Tuesday, January 19, 2010

When Singh was Kinggg !





Khushwant Singh has made a long and ‘sexciting’ career out of dirt. I entirely approve. I can hear voices saying, “ You would!” Khushwant understood the power and potential of peddling sex in a nation consumed by the subject in private, but in total denial in public. Let’s face it, Indians do have pretty grotty minds and are obsessed by sex but unlike other nationalities, continue to pretend it is ‘dirty dirty’ and ‘not a part of Indian culture.” I can hear Khushwant snorting and guffawing at that. Sex was a tool ( pardon the lousy pun!), that Khushwant shrewdly employed to shock a hypocritical society and knock the socks off those who played prudes, while hanging on to his every word. He was brash, when others were coy. Rude ( his cruel obituaries!) where others were diplomatic. Outspoken ( taking the dhotis off Godmen and other fake gurus) where others were pious. As the best editor of the now defunct ‘Illustrated Weekly of India’, Khushwant’s mission statement was to debunk sex, religion and politics. And did he succeed! Gone were the earlier erudite but essentially boring essays written by his predecessors on our scriptures, gone too, the mind- numbing lectures on pre-Aryan whatever. Khushwant changed the rules of the game by running provocative stories on subjects that were derided for being ‘too sleazy’. Khushwant liked it hot – I guess, he still does. There were no sacred cows in Khushwant’s book ( Sanjay and Maneka Gandhi apart ). All that he considered ‘humbug’ was exposed boldly and brazenly in his weekly. He crowed and gloated in print as the circulation figures zoomed upwards, doubling and trebling during his tenure. He boasted about his unbeatable formula, with good reason. But his ‘maaliks’ were clearly not impressed. Khushwant was given his marching orders. And a short but very lively era in the annals of magazine journalism in India came to an abrupt end.
Khushwant proved Controversy is indeed King.
Khushwant had tasted blood. By now, most of literate India knew about the Sexy Sardar, who had breasts and buttocks on his mind and didn’t feel ashamed of admitting it. All this upfrontness was very new for a young nation that was still coming to terms with a new desi morality that had just begun to emerge in a tentative, confused way. Khushwant tapped into the confusion aggressively and built his fan base on not just his own libido but other people’s too! His outrageous public pronouncements often camouflaged the essential Khushwant, who was disappointingly ‘normal’ and ‘tame’ in real life. So busy was Khushwant playing to the galleries and pandering shamelessly to the prurient tastes of his loyal readers, he managed to murder his own early work - people conveniently forgot his scholarly tomes ( ‘History of the Sikhs’), and paid little attention to his only worthwhile novel, ‘A Train to Pakistan’. He himself was so busy enjoying his unprecedented popularity with the ladies, that he almost succeeded in burying his own earlier reputation as a well-read, well-informed, worldly-wise intellectual with a sharp, incisive mind. His nightly salons after he shifted to Delhi, attracted interesting people from across the world. People flocked to his Sundar Nagar home – visiting dignitaries, ambassadors, dancers, painters, writers - where the country’s best known sardar presided over his durbar and chuckled wickedly into his Scotch at the absurdity of it all. But even as Dilli’s socialites fawned over the man, it was the lady of the house, Khushwant’s formidable wife, who actually called the shots. This remains one of the best kept secrets about Singh - he was an adorably hen- pecked husband throughout his married life, till Sardarni , passed away .
I haven’t met Khushwant recently. But I continue to read him religiously. Even now, in his autumn years, he never fails to engage readers with his wit and the vast repertoire of subjects he tackles in his column. Most of his journalistic peers are dead, or worse, nobody knows they are alive. A few stalwarts continue to churn out largely unreadable columns full of hot air. Khushwant used to dismiss them as gasbags during his hey day ( forty odd years ago). They remain gasbags even today. Today’s young Indian has no idea about any of them. But chances are , the young Indian has heard of Khushwant Singh…. perhaps from a toothless grandparent who still experiences shock at the memory of the nation’s original Dirty Old Man. Perhaps, this is not the legacy Kamasutra Singh would wish for himself… but in a way he has become a victim of his own carefully constructed image over decades. I hope his sense of irreverence, his wicked sense of humour – the two qualities that made him the literary rascal, the incorrigible iconoclast he has always been – remain with him till the end.
Now, if only we can persuade him to write his own obit – that would be the real piece de resistance from India’s most readable writer. And I also suspect the joke will be on us!!
Alas, for Khushwant, the pen – for which he had once naughtily recommended a condom -- proved to be mightier than the penis.

