From an LIC agent, a dheeth lesson

Col DS Cheema (Retd)

The greatest tragedy to have visited united India was partition, which uprooted millions of families like ours. The invisible hand of destiny brought us to a small border town Qadian in Gurdaspur, known as the religious headquarters of the Ahmadiyas. While fleeing to Pakistan, Muslims had left their huge houses. My father had purchased one such house with a lawn in front, at the princely sum of Rs 4,000 in 1948. (One multi-storeyed building was known by the name of its famous owner, Sir Zafarullah Khan, who rose to become the Chief Justice of International Court of Justice.)

My father liked to use the front lawn, with a few chairs, for his small darbar. I started recognising the faces of all the regular visitors, and even interacting with some of them.

One of the visitors was a polite, stocky man in his thirties, who would continue sitting in one of the chairs for hours, even when everyone had left. I later learnt that he was one of the three LIC agents in the town who thought my father could give him some business. He would park his bicycle near the gate, smilingly greet everyone, including us, the children, with a polite ‘Sat Sri Akal’ and kept standing until someone told him to sit.

My father was too decent a man and would never be rude by refusing to meet anyone who came, but my mother would often ask me to tell him that father was not at home, even when he was gardening in the backyard. The man wouldn’t budge and kept smiling sheepishly, because he knew that he was being fed lies. He had a fund of anecdotes and proverbs which he would narrate to anyone who cared to listen, especially in the absence of senior members of the family. Ultimately, when my father would emerge, he would get up to touch his feet and settle down again in the same chair.

Speaking to my father, he gave an impression of mingled fascination. Patience is an underrated virtue in the modern world, but this man was astute to know that nothing could be created suddenly, and to be able to eat a ripe fruit one needed time for the plant to blossom into a tree and bear fruit which must ripen before one could have it. He understood that he was an unwelcome guest, but even all the obvious indication of indifferent behaviour made no difference to him. He would reappear the next day.

He also had the least understood quality of success, humility. By using this rare quality, he sold three policies: one of Rs 15,000 to my father and two of Rs 10,000 each to my elder sisters. He later shifted to Jalandhar and retired as a senior agent. I had the opportunity to visit him; he had not lost any of his old charms of politeness, courtesy and humility.

During the later years, when I worked as a professional educator and motivator after retirement, I would often share the experience of this unique man, while emphasising the need of being patient and dheeth to succeed in any field.

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What gender is anger?

Rashmi Kalia

On our wall is a sculpture of Goddess Kali, the Goddess of feminine rage and resistance: black in colour, eyes red with intoxication and in absolute rage. Her hair is dishevelled, small fangs protrude out of her mouth, her tongue is lolling. She wears a ‘skirt’ made of human arms and sports a garland of heads. Serpents and a jackal, standing on a seemingly dead Shiva, accompany her. Despite this grotesque imagery, I have always found the image as sinister, yet delicate, dark but strong. Not many will agree. The repelling image of the Goddess is a metaphor for how our society views feminine rage: unappealing and dark.

Anger and resentment are often maligned but are essential to survival. But why are these stymied in the female sex, and valourised in the male species? We teach girls that being angry is undesirable, that they will be better rewarded by society if they curtail it. A case in point is the intense media scrutiny that Serena Williams had to go through after the 2018 US Open final, with her antics typically accompanied by images of her looking ‘almost unhinged’. But, this is not the treatment we meted out to the angry white boy of tennis, John McEnroe. Despite his outbursts, he was the quintessential ‘bad boy’; angry and charismatic. Unfortunately, Williams will never gain that adulation. She is not only angry. She is the ‘angry black woman’.

Rage in women is the subject of Soraya Chemaly’s new book, Rage Becomes Her: The Power of Women’s Anger. It uses anecdotes from the author’s encounters with female anger and opens with a memory of her mother throwing her treasured wedding china out the window without saying anything; a silent yet violent display of anger. Soraya tells us the most pertinent thing we need to about feminine anger…we are allowed to feel angry, but we can’t put it in ‘words’, certainly not in public.

