There is just soooooo much to post. But It is a Gudi Padwa weekend.... I have earned a break. And Alibag beckons yet again. Sooo.... more on my return anon...
This appeared in Economic Times.... there's one more and one more .... Mumbai Mirror and India Today....
Khushwant Singh: A very nice man to know!
It takes guts to write the obituary of an extraordinary man who had made a name for himself writing other people’s far-from-flattering obituaries (“Why glorify the dead?” he’d asked) ! I had once done a piece on Khushwant Singh in which I had stated how glad I was that I hadn’t died before him! Assuming, of course, he’d have been inspired enough to acknowledge my death in the first place. Many were his contemporaries who shuddered at the thought of what he would say about them if they ‘left for their heavenly abodes’, before he did. Well, Khushwant outlived them all, but more than living to the grand total of 99, he stayed true to the old cliché – it’s not the years in your life, but the life in your years that matters. And what a life it has been! I would call it an exceedingly charmed one. Khushwant was fortunate enough to have lived entirely on his own terms. His unfettered existence defined his iconoclastic brand of writing which attracted three generations of die hard fans. His columns provided an easy read for readers in search of mental stimulation packaged neatly into 700 word capsules. His zest for life came through strongly in his work. His candid, no nonsense approach found several admirers who recognized his rare ability to make the most of every moment… to use the priceless filter of humour …. and just get on with life. And get on with it, he did, till the very end… waking early and getting down to work. Behind the façade of a drunken profligate, a reckless philanderer , carelessly making his way through life as ‘the world’s most famous sardar’, was a diligent wordsmith who never skipped a deadline, a disciplined writer who put pen to paper every single day, a voracious reader with an insatiable appetite for knowledge, an incurable romantic who could recite exquisite Urdu verse… and of course, an unabashed lover of beauty. He made no secret of his admiration for a string of gorgeous ladies who were a part of his daily durbar. And they made no secret of their love for him. Did that make him a ‘Dirty Old Man’ ? Hell, no! Disappointingly enough, for all his bluster and blatant public flirting, Khushwant remained an ‘all talk, no action’ charmer. Which was also the reason why beautiful, lonely ladies felt so comfortable in his company. He really didn’t give a damn what anybody thought. Oops! There goes myth number one. He was not a drunkard either, preferring to sip his single malt like a true connoisseur in a civilized, slow way before ordering an early dinner and going to bed… with a good book! Yes, he was a bird watcher. Literally so. He knew his birds and trees (bees too), like he knew his poets and scholars. There was little he didn’t know about life…and that’s what made him such a sparkling conversationalist…. who didn’t want to be invited to his salon? From Ambassadors, Presidents, Prime Ministers, actors , dancers, writers and public intellectuals, everybody flocked to sit at Khushwant’s feet and be a part of his charmed circle.
Sometimes, I used to wonder whether Khushwant was deriving a secret thrill out of misleading people who’d made up their minds about him. Given his wicked, irreverent sense of humour, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Khushwant had written his own obituary, Khushwant –style! Now that would be a real literary masterstroke – and entirely in keeping with Khushwant’s attitude to his own genius. He could laugh at himself and he taught Indians to laugh at themselves… I think that is his biggest legacy, given how hyper sensitive we are about our foibles. About his supposed obsession with sex, Khushwant was upfront and candid when he admitted in an interview, “Every human being is obsessed by sex…. Every married person has fantasies about having sex outside marriage… some dare to go ahead and have affairs, others don’t .” Did he dare, he was cheekily asked by his ravishing female interviewer. For once, Khushwant Singh blushed before giving an uncharacteristically non-committal, coy answer. It didn’t surprise those who knew Khushwant well. But for the rest, his well guarded secret had inadvertently tumbled out!
I get the feeling Khushwant Singh will be chuckling away somewhere, watching the tributes pouring in from across the country. We were the fortunate ones…. those of us who were lucky enough to have met him, worked with him ( we had collaborated on an anthology), sipped daaru in his Sujan Singh Park salon, broken bread with his formidably beautiful wife, heard him hold forth on a host of fascinating topics …and just basked in his presence. His was a blessed life. And we, who shared bits and pieces of the Khushwant magic, were blessed in return.
India Today. Khushwant Singh
The Patiala Peg of Publishing is no more….