******************

If nothing else, Khushwant Singh has staying power ( errr.... I swear I didn't mean it as a pun!). I wrote this column for a special issue of The Week ( 25 Most Controversial Indians), and it elicited a fair amount of comment. I thought of KS ( the man , not the condom) once again this morning, when I read his views on Osho. Khushwant has written the introduction to a new volume of Osho's teachings ( 'Life's many mysteries..."), published by Penguin India ( can't wait to get my hands on it). I am an unabashed admirer of Osho, and believe he is one of the most underrated thinkers of our time. What he said about love, sex, God and several other subjects many decades ago is more relevant today than ever before. Twenty years after his death in Pune, Osho lives again. I hope he is having the last laugh, wherever he is...

36 comments:

uthamanarayanan said...

i am suffocated by the smoke of jealousy brought out on KS.Has he commented on your latest book?????????

Abhijeet said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Abhijeet said...

Good "punny" post
keep it up

Amal Nicholas said...

Osho's views on love, sex and God are that of a 10 year old.

Weirdo guy said...

osho might have been slightly nutty and a flamboyant old man but most of his ideas are practical and way ahead of his time.


but that doesn't mean he wasn't raving mad at times !

Mukesh Bhatia said...

Hey I did read it long back in The Week, all about KS. Thanx anyways.

Harman said...

osho..his teachings ...are practical and relevant in todays life,an ultimate teacher..All I have heard and read abt him ..I could analyze him as "Man of Vision"

Roshni said...

A super duper ,great post.....thanks for that.

Vijaykumar said...

Nice post . KS has written about you too . Can You post it ?

t o m s o n CHERIAN said...

madamji, are you aware that we all consider you the female Khushwant Singh?!!

Another Kiran In NYC said...

Khushwant Singh Rocked! His attitude and his ability to cut to the chase and clarify the basics of what makes us all tick.... yeah that rocked. In spades!

His writing was adequet. Though what would I know.. since I still cannot spell adequet and use punctuation badly; I suppose I should not be passing judgement on his writing style.

Oh well, anyway as a young girl reading the "forbidden" Khushwant Singh taught me something about not taking ourselves too seriously. There was always someone around to cut us all down to size and laugh at us eventually. We may as well laugh at ourselves first! Yeah before we got famous and Khushwant laughed at us in his imitible way.

I had no idea he was still writing. Wonderful. I hope he is a irreverant as ever.

Too bad about Illustrated Weekly being shut down. It was a family favorite.

Osho might have been a visionary.. perhaps. But his cult is scary because it is ... a cult.

Another Kiran In NYC said...

inimitable... not imitable.. sheesh. Typos change everything dont they?

bindu said...

Well said Thomas Cherian!I completely ratify your take on the lady!!!

Vinod Narayan said...

My first time here. Finally I get to read straight from what comes out of a unique blend of beauty and intelligence.

Srushti Rao said...

I remember when I was a kid (i guess 12), I had picked up a Kushwant Singh book from somewhere. Dad hurriedly took it away from me and said, this is someone u should not read...

And then again he saw me with KS (The author not the condom) when I was 20 and was pretty cool me reading it.

Yeah I remember KS the man who wrote many decades before I was born, purely for the shock value that he had created for my parent's generation.

Well written, I am now going to pick a KS and read.

Cheers

supriya said...

kushwant singh has always been just YUKKKKK for me...!!! and you praising him...?????

