A Dialogue With God

My friend Karan had a very serious accident. He nearly lost his life in that. How did it happen? I asked with genuine concern. He described the accident in detail. It was really a miracle that he wasn’t killed.

‘God is great’, he said beamingly, ‘I was saved.’

I had heard this expression so many times before, uttered routinely by many people
whenever they had any luck.

‘Why is He Great?’ I asked.

‘Because he saved my life in such a ghastly accident’.

‘But why did he make the accident happen in the first instance?’

‘Must be a reason. Maybe to punish me for something that I had done wrong.’

‘But whatever wrong you might have committed, it must be He who made you commit it’

‘No. The choice is ours. He doesn’t want us to do anything wrong.’

‘Then why does He create such situations, provide temptations?

If He is the Creator, the Provider, Omniscient, Omnipotent and all that, we are helpless. If
so, how can we be blamed ?’

‘He tests us to see whether we are following the right path’

‘What is the need to test us? Doesn’t He know it?’

Karan’s wife didn’t want him to indulge in such a heretical discussion. He might be punished again.

‘You must discuss these things with some expert, some theologian. We are content with the simple faith that He exists and that He is kind, merciful and benevolent. He protects the good and the innocent and punishes the evil.’

‘But if He is benevolent and kind, why do little children die, why do people fall sick, why do natural disasters take place, why are there wars…?’

‘I can’t answer you now. But there are answers to all these questions. All religions have theories about them.’

‘I have asked many of the preachers of different faiths and no one has been able to satisfy me.’

‘Then ask God Himself – direct’, she suggested authoritatively.

‘God! Where do I find Him?’

‘Everywhere. And specifically, within yourself’

That was some help. You can’t talk to Him if He is everywhere.

But you may be able to do so if He is in that narrow confinement – me.

My wife caught me talking to myself. From a distance, from a different room, she thought I was talking to someone. Coming nearer, she found no one.

‘What was that?’ She asked in wonder.

‘What was what?’

‘I heard you talk.’

‘Yes. I can talk,’ I said.

‘No. But there was no one. Not even phone.’

‘I was talking to God,’ I said casually.

‘God?’ She almost collapsed, ‘Are you crazy ?’

‘Do only crazy people talk to God?’

‘No, but you don’t even believe in His existence. How can you talk to someone who doesn’t exist – for you?’

‘But I have been advised to find Him and talk to Him – within myself’

‘You mean there is God within you?’

‘Yes. That’s what the good people say. That’s what Prema advised me.’

‘She couldn’t have meant you,’ my wife declared disdainfully. ‘God doesn’t – can’t – reside inside people like you.’

‘Why?’

‘You must first make yourself worthy of his abode. Right now only the Devil possesses you.’

‘Then where is He right now?’

‘In me,’ she beamed, ‘Talk to me, with love, with reverence, with earnestness. As one would to God. Try. Seek and ye shall find.’

And ever since that I have done that. I am as far from God as I was on that fateful day, but the search is on.

I shall find Him. Someday. She assures me. It suits her.

She is happy. That suits me.

***
A larger selection of the articles can also be viewed at narendralutherarchives.blogspot.in

Humour in Administration

Broadcast talk for AIR Hyderabad on 28.7.00 at 9-30 p.m.

Administration is a dull, dry affair. It does not require any special brilliance. Amongst the many things it specifically does not require is a sense of humour.

The selection procedures for administrative jobs are designed to secure that no person with a potential for laughter should get in. But even the toughest security system has not been able to secure its objective. It is people with the most stringent security around them who get killed.

And so, in spite of all the precautions and precedents, instances of humour do crop up in administration. Some of them are entirely unintended – like a revolver firing accidentally.

Delay is a part of the instruments of administration. Time is a great healer, they say. It is also a great solver of problems. One very senior officer always had a number of old files pending in his ‘In’ tray. Every six months or so he would pick up a heap of them and put them in the ‘Out’ tray, saying, ‘ I suppose these problems have sorted themselves out’. And indeed they had. Problems don’t wait for solutions. If they are not tackled in time, they get fed up and go away. Or they commit suicide.

