Poppycock!

Recent news headlines have reminded me of this expression, hardly ever heard these days.  It means “nonsense, rubbish, meaningless” etc., and is possibly a legacy from the days of the British army officers in India.  A storm in a teacup, is how I view Mr. Cherry’s recent diatribe respecting the Remembrance Day Red Poppy.

A family member recently returned from India and excitedly opened a box of Indian “laddoos” (ball-shaped Indian confection made from flour, sugar and clarified butter) that he said was from the “one and only” famous store “Lucky Sweets” in Jalandhar, Punjab.  I had never heard of it or cared a whit, other than to relish the “laddoos” that were very kindly offered.  His family is newly arrived in Canada and their son started Grade 8 here in September.  Back from school one evening, he lamented that his classmates had a very different impression of India and were unaware of its wealth and the progress that the country had made across all fields.  I explained to him that the converse also applied, for he too is unfamiliar with things Canadian and is excitedly discovering new “stuff” about living in Canada, each day.

These examples merely illustrate the act of assimilating.  It is a continuous two-way process not just between newcomers and the more established Canadians; each of us must responsibly apprise “them” about “our” way of life and open “ourselves” to “their” norms.

Some newcomers to Canada are perhaps unaware of Remembrance Day or what it signifies.  Even a large number of “locals” cannot recall that it marks the end of the First World War and is a “remembrance of the dead”.  Red poppies were a common sight remaining after battle on the fields of Northern France and Flanders at the end of WWI and were adopted as a symbol of remembrance.  Perhaps controversial for some, instead of the Red Poppy I opt for the White Poppy because it symbolizes a commitment to peace, and while remembering the valiant fallen soldiers, it challenges attempts to glamorize or celebrate war.

I do not expect to influence another person’s choice of the red poppy over the white one or vice versa and expect no less from them.  However, there is always room for a dialogue over the merits of either symbol.  Falling prey to a (false) sense of entitlement occasionally allows one to become authoritative and propound truisms.  Wiser parents often say that if bad behaviour goes unchallenged or unpunished it produces brats.  Persuasion, born of a sense of humility and acceptance of the other’s viewpoint usually works better than ultimatums.

Tokenism or symbolism, is just that.  If we need something once a year for jogging our memory to remember the Veterans, our Mother/Father/Valentine or whatever else that we claim to “hold dear”, then this is surely an exercise in futility.  Any number of pretexts real or perceived, are being used to open up new fronts and fight wars around the globe.  In addition to civilians including children, casually dismissed as “collateral damage” brave soldiers – theirs and ours – are returning home either suffering from PTSD or worse, in coffins.  News headlines inform us that while there are scant resources to provide urgent attention and care to those most in need, there is no limiting the funds needed to wage more wars.  Just pinning a poppy is a great remembrance gesture, but we must do better to put “our money where our mouth is”.

Many songs from the 1960s by Joan Baez, CCR, Bob Dylan, Peter Paul & Mary and other legends protesting the Vietnam war come to mind.  Instead, I have opted to bring to the attention of the uninitiated, this moving poem “Soldier” by the famous Urdu poet Makhdoom Mohiuddin. Originally written during World War II, it laments the futility of war and violence and questions a soldier boarding the train that will take him to the battlefront, to consider where he is headed.  Much later, it was included as a song, soulfully sung by the inimitable Manna Dey for the 1960 movie Usne Kahaa Thaa (“She Had Asked”):

Jaane waale sipaahi se poochHo,

woh kahaaN jaa rahaa hai

Ask the departing soldier
where is he headed?
Ishq hai haasil-e-zindagaani

Khoon se tar hai uskee kahaani

Love is the outcome of life

(Yet) its story is drenched in blood

Haye masoom bachpan ki yaadein

Haye do roz ki naujawaani

Ah, those memories of an innocent childhood

Ah, the short-lived days of youth

Kaisey sehmai hoo’e haiN nazaare
kaisey Dar Dar ke chalte haiN taare
How timorous everything seems
How the stars move across the sky in fear
Kyaa jawaani ka khooN ho rahaa hai
surkh haiN aanchaloN ke kinaare
Is youth being slaughtered
The corners of women’s scarves are stained crimson (with blood)
Kaun dukHeeyaa hai jo gaa rahee hai

bHooke bachoN ko behlaa rahee hai

Who is that distressed woman, singing?
Trying to pacify her starving children
Laash jalne ki boo aarahee hai
zindagee hai ke chillaa rahee hai
Amidst the stench of burning corpses
Can you hear life cry out?
This stanza is not included in the song:
Gir rahaa hai siyaahi ka Deraa
ho rahaa he meri jaaN sawera
(As) the night’s abode collapses
Dawn my love, is breaking
Ae watan chod kar jaane waale

kHul geyaa inqilaabee pHarera

Hark, you! Leaving behind your native land
(Where) the banner of revolution is starting to unfurl

4 Replies to “Poppycock!”

  1. Thoughtful as always Pankaj; and a great reminder on the importance of communication, education, and listening with the intent of understanding. (I have read a number of books on WW2 and I think I know than the average person on the subject. I read your article and it dawned on me I know nothing about India’s role in that war. A simple search revealed 2.3 million people manned the Indian army, serving primarily on the eastern front and that over 89,000 people died. I did not know that.Now I’m intrigued to learn more.) We can always learn if we listen. I need to remind myself of that every day.

    Like

    1. Thanks for taking the time to read, and respond, providing your thoughtful insight; much appreciated!  History, as has been stated many times over, is written by the victor.  Interestingly, new material now being published is shedding light on inconvenient historical facts that were kept conveniently buried under various pretexts like the Official Secrets Act etc., prevailing in the British colonies.  You might enjoy reading “For King and Another Country: Indian Soldiers on the Western Front, 1914-18” by Shrabani Basu.  As the blurb states, “For King and another Country tells, for the first time, the personal stories of some of these Indians who went to the Western Front: from a grand turbanned Maharaja rearing to fight for Empire to a lowly sweeper who dies in a hospital in England, from a Pathan who wins the Victoria Cross to a young pilot barely out of school.”
      Thanks again for dropping a thought and creating ripples; my Blog site’s raison d’etre! 

      Like

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