Land of Five Rivers

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Authors: Khushwant Singh
Tags: Fiction, Literary
contempt for the Sikh. I was amazed at the stupidity of men who imitated women and grew their hair long. I must confess I did not like my hair cut too short; despite my father’s instructions to the contrary, I did not allow the barber to clip off more than a little when I went to him on Fridays. I grew a mop of hair so that when I played hockey or football it would blow about in the breeze like those of English sportsmen. My father often asked me, ‘Why do you let your hair grow like a woman’s?’ My father had primitive ideas and I took no notice of his views. If he had had his way he would have had all heads razored bald and stuck artificial beards on people’s chins...That reminds me that the second reason for hating the Sikhs was their beards which made them look like savages.
    There are beards and beards. There was my father’s beard, neatly trimmed in the French style; or my uncle’s which went into a sharp point under his chin. But what could you do with a beard to which no scissor was ever applied and which was allowed to grow like a wild bush — fed with a compost of oil, curd and goodness knows what! And, after it had grown a few feet, combed like hair on a head: My grandfather also had a very long beard which he combed... but then my grandfather was my grandfather and a Sikh is just a Sikh.
    After I had passed my matriculation examination I was sent to the Muslim University at Aligarh. We boys who came from Delhi, or the United Provinces, looked down upon boys from Punjab; they were crude rustics who did not know how to converse, how to behave at table, or to deport themselves in polite company. All they could do was drink large tumblers of buttermilk. Delicacies such as vermicelli with essence of
kewra
sprinkled on it or the aroma of Lipton’s tea were alien to them. Their language was unsophisticated to the extreme, whenever they spoke to each other it seemed as if they were quarreling. It was full of ‘
ussi, tussi, saadey, twhaadey
,’ — Heaven forbid. I kept my distance from Punjabis.
    But the warden of our hostel, (God forgive him), gave me a Punjabi as a roommate. When I realised that there was no escape, I decided to make the best of a bad bargain and be civil to the chap. After a few days we became quite friendly. This man was called Ghulam Rasul and he was from Rawalpindi. He was full of amusing anecdotes and was a good companion.
    You might well ask how Mr. Ghulam Rasul gate-crashed into a story about the Sikhs. The fact of the matter is that Ghulam Rasul’s anecdotes were usually about the Sikhs. It is through these anecdotes that I got to know the racial characteristics, the habits and customs of this strange community. According to Ghulam Rasul the chief characteristics of the Sikhs were the following:
    All Sikhs were stupid and idiotic. At noontime they lost their senses altogether. There were many instances to prove this. For example, one day at 12 noon, a Sikh was cycling along Hall Bazaar in Amritsar when a constable, also a Sikh, stopped him and demanded, ‘Where is your light?’ The cyclist replied nervously,
‘Jemadar
Sahib
,
I lit it when I left my home; it must have gone out just now.’ The constable threatened to run him in. A passer-by, yet another Sikh with a long white beard, intervened, ‘Brothers, there is no point in quarrelling over little things. If the light has gone out it can be lit again.’
    Ghulam Rasul knew hundreds of anecdotes of this kind. When he told them in his Punjabi accent his audience was left helpless with laughter. One really enjoyed them best in Punjabi because the strange and incomprehensible behaviour of the uncouth Sikh was best told in his rustic lingo.
    The Sikhs were not only stupid but incredibly filthy as well. Ghulam Rasul, who had known hundreds of them, told us how they never shaved their heads. And whereas we Muslims washed our hair thoroughly at least every Friday, the Sikhs who made a public exhibition of bathing in their

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