Missing daily dose of newspapers

PPS Gill

As a journalist, I have experienced curfews earlier, too, during the days of terrorism. Today, it is different. I was active then and carried a curfew pass. Now, I am not, and don’t need a pass. Another difference is that readers were not deprived of newspapers then, as they are now in several cities. Punjab did go ‘newspaper-less’ for a brief period, when its communication links were snapped during Operation Bluestar.

There is yet another difference between curfew then and now. In the world of ‘corona curfew’, everybody and everything is connected, and all humour and rumour, and news and ‘fake’ news are transmitted through social media. Everyone is glued to a smartphone and is a member of one or the other WhatsApp group, or on Facebook. Earlier, landline phones were the only means of communication, and remained dead for weeks, making ‘we the people’ incommunicado. The only source of news was Doordarshan. There were no private TV channels then.

Knitted as we are into the World Wide Web, it is our main connection with others. As a support system, it binds us together. Yet, a ‘newspaper-less’ life is dull. We, the readers, are doubly unblessed: Though in our own interest and of family, society and the nation, we are under ‘house arrest’, and have no access to newspapers. How very ‘isolated’ life indeed is! And, yes, unlike now, government-sponsored daily needs were not distributed then. Short window openings in curfew allowed people to buy items of daily need.

The reason for non-delivery of newspapers is said to be the fear of coronavirus infection. Though hawkers were told that newspapers were printed and published in sanitised environs, they are unconvinced; reluctant to deliver the papers. This was despite health experts saying there was no ‘known risk’ of spread of the virus through papers, busting rumours that have triggered a scare among one and many, including some readers. Medics the world over are studying how long the virus remains active on different surfaces. Let us not go crazy discussing the ‘what ifs’. Detergents can wipe out the virus from surfaces, washing hands properly further helps, as does social distancing.

Mornings without newspapers has made spending time difficult. A common refrain one hears from well-wishers is: Read your newspaper online. How many readers are online savvy? Online reading has its own limitations. Opening a neatly folded broadsheet newspaper, its rustling sound as pages are turned, and smudged fingers have an old-world charm, as does the accompanying morning cup of coffee.

Regurgitating over what a newspaper means to a reader, here is Mark Twain’s quote: If you don’t read the newspaper, you’re uninformed. If you read the newspaper, you’re misinformed.

Give us our newspaper, Hawker Sir!

Source Link: https://www.tribuneindia.com

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Forget at your own peril!

Raj Kadyan

In 1969, I was appearing in the Army’s Part ‘D’ promotion examination. This was a six-subject written test, passing which was mandatory for promotion to the rank of Major. There were cases where officers were compulsorily retired as Captains if they did not clear the test in maximum 22 years. Being on leave, I had chosen Delhi Cantt as my exam centre. One evening, I was summoned by our centre Adjutant, who introduced me to Captain V, saying that he was in his 22nd year of service and had repeatedly failed in his military history paper, scheduled the following day. My help was sought. All this while, Captain V sat woodenly, nursing his drink.

While in ‘competitive’ exams, other candidates may complain, help for last-chance cases in promotion exams was generally overlooked. Captain V walked up to me from three tables behind, wanting to know the role played by the British navy in the 1915 Palestine campaign. ‘Sir, first coastal bombardment, second escort of merchant shipping, third…’ He raised a restraining hand. ‘Young man, if I could remember more than two, I wouldn’t have bothered you. I will come back.’ He walked away, moving his thumb over his fingertips.

There is a popular anecdote of a forgetful someone who landed in the office with a red string tied around his little finger. He explained that he was required to post his wife’s letter and the string was a reminder. Had he posted the letter? He sighed, ‘She forgot to give the letter!’

An acquaintance was known to be forgetful. A story concerning his rakhi visit to his sister along with his wife carried repeated relish. On the way back, they halted their scooter at a level crossing. Since the wait was long, the wife got down. When the barrier lifted, he took off. A passerby saw the woman waving frantically and stopped him. On reaching home, they realised he had forgotten the house keys at his sister’s. Asking the wife to wait, he drove back. While the sister was surprised to see him, he could not remember why he was there!

As cadets, two water sterilising tablets were part of our kit. One tablet was white, the other blue. After putting one in the bottle, we were to wait for half an hour, put the second, shake the bottle and drink. We invariably messed the sequence and ended up drinking either unsterilised water or drank it with a strong chlorine taste. We were told to follow the sequence of the first letters ‘W’ and ‘B’ of the water bottle. Thereafter, I never forgot the sequence.

But acronyms can be problematic, too. My wife once asked me to buy grocery. I created the popular acronym ‘OBC’ for onion, bhindi, cabbage. I ended up buying onions, brinjal, carrots.

