06 September 2010 Last Page

Delhi Diary

As Pakistan struggles to cope with the worst humanitarian disaster in living memory, India needs to show both generosity and grace.
Delhi Diary

Manu’s Ark

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”.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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!

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