The dark reality: lonely Indians dying unsung

Even if a minister of Loneliness gets installed in the country, will she/he be able to reach out to the lonely Indians? After all, don’t we have ministers for the  welfare of the minorities etc. But see the dismal conditions prevailing!

Strange scenario unfolding. With the corona scare and the political pollution unmoving, there’s little enthusiasm to look forward to the upcoming season of Bahaar or Spring, with Valentine’s Day splashed in its midst. Nah, it seems to be heralding little excitement. The saturation point reached, with the viruses of all hues holding sway, washing away even the faint traces of longing.

Not to overlook the communal virus consuming us, our emotions, our sensitives, our  very  being.  Polarization on the housing front affects other fronts, including the love front! Tell me,  how can Hindu-Muslim love affairs take off, when there’s little interaction, when Muslims can’t get homes on rent in Hindu dominated areas and housing complexes, when Hindutva goons hang outside colleges and universities, keeping a watch!

One news report after another of sabotaged love affairs, between Hindus and Muslims. Now, of course, the so called ‘Love Jihad’ laws, are terrorizing couples. The State flaunted divisive-cum- destructive strategy along the ‘Love Jihad’ strain, seems to be the last nail in the coffin of our collective togetherness.

One of the biggest offshoots of this changed scenario is loneliness. One has to think a  hundred times before making friends. Close or the not-so. Spontaneity hit. Worries compound, as scares of all hues and forms gather around, gaining  momentum. And in the midst of it nobody even talks of loneliness!

Japan had appointed a Minister of Loneliness. As earlier news reports stated, this minister’s focus would be to combat loneliness leading to rising suicides. And if I’m not mistaken almost four years back, in 2018, UK had also appointed a Minister of Loneliness to try reach out to all those battling loneliness.  Don’t know whether any lessening of the lonely, but it sure does indicate that loneliness is one of those urgent concerns of the governments of the day.

Yes, though there’s denying that loneliness could be as lethal as cancer or corona but, here, in our country we don’t want to talk about any of the emotional realities. All seems to be going all okay! Its only when the situation crosses the bearable boundaries then cries for help can be heard. Who is there to hear those cries! No one! For till date nobody gives a damn to loneliness!

If even a minister of Loneliness gets installed in the country, do you think he will reach out to the lonely Indian! After all, don’t we have ministers for women and children, and also for the supposed welfare of the minorities and also for the several other disadvantaged groups and communities, and yes also for the farmers, industrial workers and mazdoors, and above all, for the collective health of  all!  But see the dismal conditions prevailing all around!

The dark reality is this: lonely Indians die unsung and prematurely even in those joint family setups,  yet  we aren’t  supposed to  talk of  any  of these  dark  realities hitting us , day after day.

I can only read aloud this verse from the rebel poet of the Awadhi belt, Israr-ul-Haq Majaz. He died young and that too decades back, but not before writing verse after verse, romantic as well as revolutionary, on the situation around.

Holding out to this day is his this verse titled Awara: 

Night has fallen in the city, and I, unhappy and defeated

Roam, a vagabond on dazzling, awake streets

It is not my neighbourhood, how long can I loiter thus?

Anguished heart, desperate heart, what should I do…

To stop and rest on the way is not my habit

To admit defeat and return is not my nature

But to find a companion, alas, is not my fate.

Pandit Birju Maharaj leaves back a definite void

Last fortnight as soon as the news of the  passing away of  Pandit Birju  Maharaj  reached me,  I was  transported to the 90s, towards the  Shahjahan – Pandara  Road  locality of  New Delhi . For that’s where Pandit Birju  Maharaj  resided with his entire family. And not too far from his home, was the apartment where I resided. Our homes were along the adjoining lanes and very often I used to see his children and students walking around in the area. It seemed a fairly large household, along the traditional strain.

I  was then covering  the cultural scene of this capital city and had seen him perform and also had those brief interactions with him. And on the occasions, I could get to talk to him what held sway was his very personality. To be nearer precision, the manner in which he spoke. It was pure bliss to hear him narrate situations and happenings in that relaxed Awadhi style. There was no rush of words, no usage of the rough slangs. He spoke out spontaneously and effortlessly, in that Dastangoi style. In fact, the expressions on his face and eyes added to that flow …At times one wished the conversation, rather his words would go on.

And whilst on stage, his dance held the audience captive. Those unforgettable expressions, those movements, that connect, his immense love and passion for Kathak was all too writ large. It all came naturally to him. He was born to be the maharaja of Kathak. And would always remain so!

