Thought Box



by HUMRA QURAISHI September 16 2023, 12:00 am Estimated Reading Time: 6 mins, 9 secs

Humra Quraishi comments on the deceptive times that we live in, and harks back to the encouraging and motivating words of Khushwant Singh.  

Even if one tries hard to find a positive event of benefit to the people of India in the last nine years, it’s impossible to find! When one thinks of housing through the several yojanas of this government, corruption allegations stare back at us, when one thinks of infrastructure development, a highway after another road caving in, and collapsing bridges come to fore. One cannot be conned by the political gimmicks, speeches and the come-hither tunes of the Pied Piper any longer. Apolitical activists, of course, are trying their level best to make a difference on the ground but there’s no denying the fact that the system has collapsed and it is disabling the livelihoods of millions.

At the recently concluded G20 summit, which was brought together at a cost unaffordable to the country, the truth obscured by the grandeur was visible to everybody. The international press could well see what Indian media was deliberately ignoring. They are indeed naïve who actually believed what was being shown to them on Indian television. Despite the ground realities that are visible all around us, it’s difficult to comprehend how people at large are excited with the specially managed and orchestrated events they are shown continuously on the small screen.

Everyone is aware of the severe poverty, malnutrition and homelessness. People are aware of the hopelessness that minority communities, Dalits, Christians and the Muslims, feel. They are aware of the civil strife in Manipur and the grimness in the Kashmir Valley. Yet that momentary thrill, that adrenaline rush, makes them forget everything and sleep well imagining that India is the Vishwaguru.

In all this, survival can be harsh…especially for the senior citizens. With World Senior Citizens' Day 2023 having passed on August 21st and World Alzheimer’s Day coming on the 21st of September, my thoughts go to all those men and women who brave the odds and yet stay strong.

I‘m reminded of Khushwant Singh…he lived as a powerful man till the age of 99! He dealt with several upheavals on the personal and professional front, both, but remained undeterred right until the end. One of the reasons for his longevity according to me was the fact that he allowed there to be no contradiction between his head and heart. He was straightforward, honest and had the grit to talk the truth loudly and clearly. Also, he never hesitated to talk about his insecurities and the challenges he faced. He often told me that he had no regrets in his life.

On how he managed to live positively, he said to me in his characteristic blunt way, “Don’t know why and how I have lived so long! This could be because of the fact that I'm alone, by myself, sitting in silence…after all, silence is meditation. I’m fortunate that I can spend a lot of time alone, by myself…it is very beneficial, as the mind gets an enormous amount of rest and a day’s silence gives more energy. Blank your mind for a while and this I suppose is the sole purpose of meditation…enjoy solitude!”

He also said, “No, never, have I sat depressed…even when I was sacked as editor of the Illustrated Weekly, I didn't go into depression but took up writing a novel and writing helped me to go ahead. Even when my wife passed away (after almost 62 years of marriage) I sat alone all night, going over the past. But when people kept dropping in, it got tough to cope and I went to Goa. I wanted to be left alone. Today, my friends and contemporaries have all gone. I feel like a solitary traveller, left on the road, when others have fallen by the roadside. I have gone through several setbacks, and each time it's work and more work that has kept me going. I’m emotionally strong, even as a child I have been known to speak my mind. And, I have rarely ever lied and I rarely get angry. I’m not short tempered and nor vengeful, so that also helps. Even when a friend has been rude, I just move  away. One thing I can’t stand is rudeness and I make sure that I don’t ever meet that person again.”

But life couldn’t have been all too smooth? I had asked him. “No life hasn’t been smooth. I have had my quota of setbacks and financial insecurities in those earlier days but what actually helped me to go ahead is writing. Yes, only and only my writing helped me. Writing has been a constant factor. In fact, even to this day I‘m engrossed in writing and would do so till the very end. No, there’s nothing called retirement for me. In my third year as editor of the Hindustan Times, when my contract was due for renewal, KK Birla asked me about my retirement plans, whether I‘d like to retire. I told him rather categorically that I’ll only retire at the Nigambodh Ghat!” 

He added, “I do follow what the Quran and Hadith stresses - don’t waste time, so every single moment is to be used, to be well utilized and one cannot just sit and brood. Earlier, whenever tense, I used to go and visit the cremation grounds. It does have a cleansing effect, but now I go nowhere. Once in a while to the dentist, otherwise for weeks or months I’m here, in my apartment.”  

He also said, “No matter how big the setback or irritant, don’t get hassled or worked up. Instead try saying this one-liner to yourself whenever something has gone wrong: ‘It doesn’t matter…I don’t give a damn!’ Yes, say this sentence to yourself and you are sure to feel lighter and less tense.”

Khushwant  would  often quote this verse of  Nathaniel Cotton (1721-1788): 

“If solid happiness we prize;/Within our breast this jewel lies;/And they are fools who roam;/The world has nothing to bestow;/From our own selves our joys must flow;/And that dear hut, our home.”

I’m ending this week’s column with verse/couplets of Sufi-mystic, BABA FARID…from the volume, Farid Couplets. Translated by T. C Ghai. Published by LG Publishers Distributors:

‘Farid, if you be wise, don’t paint other black;/Lower your head, look within to see what you lack.’

‘Farid, why tramp jungle to jungle, on thorns tread;/God lives in the heart, why go to the jungles head?’

‘All hearts are pearls; it is wrong to hurt anyone;/Don’t break any heart if you seek your loved one.’

‘The teeth, the legs, the eyes, the ears - all have run down;/The body cries out: my close friends have let me down.’

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