Book: KHUSHWANT SINGH
IN WISDOM AND IN JEST
Price: Rs. 350
Authors: Onkar Singh & Vijay Narain Shankar
The book “Khushwant Singh: In Wisdom And In Jest’’, co-authored by veteran journalists Onkar Singh and Vijay Narain Shankar, was recently launched at the Press Club of India. Usually a drab affair, this book release event grabbed attention of those present as eminent jurist Soli Sorabjee, Punjab Chief Minister Capt. Amarinder Singh, former Planning Commission Deputy Chairperson and economist Montek Singh Ahluwalia participated in a lively discussion reminiscing about Khushwant Singh, his beliefs and writings.
By all accounts, Khushwant Singh was an icon in his lifetime and arguably India’s most popular writer and eminent editor of prestigious publications like the Illustrated Weekly of India and Hindustan Times. Often considered a rebel, he lived by the courage of his convictions and authored internationally acclaimed books “Train to Pakistan’’ and “A History of the Sikhs.’’ He was labeled a “dirty old man’’ for his erotica. But he never seemed to mind such labels. Much loved for his writings, his style was lucid, easy and full of wit and humour. He was a creative and sensitive man.
The book brings to light aspects about Khushwant Singh’s life which were hitherto not much known. At a time when self-styled godmen are holding the country to ransom, it was Khushwant who questioned such gurus about the depth of their knowledge. At one place, the book recalls that Khushwant never missed an opportunity to meet the spiritual and religious gurus. Those most of them deserve the harsh criticism and summary dismissal that he gave them in his book on Godmen, Khushwant found some of them worth meeting. One such was Kripalu Maharaj, who although being a self-styled Jagadguru, seemed to have impressed Khushwant. In his own words: “His scholarship is profound. His memory chapter and verse…He is in short my ideal of Jagadguru….I listened to him in spellbound attention.’’
Another guru export to the world from India Balyogeshwar was on Khushwant’s list. The godman had to relish Khushwant’s take on spirituality which questioned the need for a guru as everyone can have an equation with God.
Khushwant was impressed by Mata Amritanandamayi from South India. “In all my life I have not met a warmer personality than her. Even an agnostic like me had great difficulty in holding back my tears,’’ he wrote.
Khushwant had seen the worst of bloodshed and barbarism that men trapped in the fanaticism of their religious beliefs are capable of. He had spent his early years in the western part of Punjab which later became a part of Pakistan, and went through the trauma of the Partition. After witnessing everything that had happened around him during the Partition, he once said that he thought it was the end of his country. He had read the Upanishads and the Hindu religious texts, he had studied and translated the scriptures of his own Sikh religion, he had gone deep into the verses of the Koran, and had at various times familiarized himself with Buddhism, Jainism, Zoroastrianism and other faiths.
And he was to say: “It is evident that all religious systems have failed us. They have generated more misunderstanding and hatred than love and friendship. He had a complex and a very personal relationship with religion. And though he denied the existence of God, one could also say that he had his own kind of relationship with his own kind of god.
Khushwant’s attachment to his roots was for real. He had made efforts to visit his native village Hadali near Jhelum in Pakistan three times after moving to Delhi. His village stayed with him all his life. His writings transcend time and it seemed that he had finally understood life, in all its beauty and its evanescence. There is no much else a man can do.
In one of his last interviews to a BBC team, Khushwant had spoken about death and that he had done whatever he could have wanted. He missed the century by one year. He had recited the poet Walter Savage Landor’s lines in a firm voice in the interview: “I strove with none, for none was worth my strife; Nature I love, and next to Nature, Art. I warmed my hands before the fire of life; It sinks, and I am ready to depart.’’ He loved his shayari, his scotch and his writings. The book is a lovable discovery of several such facets of Khushwant’s life. The authors have done a commendable job in bringing to light Khushwant’s views even on some of the tricky issues which seem so relevant today. An enchanting and gripping account put together using easy and at times anecdotal style.