As Pakistan struggles to cope with the worst humanitarian disaster in living memory (one quarter of the land mass is under water), the debate on both sides of the LoC is hopelessly skewed. In Pakistan, the ultra-right religious establishment believes the floods are “Allah’s punishment” for (till now unspecified) “wickedness”. In India, the verdict is identical. We also believe the unwanted waters are “Allah’s punishment”, but for wickedness, substitute cross-border terrorism. It is regrettable, though perhaps understandable, that New Delhi seems more worried about the army emerging as the country’s “saviour” once again and the jehadis using the floods as an opportunity to ingratiate themselves with the local population, rather than the plight of the suffering masses. In fact, one view, hopefully a minority view, is to “let them stew in their own juice”.
It is a cliche to say that “this is not the time to play politics”. Alas, a great deal of politics is being played on both sides. The reluctance of Islamabad to accept aid from India reflects not just the cussedness of our estranged neighbour, but also shows how vitiated our bilateral relationship has become. Because I am Rawalpindi-born and a former Wagah candle-lighter, can I be accused of bending over backwards to favour an ungrateful neighbour? I don’t think so.
Forget the impact of the floods on the war against terrorism; forget the impact of the floods on the Pakistan economy; forget the impact of the floods on the progress of the Af-Pak offensive which affects us critically. For the moment, India and the international community, which has been unusually slow and tardy in responding, should concentrate on providing relief and aid as speedily as possible. India, especially, needs to show both generosity and grace.
I am reasonably certain that if India had suffered a natural catastrophe of this scale, the aam aadmi from Pakistan would have come forward swiftly with assistance. I am also reasonably certain that we too would shilly-shally before accepting it.
Sweet Wedding Belle
Have you noticed how certain wives can have a calming effect on brilliant but erratic men? In his autobiography, Bertrand Russell admits that his fifth and last wife brought welcome order and stability into his life, ridding him of the emotional and sexual storms which had tormented him earlier. As my off-and-on friend Shashi Tharoor enters married life once again, the benign and altogether positive influence of Sunanda Tharoor is already visible, and not just in the pretty wedding photographs. Shashi seems cool, relaxed, less hectic—all of which means he can resume his interrupted political career without the danger of constant media controversies breathing down his neck. I understand Mrs Tharoor has reluctantly allowed her spouse to “tweet”, but only under strict conditions. Indeed, she functions as a sort of copy-editor to ensure his messages and his cattle humour don’t ruffle any feathers. While it is early days yet, at the moment they seem to make a great team.
Oscar Wilde once said that a second marriage represents “the triumph of hope over experience”. Let us pray in Shashi’s case (he has been married twice before) another proverb comes true: Third time lucky!
The Scornful Sir Felid
V.S. Naipaul’s new book, The Masque of Africa, has predictably stirred up a war of words over his portrayal of Africa—a continent, he believes, “with one foot in its primitive past” and obsessed with eating domestic pets. Mr Naipaul is particularly hard on the Ivory Coast, where kitten is a delicacy on the menu. “I found out what was the best way of killing a cat or a kitten. You put them in a sack of some sort and then you drop the sack in a pot of boiling water. The thought of this everyday kitchen cruelty made everything else in the Ivory Coast seem unimportant,” he writes.
In this context, I have a literary secret to offer. Vidia Naipaul is a cat-lover and a dog-hater. Some years ago, a male cat was adopted by the celebrated author, and christened Augustus. Lady Naipaul told me her husband is absolutely besotted with Augustus. He travels all the way to London from their home in Wiltshire to buy him special food. Augustus even sleeps in their bed, which means there are three in the Naipaul marriage. When Editor came into my life, I got a stiff lecture from the Nobel laureate. He advised me to give up my dog and adopt a cat. Cats, he said, were loyal, dogs fickle. So, I am not surprised that the cat-eating Ivory Coast-wallahs did not find favour with Mr Naipaul.
Dog with the Blue Pencil
Since I have placed a self-imposed ban on any mention of you-know-who on this page, I am stuck for a tailpiece. Therefore, I seek your indulgence to free myself from the veto. In my next diary I propose to provide a full report of how Editor ‘Guest Edited’ the magazine Creative Companion, whose cover he adorns. Book your copy of Outlook now!
I think Vinod Mehta is absolutely right about how people and warring nations should rise above their enmity in times of calamity and help each other (Delhi Diary, Sep 6). Our inability to come to Pakistan’s aid in its hour of need will only diminish us as a people, as a nation. Ajit Tendulkar, Seattle, US
Do the people of Pakistan really deserve our aid? It could well be used to finance attacks on India. D.S. Mahanty, Mumbai
Can Mr Mehta refresh our memories of Pakistani aid during the Orissa floods and Gujarat earthquake? Ganesan, New Jersey
I think we need not concern ourselves with our neighbours accepting our piety or not, but just do what is right. As far as Naipaul is concerned, he is not even worth mentioning in this diary. Rafique Mushtaq, Riyadh
If we hold a referendum, no Indian would vote for sending their own hard-earned money to Pakistan for it to be used in a terror plot against us. The Pakistan government has not even an iota of accountability, and has been known to divert funds for anti-India activity. Cannot Mr Mehta even see such a simple thing? Aniket, Sunnyvale, US
Is there no one to fill in the vacuum in Delhi Diary with something more sensible than Tharoor’s third marriage? The reader expects something better and more relevant from Mr Mehta. Syed, Bhopal
Thank you to all those who have taken the trouble to read the article and share their thoughts. Out of the arguments made here, there are two that perhaps need answering. So here they go.
1. The first part of the article compares outcomes (relative percentages of population of the religions concerned) irrespective of the process that led to those outcomes - whether immigration, relatively faster population growth or conversions. This was for two reasons. One, to put the figure of 2.3 per cent in "numerical perspective", as the article itself explained. The second reason was that outcomes are ultimately what the crux of debate is about. The rest of the article in any case dealt with process - or conversions in this case, from both a contemporary and historical perspective.
2. Some commenters have tried to cast doubts on the reliability of Census 2001. Those who do this should bear in mind that Census 2001 was conducted by a BJP government. Considering the extreme importance that BJP gives to this issue, it would be reasonable to expect that IF it had perceived a problem with the methodology that was distorting the numbers, it would have fixed it. As the article mentioned, BJP or BJP-supported governments have been in power for 10 of the last 40 years, or about a quarter of the time, and the only reasonable conclusion one can arrive at is that any misreporting of numbers, real or perceived, would be marginal and hence, not of importance.
To all other arguments made, my answer is the following: Please read the article again, with particular focus on the quotations of Vivekananda and Monier Williams, and the history of the missionary efforts in Bengal and their outcome.
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