Khushwant spoke fearlessly, wrote  along the same strain

Sardar Khushwant Singh would have turned 107 year on 2 February 2002

Born  in the  Undivided Punjab, in  village  Hadali,  in 1915,  Khushwant  Singh  celebrated  two  birthdays  –  2  February and 15  August.

Sardar  Khushwant  Singh  lived life at  his  own terms. He spoke fearlessly. He wrote    along the  same strain. No contradictions. Just  no  hypocrisy ,  no frills  and  none  of the  modern  day  complications. He  hadn’t  got  himself  a  computer and nor a secretary and  definitely  not a  mobile. “Mere  bas  ka  naheen   hai  yeh  sab …I  am happy writing on a  note  pad. ” And  he’d  moaned when one of  his friends had  got  him a  mobile. Rejecting  all  modern  day  gadgets,  keeping  to  the  very  basics.

What would you say to a man who wrote for hours every single day!  There were never   sermons. Only subtle relays: No wasting of  time in gossip or  in those  useless wanderings. No facades, no communal tilts, no lies and no deceit.

He was a great man, a great friend.

Even  at the cost  of  sounding  cliched, he  was  ‘doston ka  dost’.  Anything for  a friend! Yes,  he could   do  anything  …Till  about the   time  his close friend  Prem  Kirpal died,  Khushwant   did  make  it a point to  visit   him almost  every  week. Often , I’d accompanied him, and though Prem  Kirpal  was  stone  deaf but  would  receive us with a   smile and  much  hospitality followed. And when Khushwant  would  announce that was time to go,  Kirpal looked sullen. This when Khushwant  has  written some rather  provocative passages on Kirpal’s chronic bachelor-hood. But, then, there was  that  rapport between the  two.

There  could   be  many whom  Khushwant  had  helped  out, though   he had  never ever  dwelt  on those  details… several  years   back, theatre  personality Balwant  Gargi was undergoing severe financial crisis and  only  one  particular person in this   capital  city helped  him out, “Sardar Khushwant  sahib   had  helped, paid  my electricity bills…he  did  so without  letting sardani or any other person   know …did so very quietly, sardarni did  not  get  to  know.”

I’m   certain that   patients  lying   in  the  confines  of  the  Guru  Teg  Bahadur   hospital  in New Delhi  wouldn’t have an  inkling  of Khushwant’s  role  in the  building   of a modern  and well equipped  dharamshala  for the caregivers accompanying these  patients from far  flung  sectors. This dharamshala is a Sir Sobha Singh project that came through because of  Khushwant’s persistence and initiative. He seemed determined that this  building  come  up  as  part  of the   hospital  bandobast  for  the hapless   patients,  in  tune  with   the  Sikh  philosophy that  one  tenth  of  the earnings   should go  to the  disadvantaged. A  philosophy  followed  by  his  parents,” my  father   always   gave one  tenth of his  earnings  to charity, now this trust  in his  name … whenever  my  father  visited  AIIMS  he’d commented  there  was  no  place  for  care givers to  stay, particularly as  many may  have  travelled with their  patients. He couldn’t  build  one  in  his  lifetime. So it was  left for the  family and to  the  Sir Sobha Singh Trust to  build this  one.”

All the  years  in  my  constant  interactions  with   him  I  hadn’t  ever  heard  him  raising  his  voice. On   several  occasions  I’d  seen young enthusiastic writers barging  in  unannounced and he  looking  totally taken aback ,  saying that  he doesn’t  meet without a  prior  appointment. The intruders  still about lingering  on. With that  he looking upset but  somewhat  relenting,  “Okay sit,  okay  have a drink.”  Yes , he could  look   upset  or  irritated, but , then, nothing  beyond. Even if   guests  lingered on , that  is beyond  8  pm , he   comes up  with  rather  gentle  reminders  , “bhai   …aab   tum  jao.”  There was  that  look  of impatience in  his eyes but, then,   he was   not  the  one   who could  ever  get rude.