In administration words don’t mean what they say. If you don’t receive a reply from a Government office for a long time, you remind it. You may get a reply that ‘the matter is under consideration’. It means that the file is lost. After some months, you remind again. This time reply would be that the matter is under ‘active consideration’. It means that the file is lost, but attempts are being made to trace it.

Circulars issued by government to lower officials are sometime marked as ‘confidential’, ‘secret’, and ‘top secret’. The information in the first one is intended to be shared with colleagues. The  ‘confidential’ circular is intended to be given publicity. The ‘top secret is to be accorded the maximum publicity.

Administration has its formalities. During the British rule, every formal letter used to have the closing: ‘I have the honour to be, Your most obedient servant’. It was abolished in India after Independence though it is still prevalent in England. In the old Madras Presidency, a young entrant to the civil service named MacPherson was scandalized by such a servile way of concluding letters especially to the natives. He therefore wrote to the Chief Secretary suggesting that this practice should be abolished. The Chief Secretary wanted to drive home the point that it was a mere formality and did not really make the writer a servant of the addressee. He wrote back to him:

My dear MacPherson,

This does not mean that my heart is gushing forth in love for you.

Yours sincerely,

John Armstrong

According to official etiquette, a letter or file is not simply ‘sent’ from one officer to another. It is ‘submitted’ by a junior to a senior. The senior, in turn,  ‘transmits’ to the junior. Any transgression of this practice can land one in serious trouble.

Once a junior officer sent a note to his senior, which was supposed to go up under the name of the superior. He signed that note. Thereupon, he got a note of reprimand from his boss: ‘You are not supposed to sign the note. Please erase your signature, and sign below the erasure.’

In any administration some formal motions have to be made before a proposal is sanctioned. Evidence must be created that there has been not only consideration, but also reconsideration of every proposal. I once saw a file of the Ministry of External Affairs seeking a sanction of funds to ‘organize a spontaneous welcome’ to a visiting dignitary. For that purpose it wanted to hire a thousand lorries to transport twenty thousand persons from villages near the airport to stand on both sides of the road to cheer the VIP lustily. The Finance Department observed that since our relations with the country were good and the dignitary was fairly well known in India, many people could be expected to come out on their own. The scale of expenditure could therefore be halved. The Ministry reiterated the proposal saying that the VIP in question was a dark horse even in his own country and had become Prime Minister by a sheer stroke of luck. He would not therefore attract crowds on his own. It was in the national interest to make a show of popular welcome to him. The Finance Department, thus having been educated in the fine points of diplomacy, relented.

The next day the papers reported that people turned out in large numbers to give the honoured visitor a spontaneous welcome!

In Nainital– a hill station in UP, I saw a board outside a cluster of flats. It read: ‘Sleepy Hollow – Flats for Deputy Ministers and Senior Officials’. Strangely, no one took objection to the unintended aspersion.

In one of the new blocks of buildings of the State Secretariat at Hyderabad, there are two lifts. One is marked ‘General’. It is meant for every body. It is slow — and often out of order. The notice on the other lift proclaims that it is only ‘For ladies, handicapped persons, and senior officers’. A good grouping indeed!

In spite of the best attempts of people in administration, and unbeknownst to them humour, like love, sometimes sprouts in the most unsuspected crevices.

The famous American humorist Will Rogers once said rightly, ‘I don’t make jokes. I just watch the Government and report the facts.’ People like Parkinson — famous for his ‘law’, Peter — renowned for his ‘principle’, Murphy and others have made a fortune by exposing humour in administration. And that not only in Government, but also in the corporate sector. In both, there are two types of managers – those who manage what they do not understand; and those who understand what they do not manage. That situation often gives rise to humour. Believe me, a shrewd executive will try never to betray his sense of humour. In administration, to laugh openly is to lose your dignity. To become naked as it were. People in administration do enjoy humour, but in strict privacy of their homes. In offices they wear masks. Those who don’t might just manage to survive. Like I did.

A larger selection of the articles can also be viewed at narendralutherarchives.blogspot.in

Ex-officio wisdom

Some people are born wise; some acquire wisdom; some have wisdom thrust upon them. The last species of wisdom is ‘ex-officio wisdom’. The adjectival prefix is a Latin term which means ‘by virtue of office’. It is conferred by the office one happens to hold. It is ‘deemed’ wisdom, not real wisdom — like some institutions, which are ‘deemed’ universities.

