Sunday, July 8, 2007

my profile

Sometimes a poem can come to life

An English couple travelled with us on the Thiruvananthapuram Rajdhani. The U-shaped arrangement of our berths allowed us unintended access to their affairs. They appeared an attractive couple, sensitive to Indian standards when it came to displaying intimacy in public. Perhaps they had been briefed about the necessity of being discreet while in India.

While we tried consciously to avoid glancing at them, we could not help but be part of the goings-on. Not as spectators with a fixed gaze, mind you, but as mature travellers indulgently observing those around them.

Once in a while there was an exchange of smiles between the couple and us, but by and large they were a world unto themselves. The man would carry a cigarette clutched between his lips as he hot-footed it to the “smoking area” — declared as such by the smokers in the bogey — while the woman would get engrossed in the book she was carrying. Having had a smoke, the young man would return only to disturb the woman at her page-turning.

He would mind his business on being rebuffed — but only for a little while. He would soon busy himself in attempting to catch her attention, with one gimmick or other. Once in a while the lady would lift her eyes from the book and fix them on him sternly — as if to remind him that he had to behave. Dinner came around and everybody settled in for the night.

Our young man was up early the next morning. He appeared from behind the curtain and flashed a smile at me. Then he went on to have his smoke. He then joined his partner who was fast asleep. He lay on his berth humming a tune, hoping perhaps to wake her up. When the crooning did not help, he went on singing quite loudly. But the lady did not move.

Now our man started twittering like a bird. He seemed a master in the art of imitating a tweet, but none of this had the slightest effect on his lady love. She continued to lie unmoved. Our friend then transmogrified from bird to dog. He snarled and growled like an Alsation.

Perhaps he was getting a wee bit crabby. This had the effect of waking up the woman, who sniggered at him, turned on to one side and shouted, “Teal, will you stop it there!” I wondered whether she was referring to her companion or the bird he had tried to imitate earlier — the Whistling Teal.

These goings on reminded me of Andrew Marvell’s poem, ‘To his coy mistress’. In it the poet had mused: “Had we but world enough, and time; This coyness, Lady, were no crime/ Thou by the Indian Ganges side shouldst rubies find...” And why not?

The couple may not have been heading for the Ganges but the beautiful beaches of Goa can be just as exotic. The next day we found them at Baga beach. As the woman lay sunbathing, her prince rode the waves — all the while calling out to her. But to little avail.

Friday, July 6, 2007

What Khushwant Singh wrote about me in The Telegraph

A writer in uniform
You need not go through the mill of acquiring a degree or diploma in journalism and work you way up from being a cub reporter, to correspondent, and if you are lucky, becoming an editor. Continue in the job you are doing and start with writing letters to the editor. Editors have big egos; so pick up a singularly bad editorial and write a few lines praising it. It will be published. After a few letters appearing in the papers, move on to writing middles. This needs more skill and a touch of humour. Middles are more widely read than articles or editorials. Once you have established yourself as the master of light, witty pieces, the chances of your being taken on the staff of the paper at a higher level become brighter.
This is roughly the course pursued by my young friend, Rajbir Deswal (46) from village Anta in Jind district of Haryana. He has an MA in English literature and has no trouble with the language. He is in the Indian police service and is currently assistant director of research and development. The itch for writing never left him. Being a police officer, he could not indulge in writing letters to the editor. He skipped that ladder and went straight on to writing middles. He has set up a record of sorts: over 400 middles in different national dailies. Also book reviews, short stories and travelogues. In between, he produced books on Wit and Humour of Haryana; Culture Bright and Dark. He is a strappingly handsome six-footer Haryanvi Jat who could well have become a matinee idol. He prefers to remain a police officer and a man of letters.