THERE ARE MANY ways of emulating Winston Churchill, but surely winning a war while losing your own people must be the least preferred option for a politician. Churchill had won the epic war against the existential threat from Hitler by May 8, 1945; less than eight weeks later, on July 5, he was wiped out in a British general election. Labour under the non-flamboyant Clement Attlee took 47.7 per cent of the popular vote against Churchill’s 36.2 per cent. Churchill’s sense of humour survived the ruins; he noted that the people had awarded him the Order of the Boot.
Israel’s Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu will at some point declare victory in his war against Hamas, but he cannot postpone democracy in his country. Israel is a robust and proudly democratic state. Every opinion poll indicates that Netanyahu has already lost the confidence of his people. He has entered the slippery zone of those who lose it all because they want it all.
London’s Spectator, a leading supporter of Israel’s war against Hamas, explained why Netanyahu’s ratings have gone south in a critique from Anshel Pfeffer, Jerusalem correspondent of the Economist for 27 years, published on November 8. An Israeli leader has failed his primary responsibility if he cannot ensure the people’s security. The chiefs of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and intelligence services have accepted blame, and will resign when the fighting pauses; Netanyahu has blamed everyone but himself. In a poll taken during end- October, some 50 per cent of respondents said they trusted generals more than the prime minister, and three quarters of respondents wanted Netanyahu to resign. His Likud party has lost 40 per cent of its vote. Till the moment of writing, Netanyahu had shifted from his personal home to an American billionaire’s villa which is equipped with a nuclear shelter. While 360,000 Israeli civilian reservists, men and women, have joined the forces, his two sons continue to live abroad. There is much more in this vein; and enough to sketch out a future political upheaval.
THE NEXT CRICKET CASH COW
The structure has novelty, so that’s a start: a Continental Pentangular. Do ICC and BCCI want yet another cricket tamasha? You bet they do. As long as there is pan masala there will be cricket. The official rationale can’t be cash, so of course we are formally taking cricket forward on the twin principles of revival and fresh fields.
We may have to reposition geography, but that is what empire builders have been doing through history. The five quasi-continental teams would be: Indo-Asia; Af- Pak-Gulf; South-East Africa; Brit-Europe; and Australia- Windies, nicknamed Indasia, APG, Seafrica, Briteau and Auswies. The obvious Big Five provide the nucleus, but never the full complement. Bangladesh and Sri Lanka will be prominent in Indasia, to give an obvious example. The selectors, chosen by ICC, will be non-partisan, just like umpires. Welcome to the growth of cricket in Scotland, Ireland, Netherlands, Kenya, Zimbabwe etc; and a full-scale resurrection in the West Indies.
The idea is novel, but not wholly original. Check out memory. The One Day International World Cup began in 1975 as the Prudential Cup, played for a fortnight from June 7 in England between the hosts, Australia, India, Pakistan, New Zealand, the West Indies, and two associate nations of cricketdom, Sri Lanka and East Africa. South Africa was excluded because of Apartheid, but what was East Africa all about? It consisted of Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and Zambia. A certain Frasat Ali top-scored with 45 in their first match against New Zealand. Other team members were Harilal Shah, Jawahir Shah, Hamish McLeod, Mehmood Quraishy, John Nagenda, Parbhu Nana, Ramesh Sethi, Shiraz Sumar, Samuel Walusimbi, Zulfiqar Ali, Praful Mehta, Don Pringle and Yunus Badat. How multi-ethnic harmonious can you get? Why not name the trophy the Harmony Cup?
The idea is free for the esteemed Rajeev Shukla to pick up and run.
THE NASIKH DIET
When the Nasikh Diet becomes the miracle health fad of the next decade, remember you read it here first.
Shaikh Nasikh was a friend of the iconic Ghalib and, although purists might flinch at the comparison, a fellow-poet. His verse was not particularly memorable. What made him famous in 19th-century Delhi was his exercise regime: 1297 pre-dawn press-ups for three hours every day, and if you want to know how difficult that is, try doing 129. Mixing religion with politics is now common; Nasikh mixed push-ups with religion. He did 1297 because that was the numerical value of the letters in Ya Ghafur, one of the names of God in Islam. Push-ups were prayer.
Huge and healthy, tall and broad, he would wear just a shirt spun of fine cloth or chintz even in the bitter cold of a Delhi winter and just a loincloth during the other months. Punctuality was an obsession. Friends and callers rose from the cane chairs in his spotlessly clean courtyard at the call of the zuhr namaaz at midday. The time had come for his only meal of the day.
It weighed in at five kilograms of food: qurma, kebabs, chicken or partridge, vegetables and lentils. He ate one dish at a time, for mixing spoilt the taste. Delay was not permitted. Once, the cooks took too long over special dishes. He saw a servant ferrying the staff meal, summoned him, ate all the food, and told his servants to eat what was being prepared for him. On a few days he indulged in a different although equally gargantuan meal: when mangoes or bhutta (corn cob) were in season.
This entrancing vignette from a forgotten past comes from the most enchanting book of my reading year, A Thousand Yearnings: A Book of Urdu Poetry and Prose edited and collected by the eminent Urdu scholar Ralph Russell. The title echoes the famous Ghalib couplet: Hazaaron khwaishen aisi ke har khwaish pe dum nikley, Bahut nikley mere armaan, lekin phir bhi kam nikley (A thousand yearnings are such that with each I might die, Many a wish left my lips, but not enough). The closing lines of this ghazal should be quoted equally often: Kahan maikhaney ka darwaza Ghalib aur kahan waaez, Par itna jaantey hain, kal woh jaata tha ke hum nikley (Where is the door of the tavern, Ghalib, and where the priest? But this I know, yesterday he was at the tavern door when I left).
The principal theme is the poetry of two greats, Mir and Ghalib, but this work is more than adulation. It is the history of a culture that has disappeared into the sepia of our past, an art of living that bowed to the sacred without surrender of independence, a celebration of dignity that recognised the homage due to power without succumbing to demeaning sycophancy. One story says it all. The singer Haidari Khan left the Nawab of Awadh Ghaziuddin Haidar in tears with his art, and then thrice asked for a boon as reward: that he never be summoned to sing at court again. The artist knew the consequences of ‘insolence’ and added: “What is it to you? If you have me put to death there will never be another Haidari Khan. Whereas if you die there’ll at once be another king.” Haidari Khan escaped while the astonished, speechless king sat there bewildered.
Ghalib was more nuanced; he placed himself above mere kings. He recited his couplet to the last Mughal king Bahadur Shah Zafar: Yeh misaail e tasavvuf, ye tera bayaan Ghalib, Tujhe hum vali samajhte jo na baada-khvaar hota! (What exquisite manner in which you handle mysticism, Ghalib; What a saint you might have been if you did not drink!) Zafar replied that even if Ghalib were always sober sainthood might be beyond reach. The poet replied: “Your Majesty counts me one even now, and only speaks like this lest my sainthood should go to my head.” Amen.
The last word must belong to Ghalib: “Poetry is the creation of meaning, not the matching of rhymes”.