This type of wisdom is found in sorts of places, but mostly in public service, both the elective as well as appointive variety. In the appointive office it is in services – especially in the all-purpose, nomadic, job-hopping service – IAS.

For this service the government picks up bright young boys and girls from the universities, makes up their deficiency in education, rounds off their corners, and then lets them loose in the numerous districts of India. After they have seen the countryside, they embark on a rambling career in the capitals of different States — and even of the country. It entails movement from one job to another, provided they are entirely unrelated to each other. Each job requires some degree of knowledge of the subject. For example if one is appointed as Director of Agriculture, one has to know that tobacco is grown, not squeezed out of cigarettes; silk is not grown but vomited by worms; pig iron has nothing to do with animal of that name. In other words, reality is not what it looks like.

The rationale behind the constitution of this service is that a reasonably intelligent person can pick up enough knowledge in three months to question the wisdom of experts. And the Selection Board ensures that atleast half the members of the service are reasonably intelligent. Members of this service are charged with the responsibility of saving the people from the tyranny of the specialist for whom nothing exists except the field of his/her activity. Specialists have to be made to relate to each other because life is not lived in watertight compartments. Nor is a human being a mere collection of limbs. IAS people build bridges between narrow disciplines. They interpret the expertise of specialists – to those who know even less than them – the political masters. The latter category exists to tell the other two that man cannot be cut to fit the cloth. It should be the other way about.

The other theory on which this ‘generalist’ breed is predicated is that stagnation sets in if you remain in the same job for more than about three years. According to this formulation, one learns in the first year, practises in the second year, and starts getting stale in the third year. It is therefore in the public interest to move these officials from their posts frequently.

A specialist, incidentally, is a person who knows more and more about less and less until he ends up by knowing everything about nothing. The generalist, on the other hand, is one who knows less and less about more and more till he ends up by knowing nothing about everything. Put the two together and life is fulfilled.

The public at large believes in the acquisition of instant expertise of the given job. I recall my own experience on being appointed Director of Industries. While I was still learning the difference between Large Scale Industries and Small Scale Industries, and the regulatory and promotional aspects of the work of the Department, people started coming to me for advice regarding the type of industry they should set up. I would keep a straight face and roll the pencil in both hands in the manner of a person who knows all and, with a deliberate furrow on my forehead to indicate my genuine concern for the prospective investor, suggest a particular line. In order to reinforce my advice I would summon an expert lackey and hand over the unsuspecting victim to him. Since his job was dependent on me and not on the seeker of advice, he advanced my line. Meanwhile, I would laugh in my sleeve and wonder what would become of the person who had come to put so much faith in my ex-officio wisdom.

I must say however that I kept a track on the progress of those who had sought and accepted my advice. Their rate of success was no less than those who had taken up a line ignoring my advice. No matter what advice you take, the rate of success doesn’t exceed fifty percent. After all there are other public servants too who are paid to keep the success rate low.

Similar was the case in urban development, an area into which I moved later. The best education you get in that field is by studying the growth of unauthorized structures and of slums. Our theory of town planning ignores the basic requirements because they are not mentioned in books authored in developed economies. That is why we have such a high incidence of encroachments and violations of building by-laws. The trouble in poor countries is that there are not as many well-off persons as there should be.

The ignorance of the generalist however is not a handicap. Every step arising out of that is ‘fresh thinking’, ‘new approach’, and ‘dynamic orientation’. After all in public administration and social engineering, the last word has been said. It is a cyclical movement of theories – much like fashions. Old vogues keep on coming back – free enterprise to state control to liberalization. Of course the jargon changes. ‘Approach’ becomes ‘mind set’. And that is necessary to sound original –and progressive.

Ex-officio wisdom becomes more glaring and dangerous when it reaches the political level. After taking the oath of office and secrecy, a man entirely innocent of defense matters suddenly gets transformed into an authority on the subject. The Minister for Science and Technology gets to know in a flash all about nuclear fission. The most astounding portfolio is that of Finance. The Finance Minister has to appear to know a plethora of terms like fiscal deficit, GDP, GNP, recession, monetary policy, CRR, and the like. Of course on GDP (Gross Domestic Product) his wife can always be of help.