With age, memory plays more truant. One morning, the wife was unusually po-faced. Truth dawned only when our daughter called to wish her a happy birthday. Two days later, she was still monosyllabic.

Source Link: https://www.tribuneindia.com

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Bonding beyond words over Urdu

Charanjeet Singh Minhas

What are millions of people sitting at home doing with each day that brings the news of lockdowns, curfews, quarantines, and deaths around the world from the coronavirus? In the pre-virus days, individuals and families planned their weekends, especially holidays, and how to maximise their days off and coordinate children’s school schedules. The coronavirus has put an end to such concerns for most Americans. The first few days at home for many may not have been a challenge, but what effect will confinement, without an end in sight, have on the homebound? What will they do?

I, for one, will tell you what I am doing. I am ‘Urduising’ this furlough. Separated by centuries, the Urdu language and I were both born in India. But that isn’t the reason why I love it. It may seem strange, but I never learned to read, write or speak the language, although I can understand it somewhat. Why love it then?

Gulzar saheb, whose Jai Ho song won an Oscar, in an Urdu poem about the language a few years ago, said, ‘You get a high speaking Urdu,’ and ‘you taste a delectable pleasure when Urdu touches the throat, as if a sip of a fine drink seeped past it.’

My daughter is an undergraduate student at a university in Pennsylvania. Like schools across the US, all students were asked to vacate the campus and were informed that the remaining classes would be held online.

So, when we went to bring our daughter home, we took on an extra passenger. My daughter’s Pakistani friend had stayed with us during last year’s spring break. Given the global reach of the coronavirus, we were able to convince her parents in Islamabad that for reasons of safety, and to preempt the academic disruptions that international travel may bring, it would be better for her to stay with us.

Now, for the past few weeks, I have been her student. And she is a great teacher. She has set up an easy, but methodical approach to introduce me to the alphabet.

Our circumstances take me back to Gulzar’s poem, in which he invokes Mirza Ghalib and Meer Taqi Meer — the Urdu parallels of William Shakespeare and John Milton: ‘If travelling somewhere, sometime, someone recites a couplet from Ghalib or Meer’s poetry, even though he may be a total stranger, it feels like the person is my countryman.’

I marvel at the irony it entails. My father knew Urdu well and often used it. It never struck me at that time to learn it from him. My affinity to it has grown since his death in 2008. Maybe, Gulzar has a line about second chances in one of his poems.

So, as challenging as living in an unfamiliar, cloistered environment may be for most of us, it affords an enriching opportunity to pursue something new, or something old we thought we had lost. And that just might be worth staying inside for.

Source Link: https://www.tribuneindia.com

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His Gurmat Sangeet touched heights of divinity Bhai Nirmal Singh Khalsa (April 12, 1952 – April 2, 2020) SHARE ARTICLE A – A + Posted: Apr 04, 2020 07:00 AM (IST) Updated : 5 mins ago 78 0 0 0 His Gurmat Sangeet touched heights of divinity Pritam Singh Pritam Singh Visiting Scholar, Wolfson College,University of Oxford The coronavirus has taken the life of Bhai Nirmal Singh Khalsa, a truly gifted and legendary exponent of Gurmat Sangeet. He died in a hospital in Amritsar on April 2. What is not true is the news circulated in some media outlets that he had recently returned from the UK and that his infection might have come from there. His family members living in the UK have confirmed that he had visited England about eight months ago, long before coronavirus became a pandemic in the UK and elsewhere.

Born on April 12, 1952, at Jandwala Bhimeshah village in Ferozepur district of Punjab, he would have turned 68 shortly. His death has left millions in Punjab and outside shocked and deeply saddened. He rose to the stature of being a Hazoori Ragi — the most honourable musical title given to a gifted few who get the privilege to present Gurbani daily in the sanctum sanctorum of the Harmandir Sahib (Golden Temple in Amritsar).

According to my friend, Prof Rajkumar Hans, a social historian who knew Bhai Nirmal Singh personally, Bhai Sahib came from a poor Dalit-Mazhabi Sikh family background and broke the class and caste barriers to reach the top of musical hierarchy. His formal education was only up to the primary school at a village in Karanpur tehsil of Sriganganagar district in Rajasthan, but he became a learned scholar of Gurbani and Sikh history.

He was particularly sensitive to the economic and educational backwardness of the most downtrodden social groups in Sikh and Punjabi society — Mazhabi Sikhs and Balmikis. In one public lecture that he was invited to deliver to aspiring civil servants from Mazhabi Sikh backgrounds, he talked about his class and caste background, and implored them to break the bonds of economic and social deprivation by education and hard work, and reject the belief sometimes perpetuated by religious preachers even within the Sikh society that one’s fate in life is pre-determined.