Call  it   strange  or   call  it  by any  other  term  but  all those  years I’d  seen  him sitting   on the  same  chair  and  amidst  the  same  settings. In  fact, years   back  when  his  spouse  Kaval was   battling  with   Alzheimer’s  disorder, he’d be  sitting   on  the   sofa   chair   placed   across   to where  she’d sat.  His  eyes  moving  from  the   notepad  he’d  be writing    on, towards  her. Had  been seeing him in that   role, mind you,  not  just  one  evening , but for   months  at a  stretch.  During   that   phase   I  used to   visit  him   almost  every day, as the  two  of   us would walk  towards the  Lodi  Gardens.  Once  there,  he’d   walk for  a  while ,  before   being   surrounded  by many  of  his admirers. In  fact, once  we’d  reach  the  side  gates to this  garden, we’d  part  ways  –  in the  sense  I  would  take   the   full  round, and  he ‘d   walk along  the stretch  facing  the  ‘gumbad ‘ situated  in the  very  heart  of these gardens. The  meeting point, to  walk  back , was  those  steps leading to the  ‘gumbad’ .  Invariably, I found   him sitting  on the steps  leading   to   the   ‘gumbad’ with   at least  a   dozen  fellow   walkers  also  sitting   on those  steps.  Chatting  with him, asking   him for   his  comments  and  views  about  the   various   political   aspects   and current happenings And along with them  there’s  to  be  a channa seller who’d  always come along to wish  him. Not that   Khushwant  bought  any   of  his wares  but  did  make  it a  point  to exchange  a  sentence  or  two, followed  by  polite friendly  nods.

“Don’t you   get   irritated  with all these  people   coming up  to you ,  not  leaving  you even  whilst  you  ‘re walking  ?” I  couldn’t  help asking  him and  he’d   smile,   implying  its  all  okay , part  of  everyday  life  …No, not  once  I  ‘d spotted   rudeness  or   arrogance   in  his  attitude.

And   if  one were to ask  him what  he’d   utterly disliked, he’d  said,

“Can’t  stand   arrogance, can’t   stand  rudeness   and  those who  are   fake   …in  seconds  I can  see through  those flatterers.”

Then why   so  many have  been   taking  advantage  of  him? So many  trying  to   get close to  him, by  faking  and   super-faking. He   did   realize   people  taking  advantage  of  him  but   came in  way  his  inability to  say  no. He   couldn’t  say   no.  And  in one of  those  introspective  moods,  he  would offload details  of  the  who’s  who, who’d   not  just wasted  his   time  but  had   even  taken  him  to court. Looking  upset,  he   recounted     the  many   times  he   has  been  let down   by close   friends ,  yet   not  one  of those   to  have   thought  of   revenge  or   avenging. “No, that’s not in  me…I  immediately  withdraw and that’s  about it. ”

His emotional connect with his roots

Not  really  bothered  what  others  comment; some  even calling  him  “Pakistani  rundee  ki  aulad “, he    kept  his   home  open to   anyone landing   from   the  place  of  his  roots, Pakistan . There  was   that   smile   ever   widening   on  his   face when  he  spoke  with  Pakistanis  landing  at  his   doorstep.  In  fact, tradition  has  been  that  High Commissioners   of  Pakistan coming  on  a  posting  to India   would call  on him within the  first  few  days  of  their  reaching New Delhi.  Many of the   ordinary travellers   from  the   neighboring   country   making  it  a  point to   meet   him. And  he’d   be there  asking   details   of  his   ancestral  village in Pakistan,  along  with  several  of the   basic  queries.Yes , with  them he’d  break  into  Punjabi, with  ample English and  Hindustani words   thrown  in for our  sake , the  non- Punjabis  sitting  around, trying  to  grasp each word.

In  fact,  it’s  in  his  home I ‘d  first  met Minoo Bhandara  – Bapsi  Sidhwa’s   brother , owner  of   Murree  Breweries  and also   a  former  member   of  Pakistan’s National  Assembly…Minoo   had  travelled to   his  village Hadali (in  Pakistan ‘s Sargodha  district )  and   clicked  pictures … there were   tears  in  Khushwant’s   eyes   when  he’d  asked  Minoo who was  living  in  his  ancestral   home  and   more along the  strain. And for  what  seemed  minutes he’d  kept  looking at  his   home,  in  those  photographs. Saying ,  ” Last  I  had  visited  my  village  was several  years  back, when  I  was  in  Pakistan. It was a  very  emotional experience with a   reception   held  for  me  and  people coming to  meet  me …ours  was a  huge haveli  and today  it   lies  occupied   by three  refugee  families  who  had  gone from  Rohtak  …it  was  touching to  see the  gurdwara   in the  village  still  intact. Even during  the  Partition  chaos, nobody  touched  the  gurdwara   though the   village    population was 90  per cent  Muslims and  there only few  Sikh and  Hindu   families. Then this  village   has the  distinction  of  sending   the  largest  number  of  men for  World  War  1  … have  several  memories  of  my  village  – how  my  grandmother  would    take  me along  to the different families  she’d  visited  in the  village, and  how she’d  tell  the  time  of the  day ; there was  no  clock or  watch , during  the day  my  grandmother would  tell the time by the shadow of the  sun  on the wall and  at  night  by the  stars.”