The Finance Minister is that dangerous person – a doctor with little learning. Sometimes I wonder how he even fields questions from those who know all about it – the non-playing captains of industry. And after the budget, it is, in Tennyson’s words, a time when

“Blind and naked ignorance
Delivers brawling judgements unabashed,
on all things, all day long”.

The poet was referring to reaction to the budget by the Opposition, which again are ex-officio. They are determined by their party affiliation. In this endeavour, clippings of the reactions of the previous years save a lot of labour.

Ex-officio wisdom is nothing but ignorance wrapped in authority. It is acquired on the job by making mistakes at other people’s cost. And what could be easier way of becoming wise?

Absolutely free, and without any risk!

* * *
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Notes, Drafts and Rats

Most people believe they have to go to banks to see notes and drafts. There is another place where too these could be found in greater abundance.The Secretariats of governments have notes and drafts strewn in innumerable files all over.But they are of a different kind. The notes of the Secretariat variety are the considered comments of babus who scrutinise the merits of proposals received by them, or explanations of blueprints conceived by them. They become shorter and shorter as they go up the ladder of hierarchy. It is a pyramid at the apex of which the top man’s contribution shrinks to mere initials of his names, or at most his signature. If he initials the note, it means that he agrees with the proposal. If he doesn’t agree, he says something negative before he puts his signature. In most cases, however, it is so arranged that the proposal is in accordance with his wishes.

Note & Minute

A technical point. A note is so called up to the level of the Joint Secretary. If the Secretary or the Minister writes anything, it is called a ‘minute’. I suppose if the Prime Minister were to do the same, it would be called an ‘hour’. It is apparently indicative of the relative value of their time

Unlike bank notes, these notes are not immediate cash; nevertheless they are potential money. There is the well-known case of a Chief Minister who used to write ‘Not approved’ and then sign below it. The fact of his disapproval, however, was made known to the party concerned and enough time was allowed to lapse before sending the file down. Meanwhile the concerned party came up with adequate financial consideration. Thereafter, an ‘e’ was added after the ‘t’ whereby ‘Not’ became ‘Note’. That meant the proposal was approved. The Secretariat note was transformed into numerous bank notes. Everybody was happy thereafter.

The acuity of the mind of the officer is judged by the sort of note he writes. The underlings up to the level of Under Secretary are required to provide the necessary documentation including precedents which facilitate decision making. For a civil servant nothing is more of a heaven-sent than a precedent. That saves so much waste of time in arguing for and against the case. And of course the risk of taking a decision.

Decision Making

In some difficult or delicate cases, the process of decision-making is pushed upwards. Alternative possible decision are suggested and the choice is left to the top man. Mostly, out of sheer habit, he merely initials. Once I sent up a file –‘resubmitted’ – is the officialese – for it – for specific orders ‘Two alternatives – A and B were suggested’, I wrote meekly, ‘kindly indicate which one is approved’. The file came back with the minute – ‘Whichever is more appropriate’. Some officers who acquire a rare degree of perfection in a signing notes are transferred to a job especially reserved for such persons – Governor of the Reserve Bank of India. One such person was the late Ranganathan. Once on a foreign trip, a lady asked him what he did for a living. He replied mischievously: ‘I am a writer. I write notes. They are small; but have very good circulation’.

Draft

‘Draft’ is the other important component of the work of the babus. It is a rough and tentative suggestion for a reply to a representation, a suggestion or a letter, or a parliamentary question. It is prepared by a subordinate official for the approval of his superior. In important cases, the draft passes through many hands before it reaches the appropriate level for approval. The speeches of ministers are also drafted at different levels depending on the importance of the occasion where they are to be delivered. Prudent ministers rehearse the speech to check whether they can pronounce all the terms used in the draft.

Once a Minister asked for a draft speech for ten minutes. However, its delivery took twenty minutes. On return, he asked his Secretary why he had given him a speech for twice the length. The Secretary replied coolly that he had prepared the speech for ten minutes but the Minister had read the carbon copy of the speech also. Since then, the carbon copy is carried by the Minister’s P.A. to keep the copy secure from the Minister.

