‘The Wrestler’s Drum’.
Power failure

The electric train at the suburban station was delayed because of a power failure. When irate commuters complained, the station master retorted: “I am powerless in this matter.”

(Contributed by K J S Ahluwalia, Amritsar)

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