Funny. There are some individuals you imagine will live forever and ever. They become such an intrinsic part of your life, you start taking their existence entirely for granted…Khushwant Singh was one such individual. Three generations of avid readers greedily walloped every word he wrote for public consumption. And suddenly the one man word machine is gone!! The man in the light bulb just switched it off!!!
I am not going to write a gush-gush obit on a man who never wrote a gush- gush one himself! How can I…? And insult the great man himself? Khushwant Singh had almost single handedly raised irreverence to an art form, in a country that is singularly lacking in irony! Had he to write his own obit, he wouldn’t have spared himself. So here goes…. this one is for you, Khushwant… uncut and unsparing… just the way you would have liked it.
Let me start by busting one or two popular myths. Come on, Singh, you were no Lothario. You didn’t qualify as the Great Indian Lover. No way! You were not lecherous. You didn’t grope. You were disappointingly well behaved! What the world did not know was that you probably suffered from low self worth. That much touted libido was all inside the turban. Your strike rate with all those lovely ladies in your durbar was verbal and non-intrusive. In that sense, you would never have had to ‘recuse’ or lacerate yourself. You, dear Khushwant, were an incurable romantic… mushy, sentimental and gullible. Women used you… your contacts … your influence, much more than you ever ‘used’ them. All you really ached for was to be surrounded by beauty… and lashings of female flattery… God was kind! You received both generously.
As a political commentator, you were far from astute. If anything, you were hopelessly naïve. In colloquial lingo, you were a ‘kaan ka kuchha’. People fed you stories… and you believed them. You were trusting enough of the Gandhi family, to blindly support all that they proposed and implemented, never once questioning their integrity. Your abject loyalty to Indira Gandhi and her son Sanjay, during the notorious Emergency, cost you many fans. You lost credibility. But you refused to back down, obstinately defending the indefensible. This must have dismayed your contemporaries, who were far shrewder and politically better aware during this sensitive period. Despite your embarrassing subjugation to the Gandhis, you found yourself in the political wilderness soon after. However, the single most impressive act you performed was by returning the Padma Vibhushan after Operation Bluestar. That took courage… and you won back the respect of several critics who had been alarmed by your Gandhi family fixation.
As a man of letters, you never did reach the heights that were expected of you. Your ‘Train to Pakistan’ remains a rather flimsy novel, that garnered attention at a time when there was no real literary competition. Most of the books that followed, made millionaires out of the publishers, but were essentially a packaging triumph – being compilations of your columns. However, nobody can take away your glory from ‘The History of the Sikhs’. This is by far your most significant contribution.
Your obsession with sex was again, a careful construct. You made a sweeping statement in an interview where you said every single human being in the world is obsessed by sex. It was a real gem of a “ Khushwantism”, and in keeping with the image you were trapped in – a bawdy, lecherous drunk! It was as brilliant as the other one – “ Nobody has yet invented a condom for the pen.” Why you went along with this misleading positioning, we ‘ll never know. For those who love and adore you, insist nothing could be as far- fetched as that foolish branding .
Let’s talk about your branding. I wonder, were you a party to it! Or did it happen by default? Because, you know what, it may have sold zillions of books, but it did you enormous disservive. And you, dear Khushwant, were to the manor born. You were a rich man1 You didn’t need the money.And how many people know how generous you were with the royalties you received? Or how many favours you doled out each time you heard a sob story? How many people know about your mentoring young writers – some with merit, but most without? How many people were lucky enough to learn the nuts and bolts of magazine publishing under your dynamic stewardship? Not many. And this is my big shikayat against you, Khushwant Singh. You played up and played into all the wrong things, when you could have high lighted your many achievements and qualities. Your legendary generosity – of spirit… and… spirits… and more! And your blind trust in sycophants who flocked to your salon and took full advantage of your position.
Khushwant Singh….let’s face it, you were a sucker for praise, flattery, chamchagiri. Many great men fall into this very trap, much to the chagrin of their family members. But what the hell – at least you lived your life Sardar size…. no regrets, no explanations, no apologies.
Here’s to you, Khushwant Singh – the Patiala Peg of publishing is no more! But we will continue to raise our glasses and thank you for liberating us from our idiotic, hypocritical , fake, humourless lives… for making us laugh at ourselves… for ridding us of quaint sexual hang ups… for chucking old rules into the waste basket… for caring a damn! Jeena isi ka naam hai!