Rat

Normally, the original draft is prepared by a Section Officer or an Under Secretary A rare enterprising Deputy Secretary might attempt a draft himself if it is to go up to the Secretary or the Minister That is one occasion for him to be noticed. One of my bosses, a Joint Secretary always used to claim before the Secretary and the Minister that he had vastly improved my draft. He used to record in the file: “As amended”. The improvement mostly consisted of changing the closing compliment from ‘With best wishes’ to ‘With kind regards’ or vice versa. In order to ensure that the immensity of his contribution was not exposed, he would remove the original draft and replace it with one of his own. It was most frustrating to see one’s composition so unceremoniously removed, but it couldn’t be helped because he did it to everyone.

In contrast, my next boss had a large and golden heart that gave more than full credit for his subordinate’s work. Even when he amended the drafts, he did not claim any credit for that. Once I was asked by him to draft a speech for the minister for his use as an intervention in the debate for grants for the ministry. The Joint Secretary, Sabanayagam of the Tamil Nadu cadre went through it, signed it and sent it up. In the afternoon the minister, K.C.Pant summoned the Secretary, R.C.Dutt and Saba (as we used to refer to him affectionately) discuss the draft. Pant complimented Saba for the good draft. Saba told him that it was not prepared by him but by me. Back in his room he called me to pass on the compliment I felt flabbergasted because it was for the first time that my boss had let an opportunity to grab the credit slip by Noticing a look of wonder on my face, he said he was past the stage of being judged by his drafting skills whereas I needed to be acknowledged As it happened, the Secretary was to write my annual confidential report the same evening The incident still fresh in his mind, he paid me glowing tributes. That washed down to some extent the effect of the remark of the previous year.

Tempering with bank notes, and drafts is a criminal offence, in the Secretariat species, it is a duty. In the former case, those guilty of making counterfeit notes are punished; in the Secretariat they are rewarded with advancement.

Excuse my perversity, but I am glad to say that while my boss who stole credit for my drafts, did not go up, Sabanaygam deservedly rose higher, prospered and is still doing well. May his tribe increase.

Government service is not all about rat race. There are also human beings in it who do not join the race And still they win.

Dowry for the State

China has again stolen a march over us. It had already proclaimed the tough one-family-one-child norm.  Strange.  Two persons together are allowed to produce only one child! That comes to half per capita. Obviously their criterion is not one per head but one per bed.

Now  news comes that a Southern Chinese city has asked prospective  couples to deposit the equivalent of US $ 850 before they get married.  This amount will be returned to them after 14 years if they beget only  one child.  In case they exceed the limit, it will be forfeited. What would happen if they get a child after fourteen years is not clarified. Presumably it is expected that after such a long gap, the couple would have forgotten the art of making babies. Or may be the loophole has been left deliberately so that couples could use the loop.

It is also not clear whether any interest would be paid on the amount. Should be. At the rate for a fixed deposit, because after all it is a fixed deposit!

The measure should commend itself to our planners on two counts. It will not only help curb the growth of our population, but will also serve to augment our financial resources.

From the number of invitations I receive for weddings, I have estimated that at least one thousand marriages take place every day in India.  At this rate and the present value of rupee against the dollar, we can mop up extra revenue of over 1300 crore rupees every year.  This will be by way of long-term deposits.  Given the usual lack of care in these matters amongst our people, quite a bit of the amount is likely to be forfeited.  That will be for the general good.  After all so much money is spent on marriages without the community getting any benefit.  Now this could be the first charge on weddings – a sort of dowry for the State.  Parties should be allowed to claim deduction of this amount from the dowry to be paid to the groom.

Already it is contemplated in our country that no one who has more than two children will be eligible for any elective office. The Chinese measure will be in keeping with the spirit of our proposed legislation. It will nip the evil in the bed. Our proposal is inspired by the spectacle of our leaders having too many children who embarrass them by their brokerism and middlemanship.  Empirically, it has been seen that the less the number of children our leaders have, the less corruption is attributed to them.  Of our Prime ministers, the man with the best reputation for honesty and integrity was Jawaharlal Nehru. And he had only one child.  The reputation of our leaders has suffered in direct proportion to the number of their offspring. (On that logic, the present P.M. should turn out to be the most honest).  That is why Plato had suggested that rulers should have no private family or private property. It will not give rise to permanent loci of wheeler-dealers.