His lectures, writings and music invoked the spiritual teachings of Gurbani to highlight the values of egalitarianism. In his musical selections from Gurbani, he paid particular attention to the teachings of anti-caste Bhakti saints such as Bhagat Kabir and Bhagat Guru Ravidas whose poetry is included in the Guru Granth Sahib.

In my family, we have listened to his kirtan for years and recently we have been listening even more when we are confined to the house due to the coronavirus-caused lockdown. His magnificent voice has reverberated in our house, with his music becoming a part of the household atmosphere. His going away feels like a deep personal loss.

We have particularly enjoyed his rendering of Bhagat Kabir (Hari ke naam ke byaapaari: I am a trader in the Name of the Lord), Guru Granth Sahib, page 1123) and that of Bhagat Guru Ravidas (Tohi mohi, mohi tohi antar kaisa: You are me, and I am You — what is the difference between us?, GGS, page 93). In his rendering of Guru Amar Das (Eh sareera mereya, is jag meh ai ke, kya tudh karam kamaiya: Oh body of mine, having come in this world, what good have you earned, page 922) seems now to be a critical self-reflection on his own life.

He certainly lived a richly meaningful life and leaves a musical legacy that will live forever.

He was in the Golden Temple, performing his duties both during Operation Bluestar in 1984 and Operation Black Thunder in 1988 and both times, he narrowly escaped being killed. He performed kirtan for nine hours continuously during Operation Black Thunder because the others who were supposed to relieve him from his duty could not reach the Golden Temple in time. This will, perhaps, go down in history as one of the longest performances by a musician in one go.

In a public speech last year in the UK, he recounted some details of his experiences both in 1984 as well as in 1988 and mentioned that his autobiography would bring out the full details.

He was awarded the Padma Shri by the Government of India in 2009 for his musical contributions and was the first ragi to have been so awarded. But no such award can match the heights of divinity touched by his rendition of Gurmat Sangeet.

The publication of his autobiography that he had himself titled My Life would be keenly awaited for understanding his social and musical journey, and for his first-hand accounts of conflicts of the 1980s which would be invaluable for a historical record of those momentous events in Punjab’s history.

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‘Jerking allowance’ made the day

Nehchal Sandhu

IN the 1970s, all IPS officers seconded to the Railways got a special, albeit wickedly named ‘jerking’ allowance. Dating back to the colonial times, this generous stipend — over 15 per cent of all IPS officers’ basic wage — was meant to compensate them for literally being jerked around in saloons as they were shunted around en route to their destinations.

My allowance in 1977 was Rs 200; a welcome supplement to my basic pay of Rs 1,200 in times of indigence. It was worth the jerking, as the additional remuneration amply satiated my and my wife’s craving for cheap, but difficult to access Chinese goods that flowed in from nearby Nepal.

The first month that I received this windfall, the Bada Babu or Head Clerk at Katihar in North Bihar explained that this allowance was simply to offset me for the discomfort I would undergo whenever I travelled in the aged four-wheeler saloon earmarked for touring.

My ‘jerking allowance’ incident followed my promotion to the rank of SP, and being assigned thereafter to the Railway Police in North Bihar. Excited at this elevation, we packed our meagre belongings into the ubiquitous hold-all and black trunk and took off in our decrepit Baby Hindustan that enterprising ‘mistris’ in Dhanbad had somehow managed to keep operational with locally fabricated parts.

We arrived at a neat little bungalow, next to the railway station, that was to be our future home. Almost immediately, we realised that the bungalow’s multiple British-era beveled glass windows and doors would deprive us of all privacy, as we had neither curtains nor the means to buy them.

Consequently, for the next several months, our mundane activities became the subject of interest to the hordes that filed past our home at all hours, on their way to and from the station. Deprived of all entertainment, my wife and I often played ‘chicken’ with curious passers-by, by locking stares with many who were uninhibited in their inquisitiveness. The score was largely even.

My first day at work commenced with the Bada Babu producing a sack-load of papers for me. The bulk of them he described as ‘pay bills’ that needed signing to enable police personnel in my remit to receive their salaries. Each bill had several pages that needed signing and stamping.

Just as I thought I could swiftly accomplish this effortless task, he delivered the clincher: all bills needed signing in Hindi. I panicked as I had no Hindi signature, but under the circumstances, I needed to quickly devise one. I am ashamed to admit that this elementary task took me the better part of the day and most of the evening to complete, and that too in solitude. Embarrassingly, all customary introductory meetings with key rail personnel were duly postponed, whilst the English-medium SP saheb crafted his Hindi moniker.

The silver lining in all this came with the last bill, and one that I signed with exaggerated flourish: for my princely ‘jerking allowance’.

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Pulsating campus misses its life force

Sonika Sethi

Sweet smiling village, loveliest of the lawn/Thy sports are fled, and all thy charms withdrawn/Amidst thy bowers the tyrant’s hand is seen/And desolation saddens all thy green.

