It is with heartfelt relief that I bid 2020 goodbye. Not in a century has mankind experienced another like it and no country, race or human being has remained unaffected by the trail of devastation it has brought. So join me in praying that the start of a New Year will bring back the hope and joy that have all but vanished at present.
I cannot remember another year when I have lost so many dear friends and beloved family members. Some died of natural causes, many fell victim to Covid. The latest loss was of a dear Chandigarh friend, Anil Anand, who lost his brave month-long battle against post-Covid complications just a few days ago. Surely one of the saddest duties one performs is attending the memorial of a person younger than oneself.
That said, let us turn to happier thoughts. First on my to-do list after the end of this pandemic will be to touch and feel human hands and hold them in a warm grip. Next, being able to see faces behind masks and breathe without a muzzle over my nose. Dropping in on friends, enjoying a meal out with loved ones, snuggling next to little children and travelling to meet our children and grandchildren… the list seems endless. What is remarkable is the discovery that these simple desires are the most important on one’s wishlist. I no longer want to travel to New Zealand or go on an Alaskan cruise (even if I could afford to), but just go to my beloved Kumaon and meet my family there. The magnificent Himalayas, the tall deodars, those laughing brooks and tumbling streams, little temples dedicated to well-loved deities: I have missed these more than I had ever thought possible. It is humbling to know how deep the call of one’s native land can be.
Strangely enough, even though my family has such a deep connect with Kumaon, not one of us siblings ever built a place of our own there. However, whenever we talk to each other, it is always old reminiscences, old faces and old memories that form the bulk of our conversation. Sad to think that this intense love for Kumaon may not outlive our generation as many of our children have decided to settle abroad or marry those who do not share their enthusiasm for the hills. All of you who have a similar background will agree when I say that all mountain communities are different from those who live elsewhere. I recall Khushwant Singh once saying that either one is a mountain person or a sea person. ‘I am a mountain person,’ he told me. ‘I love my Kasauli.’ That is why his beloved Kasauli was the place chosen by his children to celebrate his memory in the annual Festival of Letters held there.
Forgive this nostalgic personal digression, but there is something about the end of a year that forces one to seek one’s inner self. So before I become more maudlin, let me tell you about a brilliant Pakistani TV programme called ‘Loose Talk’. Anchored by a mild-mannered and genteel host, Anwar Maqsood, it was an interview forum for conversations with invited guests. The guest was often the late Moin Akhter, who rose to fame in the era of Radio Pakistan along with his co-actors Anwar Maqsood and Bushra Ansari. Moin was a television, film and stage artiste, also a brilliant comedian who, like a chameleon, could change into whatever he decided to be when being ‘interviewed’. Please watch the episode where he is a Bangladeshi cricketer and another where he is a harmonium player. I cannot stop shaking with laughter every time I hear him.
Of course, we have some terrific stand-up comedians in India as well but I have to say that the Pakistanis display a level of sly humour and a political tinge of such refined subtlety that one has to doff one’s hat to them. The earthy Punjabi or the cultured Urdu they speak may have something to do with it, but unlike many of our own comedians, they do not freely pepper their speeches with four-letter words to raise a laugh.
It is like a yearning I have for the old middle class TV programmes of the old Doordarshan days, when a Sai Paranjpye and Manohar Shyam Joshi or Basu Chatterjee and Saeed Mirza brought credible, well-spoken comic characters that have remained with us till today. Decency in language, character and plots are only memories now and although I have immense admiration for some of the series that have been released recently on our digital platforms, I still rue the loss of pure, clean fun. However, one must also concede that these new serials, such as ‘Mirzapur’, are also a reflection of the grim times we live in and that the truth they portray is not something we can close our eyes to.
So, as I end this column, I pray that the coming year brings a closure to all the ugliness that has made us forget that somewhere there is a new world waiting to be reborn.
A happy New Year to all my readers.