That leaves the Sikh journalist and the political expert. They are not getting along too well. The Sikh journalist arrives first, plucks a hair from his sparse beard and says ‘You are back! When?’ and orders coffee. The politician follows: ‘I thought all goondas have been rounded up,’ he says in lieu of greeting. The journalist, usually quick-witted, is stuck for a proper retort. I ask, ‘What’s all this fuss about today? We’ve had hundreds of the Guru’s martyrdom anniversaries without Section 144 and the police bandobast.’

The politician—he is Hindu—fires another barbed shaft at us, ‘You can never trust the Sikhs. They couldn’t do much when their Guru was executed, so better 300 years later than never. Isn’t that so?’ The Sikh journalist explodes: ‘We settled our scores with the Muslims long ago. It is you Hindus, whose mothers and sisters they raped, who provoked us against them. You can’t bear to see Sikhs and Muslims becoming friendly.’ I try to defuse the tension. ‘How different would have been the story of India if instead of Aurangzeb, Dara Shikoh had become Emperor of India!’

The politician proffers his version: ‘He would not have executed your Guru and the Guru’s son would not have had any excuse to make you grow all this fungus around your chins. Also India would have become a real Hindustan—the land of the Hindus; and…’
‘And,’ interrupts the Sikh journalist, ‘if there had been no bearded Khalsa the only thing your Hindu ancestors could have offered in the way of defence against invaders like Nadir Shah and Abdali was their bare buttocks to be buggered.’

‘Don’t buk buk,’ snaps the politician warming up.

‘You are doing all the bakwas not I.’

So does the past cast its baleful shadow on the present. But nowhere do the shadow of history assume such bizarre patterns as they do in Delhi’s Coffee House. I pick up my valise and leave the two to dispute the past.

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Delhi: A Novel, Khushwant Singh