Vinay. said...

if there is anyone who could beat old sardarji pants down at his game, its YOU. fantastic piece. the flow of your pen is incredible.

Teju said...

well said cherian. this horrible so calld writer is bg RANDI of all times. shobhi baby hy dint ur hubby use KS, t least populatin in india would have come down by 6 numbers

Shwetha said...

@ Teju: Shobhaa De is a Randi? Look how cheap and filthy your own writing and choice of words are. Backward hypocrite.

Who are you to comment on a matter as private as Shobhaa De's children. Somebody can even turn around and say that if your parents had not had you, then the world would have been spared a cheap, boorish, nasty-mouthed moron like you.

And if you think that De is so immoral and horrible why on earth do you visit her blog. For cheap thrills no?

Only perverted, desperate idiots like you would come visit the blog of a woman who you think is a slut and then gain some crude, sadistic pleasure by insulting her in such vulgar terms.

At the end of the day, Shobhaa De is a nationally renowned writer, fashion designer and magazine editor. National and international media carry her columns and interview her. The who's who and elite of the coutnry accept and socialize with her. And you are just an ill-mannered nobody. You must have a whole lot of arrogance to comment on somebody who is so superior to you.

Bishwanath Ghosh said...

Quite a punny post, Ms De.

AKSHAY SINGH said...

Well , let's admit it ma'am . Guys love khushwant Singh even today .He gives sex this funny twist which makes it delicious to read and enjoy ( and sometimes indulge in another biological activity ) . The man is a genius . Your books require a bit of "class" ...Mr.Singh hands it down cheap and spicy :-)

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ROHAN kARKHANIS said...

People like teju should be kicked out of here ...I suggest that evryone who is using abusive language on this blog should be banned

bindu said...

@ Teju : keep out & stay put,don't defile this space.Can't tolerate a
woman worth her salt,can you???

gb said...

@Teju: whatever said above about u is correct. U don't deserve space here as u have used filthy word for such a renowned personality of literary world.
Shoba ji shares the literary dias with K.Singh. She has also been outspoken about sex in her books and writings. Both should be admired for their frankness and literary skill. People in India are hypocrites who enjoy sex in bedrooms so much and pose as moralists in public. The proof is continuously inflating population. Atleast these two writers have clean conscience.

Vinay. said...

@Teju; you are mentally derailed and require medical help. you hv blogs befitting your mental condition. Don't defile this place.

Sun said...

erm...uthamanarayanan...pls. read again - shobhaa's praised Khushwant, not derided him...

Sun said...

Shobhaa, loved this post! This is the writing style that you should display.

Nautanki sssaala said...

The puns ( intended, unintended, whatever) bear testimony to your lousy writing skills. It's a pity that morons like you become award-winning authors.

Jyostna said...

@Swetha: I second you on that.

wildflower said...

one particular vacation, i read only Shobhaa De and Khushwant Singh. Reading one of them write about the other feels ...nice

Sidhusaaheb said...

I've always enjoyed reading his syndicated columns. :)

sudha said...

shobha ji, saw your interview in IBN Lokmat. Great Bhet is nice programme and I look forward to watching a great celeb being featured. I enjoyed your interview so much. Learnt so much about you.Your thinking,your chilhood... I have always admired you. Great watching!

GP said...

Wonderful post! Even Khushwant would have liked this piece.

Having read his diverse writings in the form of his various columns, his scholarly and enjoyable "History of the Sikhs", nature writings in "Nature Watch" and many books of fiction, I tend to fully agree with Shobha that Khushwant is India’s most readable writer!

venk@t said...

Shobhaade, loved this piece. Your bold unapologetic and brave. Losers who don't know how to respect others POV's shouldn't be allowed to even comment. Love ur blog. And I keep waiting for a new post. Daily!

Telef Fernandes said...

Shoba Dee is dot on point about KS. I appreciated him but did not admire him.He banked on sex tantalising of the Indians.