Happy Singh

Khushwant Singh writes an obit for Happy Singh, who passed away recently.

Let me repeat for the umpteenth time: there must never be another Indo-Pak war. If, god forbid, there is one, there will be no winners. Both India and Pakistan have long-range missiles that can ruin both countries. So let us tell the sabre-rattlers in clear terms, be they Pakistanis or Indians, that war is too serious a matter to be left to soldiers or politicians. Only common men, women and children who will be most affected by its impact have the right to take this decision.

If necessary, make human chains extending from Kashmir to the Arabian Sea, one on the Pakistani side, the other on the Indian. And let the tanks and armoured cars run over the chains before they start firing their guns. There are people of peace and goodwill who will gladly volunteer to stake their lives for their countries.

We have our Kuldip Nayyars and Swami Agniveshs to lead them; they have their Asma Jehangirs, Najam Sethis and Jugnu Mohsins to lead them. This is what Gandhi would have done. This is what Ghaffar Khan, the Frontier Gandhi, would have done. This is what you and I should be doing.

So what are the options when our relations come close to breaking point, as they did after the attack in Mumbai on 26/11?
We proved to the world that the perpetrators were Pakistanis. Since the crime was committed with military precision, we proved to the world that the criminals were trained by professionals on Pakistani soil. Pakistan’s rulers were reluctant to admit that because it would reflect on their inability to control subversive elements. I’m convinced that in their hearts
they know our charges to be true and in due course will concede it.

We have also proved to the world that Pakistan is ruled by important men whose writ does not run beyond a few miles around Islamabad, and that its social norms are dictated by demented mullahs who close down girls schools, force women to wear burqas and impose medieval codes of conduct on the masses. They also preach hatred against Indians. We have to jointly wage a relentless war against them till they are stamped out of existence. If we succeed, we can live in peace as good neighbours.

The good die young
Whenever a young person close to me dies, my first reaction is to ask why he or she had to die without enjoying life to the full. This happened recently when my nephew Binny’s wife Happy died suddenly one morning. She was in good health. The evening before I had seen her playing with the children of the mohalla. You would not mistake her: a mass of grey-black hair cascading down to her waist and a diamond sparkling on her nose. Full of vitality and happy laughter.

Early next morning she had acute pain in her chest. Instead of waking up her husband sleeping next to her, she rang up a friend. The friend insisted she wake him up and take her to a hospital. At first, the doctor did not think it was serious and told her he would have her up and about soon. That was not to be. They brought her back in a glass coffin. I got the news from my daughter. I was stunned with disbelief.

Though the mother of a grown-up daughter Sanam, working in Dubai, I regarded her as a girl. I only knew her nickname Happy — and happy she always was. Happy had the unique distinction of being liked by everyone in our extended family in which outward bonhomie often conceals backbiting and bitchiness. She was not interested in petty squabbles and was more inclined towards spiritual matters. While others spend their evenings in the Gold or Gymkhana clubs, she did the rounds of bookstores in Khan Market. On her way home, she occasionally dropped in to chat with me.

“Mamaji, I am not interested in politics or fiction, I’m into metaphysics,” she said to me once. I didn’t understand what she meant by metaphysics and asked her to elucidate. “Religion, love, other-worldiness, spirituality and that sort of thing, you know,” she replied. I didn’t understand but nodded my head.

It was a strange preoccupation for a woman who was the niece of a famous soldier, General Harbaksh Singh, and moved in high society. She did most of the talking during the arguments she had with preachers of religion and their disciples. She always got the better of them as she was better read and had thought over problems of life and death. Some relations say that she had a premonition that her time was coming to an end. She had told them and arranged some of her affairs — ‘in case’. On her 60th and last birthday, she told her friends not to bring any presents. Instead, she gave them gifts in return.

I wonder why nature does not provide a fixed period of time for people to enjoy all that life has to offer before they go.

Most people are in reasonably good shape until their 70s. Then the body begins to show marks of deterioration — life becomes a burden to oneself and those around you. I ask Happy wherever she is, “Why did you have to leave us so early?”


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