So, does anger have a gender? Are women allowed to feel anger in the full range in a way this emotion needs to be felt in a healthy way? No. Anger is no longer a negative emotion. It is the restorer of sanity. Life for a modern woman is maddening. Rather than telling women to ‘let go’ of their rage, we need to tell them to hold on to it. Anger has the power to change the world. And burying it has disastrous health consequences. It is the shared anger of women all over the world that has given iconic status to #MeToo.

Anger is an emotional response to violation, and moral disorder. It bridges the divide between what is and what ought to be, between a difficult past and an improved possibility. By severing anger from our notion of what good girls ought to behave like, we choose to sever girls from the emotion that best protects them against danger and injustice.

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Wild love in the wild

Karan Thapar

Do you ever think about the sex life of tigers? It’s an esoteric subject and you’re unlikely to find much on it in bookshops. However, a new book tells you everything you want to know with details that are explicit, fascinating and, even, unbelievable.

As Valmik Thapar points out in The Sex Life of Tigers, it’s not just rare to catch tigers mating you have to be exceptionally lucky. Jim Corbett never did. ‘(He) had to rely on the sounds of tigers to imagine the possible lovemaking of a pair.’ Yet, the pair can ‘spend 6 to 10 days courting and mating’. During this period they can mate ‘every 15 to 20 minutes’.

This delightful book gives you some wonderful details. The tigress uses her scent to attract males. She does this by marking and rubbing trees and bushes. ‘Tigers can detect the scent of another tiger, left on a tree or a bush or a scrape mark on the ground, even when it’s several days old.’

‘A tigress’, he writes, ‘marks a tree by shooting out a jet-like spray that soaks a spot and reveals… all kinds of vital information on the identity of the animal, its freshness and if she is sexually receptive. The spray is a mixture of urine and scent and smells like musky buttered popcorn!’

Once the tiger responds, the mating begins, not surprisingly with foreplay. The tigress rubs herself against the male tiger’s legs and even playfully bites him. ‘Locked in a close embrace, playfully kicking each other with their hind-feet… faintly sparring with their fore-paws, they (can roll) about thus for nearly a quarter of an hour.’ There are even occasions when tigers have been known to kiss!

During mating the tiger catches the tigress by the scruff of her neck. This is ‘to immobilise the tigress… it prevents her from swiveling around and slapping him.’ If anything, he has to be even more careful when it’s over. ‘When he exits the female after copulation he jumps away rapidly, in fact, leaps off fearing a slap by the female.’

However, tiger-mating is not a silent ritual. ‘Tigers roar much more during the mating period than at any other time.’ Food, on the other hand, is not a top priority. As Thapar found, during this time ‘they had one single-minded obsession, to copulate. For nearly five days all food will be ignored, including passing deer. The mating couple will visibly get thinner.’

A tigress can be called ‘a sex maniac’. And it’s not unknown for a tigress to mate with more than one tiger. This leads Thapar to ask: ‘Can cubs of a single litter be fathered by more than one male?’ The answer is yes. ‘When the female copulates with more than one male she persuades each that they are the father. Polyandry confuses paternity and can prevent infanticide by males.’

Well, after that, the next time someone wants to unleash the tiger in me I’ll know how to behave!

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To be happy once more!


HAPPINESS, they say, is a state of mind. Eternal happiness is the subject for sages, not us lesser mortals. Some say to be loved and be in love means to be happy. The Dalai Lama’s view is that compassion is a prerequisite to happiness. To Mark Twain, ‘sanity’ and ‘happiness’ were an ‘impossible combination’. Gabriel Garcia Marquez believed ‘no medicine can cure what happiness cannot’. Tom Cooper’s emphasis was on money — ‘Whoever said that money can’t buy happiness was a damn fool who’d never been poor’. Bertrand Russell said something very perceptive: ‘Of all the forms of caution, caution in love is perhaps most fatal to true happiness’. I read somewhere long back, he had also said something to the effect: A normal man’s happiness depends on three things: a loving wife; a satisfying job and a good bank balance! I couldn’t agree more.

How these things affected my life! My wife is anything but loving. But I can’t imagine a life without her. I thoroughly enjoyed work, but career-wise, I couldn’t reach the top hierarchy. Regarding bank balance, over the years, while I was still in service, I drove second-hand jalopies.