I am sure you are enjoying your evening Chhota right now… with at least half a dozen celestial apsaras fawning over you.Heaven just got sexier! Thank you, Khushwant Singh….
Why women loved Khushwant Singh….
Let’s be honest : Khushwant Singh was not a handsome man. He himself reminded the world about this unfortunate physical fact of life. So, it would be fair to say, women didn’t exactly fall for his looks… Khushwant didn’t delude himself on this score , either. And yet, some of Delhi’s most ravishing socialites were his die hard groupies, and used to turn up for his daily 7pm durbars, dressed to the nines, like they were attending a ball in Buckingham Palace. Countless other women across India found him equally irresistible. Why? How? In an age when a man’s six pack does all the talking and seducing, here was this out of shape guy slumped into a deep armchair, dressed in an unironed pathan suit ,hair and beard disheveled, legs propped up on a moodah…hardly Casanova material, right? And yet!He was the much loved Krishna, with no dearth of Gopis to keep him company, night after night. Possibly, it was Khushwant’s brain that was considered sexy by hundreds of accomplished, successful, great looking ladies of varying age groups. From grand moms in their seventies to nubile PYT’s, nobody was immune to Khushwant Singh’s charm. Bingo! That’s the word – charm. Khushwant proved a man didn’t need to dress well (he was an absolute slob), bathe regularly ( he’d admitted he washed once every three days – if that), lavish gifts ( he preferred a more cost effective option and lavished extravagant compliments instead!). All a man had to do was listen keenly to a woman, understand her sorrows ( most women have secret sorrows!), and make her feel she was his ‘one and only’. Khushwant was unbeatable in this regard - let’s call him a one man spa for women ! A few sessions at the Khushwant Spa, and women emerged feeling refreshed … beautiful! That was it. He became their wellness mantra. Khushwant( like Gulzar) understood a woman’s tears. He recited Urdu poetry , stroked a broken ego, pumped up her self esteem when she was down, and made her believe he genuinely cared for her. In all probability, he wasn’t putting on an act. But even if that was the case – what the hell! Khushwant was the pep up pill the doc ordered. And women were grateful – some, even deeply indebted, to a grisly old so-and-so with a terrible , self-generated reputation as India’s Dirty Old Man.
In reality, Khushwant Singh was not ‘dirty’ at all – he was consistently kind. He was the same with men and women, non-entities and celebrities. This was his most endearing trait. Men were jealous of his success with women. They’d look at themselves and wonder why those same lovely ladies shunned / snubbed them but fawned over Khushwant. What did this ‘lecherous’ ( in his own words) writer have that they didn’t? To these short-sighted men, one was tempted to ask, “ Have you ever looked beyond yourself… and looked into a woman’s heart?” I think I know the answer to that one!
I wish Khushwant had written the definitive guide to understanding women. He would have tackled it in his own inimitable style, of course, and focused on how to ‘patao’ girls. I suspect Khushwant’s stated lechery stayed in his mind. When his wife – the formidable and handsome Sardarni Kawal Malik – was alive, he was petrified of her, and was undisguisedly hen pecked. After she passed away, he was a bit too old to indulge in anything more than verbal flirtation. Women would slavishly hang on to every line he threw at them… and he in turn would bask in their beauty.
There’s a lesson in there for men looking to improve their low strike rate with alluring ladies. Instead of talking to a girl’s chest ( legs or butt), try talking to her secret self… the one she hides and guards so jealously. Khushwant clearly possessed this special key that unlocked so many buried female truths. He did so gently, non-obtrusively and genuinely. What did he want in return? Not much. A perfume soaked caress… a warm hug… a gentle peck…and of course, the greatest high in the world for most men – a gorgeous woman’s undivided attention.
There are many who must be mourning Khushwant – men and women. He had indeed touched countless lives during his 99 years. But what’s the bet it’s the women he nurtured, encouraged, adored and worshipped, who will miss him the most?
If Khushwant Singh was a Dirty Old Man, I wish there were hundreds of other Dirty Old Men, equally capable of enriching our lives on every level – emotional, physical and intellectual.