All for one, once and for all

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All for one, once and for all
Khushwant Singh, Hindustan Times September 14, 2007

We are one nation: the consciousness of being one people has grown over the last 60 years and stood the test of unity whenever our borders have been encroached upon by our neighbours. But we have yet to become an integrated nation.

Community differences persist, and far too often manifests in ugly forms — sometimes by outbreaks of communal violence, other times in demonstrations by publicity-seekers pretending their religious susceptibilities are hurt by something someone has said or done. I give a few examples from recent times.

A few nights ago in Agra, a truck hit four men returning from Shab-e-barat. As it happens far too often: people in this vicinity vented their anger by setting fire to trucks, buses, cars and vandalising shops. When it was discovered that the four men injured by the errant truck were Muslims, the violence turned into a Muslim riot. The only explanation is that though outwardly we appear as one people, we have yet to become actually integrated.

Two Sikh members of Parliament, the cricketer Navjot Singh Sidhu of the Lok Sabha and Tarlochan Singh of the Rajya Sabha, were shown participating in a havan, performing a Hindu ritual. Sidhu belongs to the Hindu BJP; Tarlochan Singh was elected by BJP’s support.

At Har-ki-Pauri in Hardwar, I’ve seen many perform pooja; they come to immerse the ashes of their relatives and have pandas; all of whom are Hindus, perform Hindu rituals before immersing the ashes. No one finds it unusual. But now both Sidhu and Tarlochan Singh are being castigated for indulging in un-Sikh practices. The inference is that though Sikhs are a part of the Hindu mainstream, there are vociferous elements that are trying to prevent their integration.

All of us — Hindus, Muslim, Christians and Sikhs — have become over-sensitive and touchy about what we construe as attacks on our cherished beliefs.

Some Sikhs are out on the streets protesting against immigration officials examining Sikh turbans before letting them in. But I have not heard anyone protesting against having to surrender their kirpans before they board planes bound for foreign countries. There is no logic behind the protests but they generate the much sought-after publicity.

There are quite a few people who are forever on the look out for what they can construe as attacks on their religion.
Leading a pack are Sushma Swaraj and Murli Manohar Joshi. More than once after they have proclaimed themselves as defenders of their faith, they found that, in fact, no one had actually said or done anything that could be remotely interpreted as offensive to anyone. It is pathetic.

What remains now to knit us all together into one nation, in the true sense of the word, is a more person-to-person relationship between members of different communities. We need more family-to-family mingling, and we must abolish the feeling of ‘us and they’, and actually manage to cultivate the spirit of We Indians.

Baba and his Hen

Human-animal bonding is often more emotive than relationships between humans themselves. Without doubt dogs come first on the list. They respond to human affection more than any other animal and give much more in return for what they get.

However, if a person has more than one as his or her pet, they get half of what they get if they had only one. Cats come next. They cuddle up, love sitting on peoples’ laps and purr in self-satisfaction. But they are selfish creatures and will do the same to anyone who gives them a bowl of milk.

Birds like parrots, mynahs and partridges also get attached to their masters. My friends Romesh and his German wife Ella have a grey African parrot in their large multi-storeyed apartment in Frankfurt. It spends most of its time in a cage, even though the cage is never shut. When Romesh returns from work, in the evenings, the parrot goes wild with joy. It flies around the room, squawks loudly before settling on its master’s turban. Then it perches on his shoulders, tweeks his beard as if its kissing him.

Another friend, Tristan-Jones, kept a donkey in his large unkempt garden of his house in Birchington by the sea.

Every evening, when he returns home, as soon as it hears the sound of its master’s car, the donkey goes berserk, starts galloping wildly, kicking its hind legs in the air and braying hee haw to the skies. It then follows its master into the house, is given a few carrots or sugar cubes before it starts to cool down. Then it put its head in Tristan’s lap and looks at his face adoringly with its large soulful eyes, occasionally snorting liquid out of its flayed nostrils.

Tristan pats its head, kisses its nose and talks lovingly to it before he greets his wife, Analie, and the children. The donkey then trots back into the garden.

But one picture I have will never go out of my mind is of Baba Sohan Singh Bhakna, the founding father of the Indian Ghadar Party in America. He was then in his 80s, bent double with age and living alone in a mud hut outside his village, Bhakna, between Lahore and Amritsar.

When I went to visit him, he was lying on a charpoy talking to somebody I could not see. Just above his charpoy was an alcove in which sat a brown hen with its head sticking out. I sat down on a stool, the only piece of furniture in that room, and I started asking him about his past and his days in America (the Ghadar Party and his years in jail). I hadn’t finished this conversation when the hen started cackling. It became louder, and more persistent. Baba admonished her: “Sabar Kar — be patient.”

But it went on and on getting louder and louder. We could not carry on our dialogue, “Achha bhai, too jittee — okay, you win,” he said. And he slowly got up from the charpoy and hobbled to the alcove, put his hand in and brought a freshly laid egg to show to his hen. He patted her on her head and said, “Shabaash — well done! Ab bahaar ja kay khelo — now go and play outside.” The hen clucked in gratitude and went out of the room to let us finish our dialogue.

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