After retirement, I purchased a new car when I got lump-sum benefits. During the service period, I never bothered to reflect on whether I led a happy life, there was no time to think.

In hindsight, I can say that some 25 years ago, when I used to return home from office in the evening, my small kids who would be playing in the adjacent small ground, would come running, jumping on me, clinging to my legs, giving me a tumultuous clamorous welcome. I can say that those were moments of abandonment, self-forgetfulness and ecstasy. Nothing of the sort did I experience before or even after that.

Sometime back I heard a beautiful ghazal. It has since been a sheer pleasure to listen to it many a time. It is written by one Khumaar, maybe it is his pen name, and is sung soulfully by Osman Mir, another name I hadn’t heard of. I can say after listening to a few of his other ghazals that he comes next only to ghazal maestro Mehdi Hassan. The opening lines are captivating: Gham ke marey jo muskuraaey hain/Aansuon ko bhee paseeney aaey hain.

What a play of words, what imagery! However, it is the first couplet which talks of happiness in a rather sombre, dejected sort of way: Kyaa balaa hai khushee, khudaa jaaney/ Hum to bus naam suntey aaey hain.

I wonder to what depth of desperation the shaayar might have gone through to be bereft of happiness in real life to pen such lines.

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Right slogan, wrong twist!

KR Bharti

Two bus accidents have taken place in quick succession recently in Himachal, killing scores of people. Accidents are a common phenomenon in the country. The mangled remains of vehicles tell the sordid story of accidents. Numerous blooming lives get muted or mutilated. Statistics reveal that man-made accidents are far more in number than those caused by mechanical failure. Rash driving has turned out to be one of the major causes of accidents.

The government, in its endeavour to minimise accidents, adopts various preventive and punitive measures. One is to create awareness through catchy slogans such as ‘Speed thrills but kills’; ‘I want you back home but not so fast’; ‘Someone is waiting for you at home’, etc.

But a slogan that I witnessed some years back, bamboozled me: ‘If married, divorce’. What a slogan! I exclaimed. Since the slogan was exhibited near a hospital, I tried to relate it to some health and family welfare programme. Could it be some new family planning measure, I mused. No, how can a sane government think of such a radical measure!

I paused at every slogan that I drove past in the rest of my journey. But this one eluded my eyes. I was so much seized of it that without delay I rang up the PWD authorities to know its nuance. But the authorities pleaded ignorance, adding quickly that someone might have played mischief with the slogan. I tried to view it from the angle of mischief too, but nothing struck me. Next day, I discussed this in my office, where colleagues turned blank and made fun of the slogan.

‘What a novel idea? No one seems happy with the institution of marriage. Everyone wants to wriggle out of it,’ some said. ‘Only a deaf husband and a blind wife can make marriage a success,’ others ridiculed.

The riddle remained unresolved and the busy office schedule effaced it from my memory. But after a year, when I was again on a journey, my eyes suddenly fell on a slogan on a rock. Our car had sped past it. I asked the driver to reverse the car. I read the slogan.

Eureka! The slogan that I had seen in the past was again in front of me in its complete and correct form. I discovered the missing link at long last: ‘If married, divorce speed’.

How the mischievous yet ingenious mind had tinkered with the slogan. The word ‘speed’ was skilfully removed from the slogan to alter its tone and tenor altogether!

I laughed in my sleeves and wondered at this wit and craft. The slogan now relieved me as much as it had intrigued me then.

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B&W added colour to life

MR Anand

OUR street has a lone dog. A black dog with white patches. He is not attached to any particular house, but he and our street’s iron-wallah Muthu have a soft corner for one another. Muthu is carrying on his ironing job under a pavement tree. The lone ranger loves to curl up and have his morning nap under his improvised ironing desk. After 11 pm, this lone ranger won’t allow any stranger to set foot in our street. He just has to go and stand before any of the 15-odd houses of our street. He will be fed by willing hands.

Four years ago, when we moved in, he came up to our gate and introduced himself with his liquid eyes and wagging welcoming tail. ‘He is the only dog in our street. He is a bachelor boy. He takes breakfast at one house, lunch at another and dinner at yet another,’ said the house owner. ‘Does he have any name?’ I asked. ‘The iron-wallah calls him Mani,’ he replied. In Tamil Nadu more dogs are given the name Mani than humans. I wonder why. But I did not like that name. I chose to call him B&W (black and white).