The college wears a desolate look and roaming around in the empty corridors, I feel much like the village schoolmaster of the poem Deserted Village, penned by Oliver Goldsmith. The tyrant’s hand has sucked the youthful marrow out of the veins of this campus, once vibrant and throbbing with life. This tyrant is the deadly coronavirus. The classrooms, which were once inhabited by motley and boisterous youngsters, are now like a body without soul. The blackboard has not been rubbed clean for days and displays the table of tenses taught in the last class, probably a fortnight ago. The ground that accommodated a number of young and vivacious homogeneous and heterogeneous groups now lies forsaken. The science laboratories, with their state-of-the-art equipment, are waiting with bated breath the return of future scientists; computer labs, with their blinking screens and flickering cursors, are trying to stay awake for future CEOs; the culinary gadgets and gastronomic equipment in the home science lab await would-be chefs and sous-chefs to reignite the fires in the kitchen and create mouth-watering delicacies.

The canteen, the adda of the notorious and not-so-notorious groups, can hardly boast of the aroma of samosas and chowmein that wafted through its ambience. The cycle stand stands alone and far from the madding crowd. A place that harboured hundreds of vehicles, ranging from a plain Jane cycle to the most stylish bike, now bears a languorous and placid appearance.

The flora and fauna have also not been left unaffected by the tyrant’s ungraceful sweep. Stray dogs, once pampered by chirpy, giggly girls with biscuits, crackers and chips, yearn for those good old days. Some of them had even started to put on a healthy mane with all the mollycoddling. The lack of indulgence and motherly affection has not only made them look malnourished but also despondent. The trees, once the prized spot of young couples, now wear a droopy attire and wave aimlessly at the passing gust of wind that can hardly match the passion of the stolen kisses underneath them. The virus has taken its toll on the enthusiasm of these sporty lovers. When Shakespeare said, ‘Let me not to the marriage of true minds, admit impediments’, he would not have imagined such times when couples would admit ‘till virus does us apart’.

The teacher in me misses the effervescent crowd pulsating with life. I miss doling out lectures, which I have been administering to their ilk from time immemorial. I miss their naughty ‘proxy’ tricks for their friends, who may be reclining somewhere under a shady tree with someone, with a pack of crisps and a soft drink, envisaging future plans quite oblivious of the lethal Covid.

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When Tohra bought us trousers

Roopinder Singh

LOOKING at the somewhat pixelated picture of Jathedar Gurcharan Singh Tohra in The Tribune yesterday set off a flood of memories. A handsome man with a neat turban, Tohra cut a fine figure in his white kurta-pyjama. He was an orator, seeped in the Sikh lore and Gurbani, as well as an old-school politician who was the longest-serving president of the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC), a body he headed for 27 years.

In 1973, a year after he took over as SGPC president, Tohra set up the Singh Sabha Shatabdi Committee with Sardar Hukam Singh as president and Giani Gurdit Singh, my father, as general secretary. We were then in Amritsar, and Tohra was a frequent visitor to our house at Government College for Women, where my mother, Inderjit Kaur, was Principal.

One time, he and my father went to Bombay for a religious function at the Sri Guru Singh Sabha Gurdwara, Dadar. My father had some issues with his stomach, and the letter he wrote to my mother after that is a masterpiece that made us chuckle and laugh — all because, given the efficiency of the postal system of the time, it thankfully arrived after Papa’s return. Anyway, I digress. As they were wrapping up after a few days, Tohra popped the question: ‘What have you bought for the children and Bibiji?’

‘Nothing,’ replied my father, after which it was felt that some clothes were in order. The two elders discussed various people they had met and decided that the children of Bharti family were very smartly attired.

The daughter-in-law was duly enlisted to help, and the trio went off to a shop to select the garments. A passing boy was pronounced to be about the size of my brother and me, and ready-made clothes were sought to be purchased on the basis of this.

To our eternal gratitude, the lady intervened and suggested that fabric be bought so that it could be stitched to size later. The idea was vigorously adopted, and in short order, several shirt and trouser-length pieces were selected and purchased. The latter was a fabric called Stretchlon.

They parted ways soon after, and my father took the train back to Amritsar, travelling second class. When on such tours, he would always travel with his companions, volunteers who performed kirtan and did the katha.

That’s how Ravi and I became proud owners of new togs, something to strut around Lawrence Road from time to time. We often sported the bright blue turbans, popularly known as Tohra blue, after the man who had tweaked the sartorial code of the Akali Dal to his taste. As for our mother, you could have knocked her over with a feather when a sari was presented to her. Such gifts from Papa were rare.

Tohra was widely admired for his honesty. This was brought home when we went to his village to condole his death on April 1, 2004. The homely atmosphere and the modest house attested to a simple life lived well.

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