Tribute to Khushwant Singh

While returning back to Jaipur from Bhuvneshwar after spending a well deserved holiday at Bhuvneshwar via Kolkatta today,I purchased a book at the Kolkatta airport titled,”Khushwant Singh: The legend Lives on “edited by Rahul Singh(his son);a compilation of tribute paid to Khushwant Singh by well known writers and others on his death on March 20,2014 at the age of 99.Those who wrote obituaries included from Shobha de to Vikram Seth, from Anil Dharker to Bishen Singh Bedi and from David Davidar to Namita Gokhale. All of them remembered their encounters with Khushwant Singh in person and some reflections on his writings.But most of them dwelt upon the mysterious element that made him famous, loveable and his memory enduring.For instance Vikram Seth poured his obituary in verse

King of the Columnists and prince of hosts,

Hero of cats (twenty at least) who feed

Under your aegis, trencherman of toasts –

Scotch, naturally, not French –God knows we need

Humour and courage, tolerance and wit

When hope is scarce and murder’s blessed by prayer,

And every bully, oaf and hypocrite

Nurtures his flock on hatred and hot air.

Threats to your life have not made you less bold.

Sexcess can’t spoil you. May you scatter your words

Inimitably on for decades more –

No less amused and generous than your old

Grandmother, standing by the courtyard door,

Halting her prayers to feed and chide the birds.

The Economist paid its tribute by writing about his life,”To proclaim the truth, and not be mealy-mouthed about it. To live passionately, lustily and wittily, and not apologise. To point out what was wrong with India and how, with hard work, it might improve. To go on doing so, week after week.”.Another obituary reads like this, “Singh was erudite, accomplished and perhaps the most read author India has known. Passionate about his work to a level of challenging perfection, he broke every rule in the book and lived up to his metaphor, unmindful of social mores, for he was a man who feared none. A staunch agnostic, he wrote his mind and spoke with a rare candour that defined his very being. Loved and abhorred with equal passion, his life reads like an open, racy novel that needs no elucidation.”He also has lot of critics.He rather enjoyed in converting friends into foes.As pointed out by Reginald Massey, ”His critics –and they were many –accused him of having been born with a whole set of silver cutlery in his mouth and so able to publish just what he liked in his countless columns and more than 100 novels and short-story collections, a freedom not so readily available to others.”

It goes without saying that Khushwant Singh was an iconoclastic and irreverent writer.He could become a serious scholar with books like A History of Sikhs but he chose to trample upon the toes of everyone who crossed his ways and with self deprecation he presented himself as a humorous and non-serious man. His bawdy sense of humour spiced with blunt sex narratives made him what he scrupulously created his image.His life story is interesting .He failed in many ventures before he was stuck with writing.He was not a brilliant or serious student during his school or college days.He cleared his examinations from Government college ,Lahore with third class.He then enrolled himself in Inner Temple in England to get a law degree.He was a miserable failure as lawyer and he failed in his attempts to join Indian Civil Service.He was destined to become a popular writer.He started his writing as past time when he was not getting many clients for his legal practice.He is no doubt one of the most read Indian author in English language.He was not a great writer(admitted by himself) that India has produced but had a keen eye to distinguish between good and bad writing.He produced collections best short story writings in India.His flair of writing simple prose is a lesson for upcoming writers and journalists.His incessant

work in the form of short stories,novels,nonfiction and depiction of real world encounters with people and places made him larger than life.

Once I also became obsessed with his writing and purchased almost all his books including his joke books and also downloaded them on my kindle.I was infatuated by his amazing writing capability to present his views, ideas, stories and nonfiction writings in a lucid and no nonsense manner using simplicity of language and breaking complex matter into systematic readable and interesting reading.His style of narration was attractive.Because of his background educational professional and lineage he was at ease with elite class.He failed as lawyer, as diplomat, He was in some way Osho of literature.Osho was also iconoclastic and irreverent in his approach and was an expert in demystifying the nuances of religious preaching, texts and practices.He had a neck of simplifying complex spiritual matters and making them mundane and ordinary.This admirable capacity with his well thought out image building with marketing skills and enjoying creating controversy helped him in building his popularity amongst middle class and pseudo intellectuals. The same was true of Khushwant Singh in literary circles.His well crafted image, coupled with simplistic prose and circulating with page three social climbers made him popular and a legend among journalists, novelists and quasi intellectuals.He enjoyed controversies and publicity.Like Osho he did not distinguish between bad or good publicity.His penchant for publicity was remarkable and he skilfully irritated important people by writing nasty about them.That naturally erupted in controversy when the victim cried foul. Nevertheless he inspired generations to write simplistic adorable prose and intelligent use of English language.With him ended one of the last link with colonial past.

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