A Loyal Friend

There were  who’s who  of this   city    who’d  come to  his  home    for advice  No, not  at the  usual  slot  –  7   to  8  pm , but  either   an  hour   before  that , or   even earlier during the  day,  towards  noon . Many confided   in   him  and  many  more  asked  for advice. And,   mind you,  his   advice was   invariably along the   conservative strain. Not  just  conservative  but  very conservative,  if  I  may so  say. It might  come as some  sort of surprise to  hear this, but this  is so .

Then why  that   image  of  him, sitting  with  women amidst  those  hackneyed frills  around?

“All that  is  because  I   speak  out, talk  openly, write   …if  I  like a woman’s  looks  I  say  so  but say so  right  in front  of  her  husband .” The basic  reality  is, as  he  himself proclaims  rather  loud and  clear that  no  woman,  however   beautiful, can sit  more  than  fifteen  minutes , for by  then  she ‘d  had   read the  impatience  in his  eyes.

Though  not  a  loner  in   the   actual  sense  of the term  but, then , he  seems to  be  at  ease  in  solitude.  On  that  one  week end  I ‘d  visited   him, whilst  he  was  in  Kasauli , he   looked   so  relaxed  being by  himself, that   I  felt some  sort   of an  intruder. For  most  part of the day,  he ‘d  kept    sitting on  the  front stretch, reading  or writing. Keeping  himself   away from the   lone  landline   and there  seemed   no trace  of  a television set . Its  only  in the  evenings  that  visitors had  dropped  in. There’s  was something   along the old  world  charm, as his  neighbours and  friends   got   together, discussing and chatting over  dinner. Some  of these included Churamanis, Prashers  (if  I am  not  mistaken  Mrs  Prasher   has  been   India’s  number  one badminton player ), Baljeet Virk , Anil & Sharda   Kaushik   and the  then  Scottish  principal of the  Lawrence Sanawar  School –  Andrew   Gray.

And the   next  afternoon, as   Khushwant  and  I  had   walked   to  the  Kasauli  market,  he  knew   several  of  the  shopkeepers. No , not  mere  formality  ridden sessions,  but   as though  he’d cared , asking  them about their  children and work. Bringing to  the  fore,  his ability   to  be at ease  with  a cross   section. And  that perhaps comes through  because  there’s  nothing   contrived   or   nothing that he  wishes to   extract. At the  end  of   the day,  he looks   content   sitting  with a   book  clutched   in  his  hands   or with  a  pen  in that  condom less state scribbling  away  …

His views on Death

“I’m  not  scared  of   death, there  are  no   fears.  Death  is  inevitable, no  brooding  about  it, be  prepared for  it,  as Asadullah  Khan  Ghalib has  too aptly put  across – ‘rau  mein hai  raksh -e -umar kahaan deykheeye thammey /nai  haath  baag  par hai nah pa  hai  rakaab  mein  (age  travels  at a  galloping  pace /who  knows  where will  it stop  /we do  not  have the  reins  in  our  hands  /we do  not  have  our feet in the  stirrups.)”

“I see  death  as  nothing to   be   worried  or scared about. I  believe  in the  Jain  philosophy  that death  ought  to be celebrated. Earlier whenever  I ‘d feel  upset  or  low  I  used to   go to the  cremation grounds. It  has  a  cleansing effect, worked  as a   therapy  for me.

In  fact,  I  had  written  my  own  epitaph  years  back . –  ‘Here  lies  one  who spared neither   man  or  God  /Waste   not   your  tears   on  him, he  was  a  sod  /Writing  nasty   things he  regarded  as  great  fun /Thank  the  Lord  he  is dead, this  son  of a  gun .’

“Above all , when the time  comes to go, go like a  man without any  regret  any  regret  or  grievance against anyone. Allama Iqbal  expressed  it  beautifully  in a couplet in Persian  –  ‘You ask  me  about  the signs  of a   man  of  faith / when  death  comes  to  him, he  has a  smile on  his  lips. ‘ ”

Why  I was  keen for   burial, because  with that  you  give   back to the  earth  what  you have  taken  …now  it will be  the  electric  crematorium.”

I am   preparing   myself. I  only  hope  it  isn’t very painful. And since I  have  no faith  in God , nor  in the  day  of  Judgement, and  nor  in the theory  of   Reincarnation, so  I  have to  make  terms with a  complete  full  stop.”