On losing a friend

Sweet and Sour

This happened to me when I read of the death of Manohar Malgonkar at the age of 97 in his estate in Jagalpet in north Karnataka. We had known each other for almost half a century.

The first time we met remains fresh in my memory. I was working in the external services of All India Radio. He told me of his past. He had been in the Army during the Second World War. He rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel in the Maratha Light Infantry. After retirement he became an avid Shikari. Having slain eight tigers, he became a professional conducting eminent foreigners to hunt big game. Then, a sudden change came over him. He swore not to kill anything anymore.

He became a passionate preserver of wildlife. He told me of a handsome young tiger who used to display himself sitting in the middle of a forest road in broad daylight. He was a sitting duck for my tiger killer. Malgonkar would drive me to him and fire a few shots to frighten him off. The tiger learnt not to trust humans and lived a full life. When Malgonkar finished his story, I asked him to put it on paper. He did. I broadcast his story and had it published. That is how his career as a writer began. He graciously acknowledged it by always referring to me as ‘Guruji.’ Then came a series of novels: ‘Distant Drum’, ‘A Bend in the Ganges’, ‘The Combat of Shadows’, The Devil’s Wind, many short stories and film scripts. His style of writing reminded me of John Master’s ‘Bhowani Junction’. It was racy and highly readable.

Malgonkar was highly conscious of his Maharashtrian heritage. He wrote the biography ‘Kanhoji Angroy’, ‘Puars of Dewas Senior’ and ‘Chatrapatis of Kolhapur’.

Malgonkar’s writing career ended when manganese was found in his estate. He became a rich man and got involved in mining manganese business. He lived in princely style in a palatial mansion, with many acres of garden. He often invited me to stay with him. But I was never able to accept his offer of hospitality. My son spent some days with him and told me what wonderful time he had spent with Malgonkar’s small family.

Indian voice from abroad

Tabish Khair is a Bihari, settled in Denmark. He is professor of English literature at Aarhus University. He keeps in close touch with his motherland and visits it once a year to see his parents, writes regularly for Indian papers like ‘The Hindu’ and ‘Outlook’ and many others in England and America. He has also published many novels like ‘Where Parallel Lines Meet’, ‘Babu Fictions’, ‘The Bus Stopped’, ‘Filming: A Love Story’, all of which I reviewed favourably because I found them lucid and absorbing. Now I have his latest ‘Man of Glass’ (Harper Collins) and find myself like one lost at sea. It has Kalidas, Mirza Ghalib and H C Andersen, all mixed up. Kalidas he read in the Sanskrit original at school. Ghalib was always with him because his mother tongue is Urdu. Anderson’s fairy stories for children which he must have read as a child acquired special significance after he became a Danish national.

I do not know Sanskrit. All I have read of Kalidas is in English translation. Whatever I read by Andersen I forgot long ago. Only Ghalib remains with me. However, Tabish’s transcreations do not tally with my reading of Ghalib’s couplets. To start with take the first few couplets of his Diwan:

Naksh fariyaadi hai kis ki shokhi e tahreer ka
Kaaghzai hai pairhan har paikre-tasveer ka
Tabish Khair renders the lines as under:
Such richness fills the aspects of this earth,
Each man’s a beggar seeking alms of worth.


I don’t think any student of Ghalib will agree with Tabish Khair. My own reading is: it means that every picture speaks for itself; it does not need learned explanation.

Likewise, the second couplet;

Kavikave sakht jaani haai
tanhai na puunch
Subah karna shaam ka laana hai juve-sheer ka

Tabish renders it as follows:

Don’t claim to tell the lonely back of work,
To turn night into day,
replenish dearth.


This is far-fetched a transcreation as I have ever seen. The couplet reminds us of the romance of Shireen and Farhad and the condition of her father to let him have access to his daughter. The same obscurity is found in all his transcriptions. I repeat that the primary object of writing is communication. In his ‘Man of Glass’ Tabish Khair fails to communicate.

The great difference Sign outside a pathology lab: “For you it may be your urine and stool. But for us it is our bread and butter.”

No smoking here

Customer: It is strange you sell cigarettes in this store, but you don’t allow the customers to smoke here.

Sales girl: Don’t talk about what I sell. I also sell condoms but I don’t permit anyone using them here.

(Contributed by J P Singh Kaka, Bhopal)

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