To go back to the new Chinese formula, we find every thing to commend in it.  It is a recipe for a trim and grim nation.

It is a thought for our Finance Minister Yashwant Sinha for his next budget.  Unless the government finds it so attractive that it passes an ordinance straight away.  That is of course the best way to go about it. For a good cause, don’t wait to legislate. Just ordinate.

An Essential Outfit

A Chinese businessman in Indonesia has turned his adversity into an opportunity. During the uprising against the Suharto regime, and the riots that followed it, a number of Chinese business establishments were looted, their houses burnt and their women molested and raped.

To safeguard the honour of their women in the case of recurrence of such incidents, a Chinese entrepreneur rose from his ashes, as it were, and started manufacturing chastity belts. B.B.C even showed the process of manufacture — and the finished product. It was also reported that he was doing brisk business and making up for his losses during the disturbances. The American Business Schools which teach SWOT and similar analyses and preach conversion of threats into opportunity will, no doubt, make it into a case study.

The story of the ethnic Indonesian Chinese entrepreneur throws up an idea for India. We hear about rape cases day in and day out. Poor, helpless women in rural areas and urban sprawls, house- maids, social workers and even foreign , tourists – no one seems to be safe. Cases are not wanting when policemen themselves are alleged to have committed rapes. Of course the authorities always promise that they would look into the matter and take stringent action against the perpetrators of the crime. But that is a routine reaction. Our administration seems to be following crimes, not anticipating them.

Traditional wisdom says that prevention is better than cure. And so, it seems that it will be a good idea to distribute chastity belts – at least one per family through our Public Distribution System. Their colour, like our ration cards, may vary according to the status of the beneficiary. Care should, however, be taken in inviting tenders to select a competent and reliable manufacturer so that no loop-holes are left in the belt. Alternatively, they could be manufactured in our ordnance factories. After all they are equipment for self – defence and so the Defence Audit would, hopefully, not object to such an activity being taken up.

The libbers of both sexes might object that it is a primitive practice. Yes it is. But so is rape – and adultery. We all know that as a precaution against possible rape –and adultery, the ‘crusaders’ in the Middle Ages used to strap such belts on their women. We have heard the story of King Arthur of the Round Table fame who, while proceeding on a campaign, put a belt on his wife Guinevere and entrusted its key for safe-keeping to his trusted lieutenant, Sir Lancelot. Hardly had he rode out a few miles when Sir Lancelot came galloping after him and said, “Sire, you have given me the wrong key!”.

The government will have to open a safe depository for the keys for these belts. Perhaps they could allot a locker each in a nationalized bank for storage of these keys. In rural areas, the Mahila Grameen Banks could diversify their activities to provide this service.

These are broad outlines of the proposal. But the solution to the problem brooks no delay. Some thing has to be done fast to tackle the rising menace. If the Home Minister proposes to give arms to the inhabitants of Doda for self-defence, surely the distribution of protective belts should not be far behind.

How She Was Made

Woman is the most fascinating, the most captivating, the most bewitching – and the most complicated creature on earth.  The fascination for her is in inverse ratio to the age of man.  The law of diminishing returns comes into operation as a man grows older.  That is why Agatha Christie said that she was very lucky that her husband was an archeologist.  The older she grew the more interested he became in her.  But that is an exception.

How was such a creature created?  Man, we concede, could have been made out of clay. His manufacture needed quantity, not quality.  It therefore took so much of soil to make him that nothing was left.  According to one view, woman was made out of man’s rib.  It seems most unlikely that from such a small simple raw material, a creature at once so pliable, so a hard and so complex could have been fashioned.