B&W’s best friend Muthu will not take his lunch without offering a handful to him. B&W equally loves the curd rice from the Iyengar family opposite our house and biryani from the Muslim family next door.

My brother used to offer him cookies which he simply relished. He is a dutiful night watchman. He remains wide awake throughout the night. Sometimes he would seem to bark at objects or people not visible to us. The iron-wallah is sure that B&W can see spirits.

One day, last year, dog catchers from the corporation came, caught him, threw him into their van and drove away. Muthu went in hot pursuit of them in his cycle and brought him back within an hour of his abduction. We heaved a sigh of relief when we saw Muthu riding his cycle down the street with B&W seated on the bar like a child.

When it rained cats and dogs during the 2015 monsoon, B&W, the handsome dog, became a lithesome cat and climbed onto the roof of a half-submerged car and remained there until Muthu rescued him.

Few months back my brother Satyanarayan, who became B&W’s thick friend, passed away suddenly in Vrindavan during a visit to the holy place. B&W visibly missed my brother. He declined to take politely the cookies I offered him on behalf of my late brother.

After my brother’s demise we lost interest in Chennai and decided to move to Vrindavan. On the day we shifted, he came to see us off with those same liquid eyes as he did when we moved in four years ago. This time he did not wag his tail, may be due to it turning heavy with sadness on seeing us leave.

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To not die unsung, unheard, unknown

Subhash C Sharma

AMONG books, sometimes, you come across priceless gems which dwell in your soul like a soft sweet melody. For me, Jung Bahadur Goel’s Muhabbatnama has been one such book; reading it has been like falling in love. The book strings together brief, but riveting portraits of the lives of some legendary thinkers, writers, poets and philosophers, who shone on this earth in the 19th and 20th centuries. The sneak peek it provides into their love affairs lends it a special (voyeuristic) charm.

It opens with our Tagore’s life and his ardent love for his sister-in-law and playmate Kadambari; and closes with Punjab-di-dhee, Amrita Pritam, etching an endearing story of her enduring but unrealised love for Sahir Ludhianvi redeemed through her lover Imroz.

In between, there are other intellectual greats that fill the pages of this beautiful Punjabi book. You meet and read about Balzac, the great French writer-genius and his quest for love for Countess Evalina Hanska. Russian writer Ivan Turgenev’s saga of his platonic love for the ordinary looking, but an exquisite theatre artist; a married French woman Pauline Viardot follows next. Then we have Dostoyevsky — ‘turbulent in love as well as life’ — who enriched the world with such great novels as Crime and Punishment and The Brothers Karamazov, and his love affair with his stenographer, 25 years his junior.

German philosopher Nietzsche, poet-novelist Rilke and the fiercely independent Lou Andreas-Salome’s love triangle is next, making for another gripping narrative; followed by the heart-tugging story of wordless, seamless love (their ‘partnership larger than marriage’) between Khalil Gibran and his heartthrob Mary Haskell, a school headmistress older to him by a decade. (The love letters exchanged between them are by themselves stuff worth reading.) Then, we get to relish the pulsating story of the iconic French philosopher Sartre with his theory of existentialism and Simone de Beauvoir, both soulmates, but open to casual sexual flings with ‘contingent lovers’. Lastly, before concluding with Amrita Pritam, you will find the Romanian philosopher Eliade’s tale of his simmering love for a Bengali lady of distinction, Maitreyi Devi.

We also learn about their creative genius reflected in their myriad works, which were like a new dawn for the war-torn world, desperately in need of enlightenment.

Geniuses they were, but as Jung lucidly brings out, they were men and women of flesh and blood and frailties. Secondly, love transcends all barriers and moral codes; thirdly, it is love with its pain and bliss that brings out the best in us. Fourthly, it needs courage to remain steadfast in your beliefs, even when you are pilloried by society. Only then can you rise above mediocrity. Like Tagore said: ‘Ekla chalo re’. But if you want to lead a mediocre life, stay put in the cocoon of established beliefs and die unsung, unheard and unknown.

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