Ustad in the art of free-loading

Ustad in the art of free-loading

Sweet And Sour



Ghalib had a passion for mangoes; he could eat a dozen a day. I can hardly cope with one. He had ingenious ways of persuading people to gift them to him. He writes about one when he happened to be strolling with Emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar in Hayaat Bakhsh (life-giving) garden in the Red Fort. The orchard was heavy with ripening fruit. Ghalib said “Your Majesty, I am told that every mango has the name of the person who is going to eat it inscribed on its guthlee seed. I wonder, if any of these bear my name on them!”

Bahadur Shah Zafar took the hint and sent a basketful to the poet’s home in Gali Qasim Jan in Billimaran.

My mango season starts in the end of April when Alphansos arrive in Mumbai markets. At one time I used to receive three consignments every season — one from the Syedna Sahib, another from Ajit Gulab Chand and Tavleen Singh and a third from Saryu Doshi. For some years Syedna  Sahib has struck off my name. This year I got a packet without a card. I assumed it was from Tavleen and wrote her a letter of thanks. It turned out to have been sent by Saryu. But my misdirected letter of thanks reminded Tavleen to send me a crate.

For me the real mango season begins when western UP mangoes come into the market: dussehris, langaras, ratols and others. Two friends who own orchards see that I got the pick of their fruit. One is Parveen Talha, the other Abid Saeed Khan. Both are very generous with their products. I get more than enough for my family of three and neighbours. By then the mango season is over.

Ghalib made no secret of his getting his Scotch whisky on loan:

Cars kee peetey they mai, par samajjhe they haan
Rung laayegee meyree faqa-mastee ek din

(On borrowed money I got my drinks, but I thought My penury will bring me glory one day.)

I am not penurious but reluctant to buy my liquor from the bazaar. Like other free-loaders I find the GP (other people’s) brand much tastier. I have a few friends who make it a point to come with a bottle whenever invited. When my stock runs low, all I have to do is to ask them to drop in for a drink. They replenish my dwindling stock. I am sure my hero, Ghalib, was also an ustad of the art of touching his patrons and admirers and made them express their admiration for him with a bottle or two of good whisky.

Outsourcing prayers

Many years ago I happened to be in Nanded (Maharashtra) and went to Hazur Sahib Gurdwara to pay homage to the last Sikh Guru, Guru Gobind Singh, who was assassinated there in 1708. It is one of the most sacred of Gurdwaras and a place of pilgrimage. I came across something which baffled me. There was a row of cabins separated by thin walls of plywood in which were a dozen akhand paths (non-stop reading of the Granth Sahib by a relay of paathees) with no one listening to them.
I sought explanation from the head granthi. He told me people from India and abroad sent money for akhand paths to be followed by guru-ka-langar as thanks giving or wish fulfilment. I could not comprehend how prayers recited by someone else could benefit a devotee who paid for them. However, I found such practices more prevalent in other communities as well. Hindus have havanas performed at distant places; Muslims pay expenses to people going for Haj, hoping that benefits will accrue to them.

What came as a big surprise to me was to find that Europeans, Canadians and Indian Christians are also into outsourcing prayers. Well-to-do English, Canadians and Americans who can’t be bothered to go to church paid for masses in euros or dollars outsourcing religious rituals to Kerala Christian priests. I read about it in the latest Private Eye of May 15. To wit: “The outsourcing of American and European jobs to low-wage countries like India has been happening for years,” Archbishop Jacob Thoom-kuzhy told reporters in Kerala “and religious outsourcing is no different. Because of a lack of priests in the industrialised world, prayers for the dead and holy masses are being paid for by westerners, then offshored to India.

It is a lucrative business for churches in Kerala. For example when British newspapers whipped up a storm about David Beckham’s affairs, a Beckham fan from London paid 50 pounds for a mass to save the soul of his hero. The Holy Mass, however, was outsourced to India.

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