Jawaharlal Nehru came upon an ancient Indian formula about the manufacture of woman during his voyage of the discovery of India.    He found it accidentally when he was imprisoned for embarking upon his voyage without prior permission of the authorities. The arcane formula was buried in the Naini Jail and was signed by an Englishman called F.W.Bain. According to that formulation, “when the Divine Artificer came to the creation of woman He found that He had exhausted His materials in the making of man and that no solid elements were left.  In this dilemma, after profound meditation, He did as follows: He took the rotundity of the moon, the curves of the creepers, the clinging of tendrils, the trembling of grass, the slenderness of the reed, the bloom of flowers, the lightness of leaves, the tapering of the elephant’s trunk, the glances of deer, the clustering of rows of bees, the joyous gaiety of sunbeams, the weeping of clouds, the fickleness of the winds, the timidity of the hare, the vanity of the peacock, the softness of the parrot’s bosom, the hardness of adamant, the sweetness of honey, the cruelty of the tiger, the warm glow of fire, the coldness of snow, the chattering of jays, the cooing of the kokila, the hypocrisy of the crane, the fidelity of the chakravaka( the ruddy goose); and compounding all these together, He made woman and gave her to man”.

As against this most interesting description of the ingredients and the process of the manufacture, there is the modern scientific theory about the elements that go into the making of woman. It was made public by V. Gangadhar in his piece in the Hindu of Sunday, the 14th June 1998 (‘Timeless Quotable Quotes’). He doesn’t remember the source — or so he seemed to imply. Maybe he is not willing to reveal it. But the formula is spelt out in fair detail. Woman, he learned in time in his youth, “was not made of sugar, spice and everything nice”, as he had believed like all young men of his age. On the other hand, she “was made up of 4 oz. sugar, 85 lb. oxygen, two oz. salt, 50 quarts water, three lb. calcium, 24 lb carbon, plus enough chlorine to disinfect two swimming pools, enough phosphorous to make 20,000 matchsticks, enough fat to make 10 bars of soap, enough iron to make a two-inch nail, enough sulphur to rid a dog of fleas and enough glycerin to explode a naval shell.”

The old Indian formula is herbal and nature – based.  The Western one is a chemical compound.  The final product however is not different in essentials. The former can be classed as an Ayurvedic product; the latter perhaps Allopathic. I wonder how the Homeopathic or the Unani formulations would have been. Homeopathic would have probably been all sweet and without any side-effects. The Unani would probably have been stronger, but with after- effects.

Man has always tried to analyse the creature whom he chases till she catches him.  I too have tried but finally have bowed to the greater wisdom of those who preceded me.  I have found, after extensive researches that there are three types of women: the beautiful, the intelligent and the majority.  As to their ages they too are three – at twenty they are attentive, at thirty-five they are attractive – and after forty-five they are adhesive.

Our nuclear scientist Dr. Abdul Kalam obviously wasn’t aware of the second formula. Otherwise, instead of developing nuclear devices, he would have just ‘Dolly-ed’ some women. But then, we can’t blame him. He is a bachelor and hence innocent of the properties of the product in question. So, alas, is the Prime Minister!

And we have to pay the price.

A Season of Partings

The pattern of happenings in my world has changed.

There was a time when people I knew were either getting jobs, promotions, or begetting children and celebrating functions marking stages in their growth. They used to discuss problems of their admission into schools and grades in their term exams. Terms like ‘donation’ or ‘capitation fee’ were unknown. We attended weddings, birthdays, cocktail parties, soirees, dinners, and concerts.

Occasionally a remote death occurred. Rarely someone we knew died – mostly an unnatural death. An accident or an incurable disease, like cancer. I wrote letters of congratulations, or of condolence as the occasion demanded. For weddings it was wishing the new couple ‘a long and happy married life’ – till my benign boss advised me to add the word ‘fruitful’ before ‘married’. ‘You must wish them children because a married life without children is a barren existence’. I had not realized that till then. I took it for granted that marriage bred a la Mark Twain, children — and contempt. But then I looked around and found it wasn’t so in every case. So thenceforth my letters of congratulations were standardized. Of course there were exceptions in the case of close friends. Those letters were informal and light-hearted, and had some jokes about the perils of matrimony.

I tried to be original when sending a letter of condolence to those left behind. But there had to be some pontification on the inevitability of death – and our helpless in the matter. The loss of the bereaved family was always irreparable because the ‘departed soul’ became noble by its sheer exit.

Then there was another round of weddings and births in the next generation. Children had grown. They were flying off to the States, getting back for their marriage but rarely returning. We were all engaged in supplying highly skilled slaves to the U.S. But all those occasions were celebrated. Friends had all come to occupy high position and I seemed to know everybody who mattered in the town. More flattering, they seemed to know me. There were rounds of parties in the season.

Sicknesses, retirements, deaths started occurring with a greater frequency. But they were meant for others. I visited convalescing friends to wish them speedy recovery. I showed up to mumble a few words of condolence to the bereaved family. A tentative formulation, which underlined our helplessness in this Great Chaos. For no reason people were getting sick, suffering pain, dying. I put in a couplet or a ‘sloka’, which said all.

And now events, which were earlier meant for others, have started occurring to me. Superannuation – that dirty word one day was used for me. The civil list for the year listed my name under ‘wastage’. A life wasted, indeed. But too late to realize. Hypertension, angina, angioplastry, open-heart surgery, dialysis are some of the new terms which I learnt from friends who had experienced them. The talk of grandchildren dominates our infrequent encounters.

And death. That final curse. That ultimate release from misery is now claiming friends and colleagues all around. So many that I had listed in the ‘oral history references’ in my last book have already gone. The obituary column in the morning paper sets my day’s agenda. I meet friends on funerals. Autumn leaves are falling all around me. The season for condolences has come to stay.

* * *

 

From The Horse’s Mouth

Many people claim that they have heard sometimes or the other something “from the horse’s mouth”.  I have never had that experience till yesterday.  That is when I joined the selected band of people.

A horse spoke to me !  I could not believe my ears when it opened its mouth and started in a language which I could perfectly understand.

It asked me whether I was the one who writes for the papers occasionally.  On my admission, it asked me if I could help him ventilate his grievances.  I thought it had something to say about prevention of cruelty to animals.  With the increase in the number of automobiles and the development of other modes of transport the grievances of horses had certainly come down.  However, it did not touch that point. If anything, their complaint would be about increasing joblessness.

“Have you heard the latest news about U.P.,” it asked me.

I replied that I heard them everyday and the latest was of course about the vote of confidence  won by the new chief minister.  It said that in that connection some mischievous and defamatory references had been made by various leaders to its fraternity.  I said that it was part of parliamentary democracy to made derogatory references to each other.  And that is what educates us about various parties and their members.  It said that it did not mind so long as they traded ‘educative and informative’ allegations against each other but what hurt it was that an apprehension was expressed by some leaders that there might be ‘horse trading’ before the vote of confidence.  I said that happens quite often inspite of our anti-defection law.

“That is what I want to protest about”.  It added, “horses are sold and bought by their owners.  We can’t help that.  But no horse has ever left its master on its own and gone to somebody else”.

I thought about this for a while and conceded that it was indeed so. I recalled stories in which horses had shown extraordinary faithfulness to their masters.  It asked me then what horses they were referring to which were being traded.

“Never mind”, I said, “it is a figure of speech”.

“Don’t be silly,“ it said, “speech has no figure”.

I had never thought of that.  “Coming to the point”, it neighed, “I have come here to lodge a protest”.

“What about ?”

“Comparing those guys with us is an insult to our brotherhood”.

You should complain to the “Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals”.

“They register only cases of physical cruelty.  Not mental cruelty.”

Problem. “ What do we do then ?”

“Use some other simile or metaphor.  But don’t defame us.  We are horses.  We are used to the company of nobles, warriors and sportsmen. We are fast runners.  We are valued highly.  Even today we serve only the head of the State – for his ceremonial rides.”

“But they make such references  in anger.  When they sort of wash their dirty linen in public”.

“Exactly.  Then they should compare themselves to our cousins who are used to carrying the dirty linen for washing”.

“But won’t they object ?”

“I don’t think so.  They are so stupid.”

“O.K.” I said “I shall convey your protest to appropriate quarters”.

“Thank you,” beamed the graceful, grateful creature, “You promise ?”

“I do”, I replied.  That is the least I could do for having experienced a miracle – getting it direct from the horse’s mouth.  For the first time!