RE­MEM­BER­ING KHUSHWANT SINGH, THE ENIGMA

3­day lit­er­ary fest opens to packed house in Kasauli

Hindustan Times (Chandigarh) - City - - NEWS - Aish­warya Khosla

Khushwant Singh once said, “I would like to be re­mem­bered as some­one who made peo­ple smile.” And, in­deed, the sev­enth edi­tion of the Khushwant Singh lit fest, opened in the quaint hill sta­tion in Kasauli to ring­ing laugh­ter as the writer and colum­nist’s ir­rev­er­ent pieces of writ­ings, pet-jokes and anec­dotes from his life were rec­ol­lected by fam­ily and friends.

Pay­ing homage to the lit­er­ary ge­nius, Khushwant Singh’s many friends spoke about dif­fer­ent facets of his per­son­al­ity, his love for Delhi -the city his fa­ther Sobha Singh helped build and was knighted for, his fond­ness for sex, scotch and schol­ar­ship, his im­mense knowl­edge about In­dia, Sikhism and pol­i­tics.

How­ever, they were un­able to paint a de­fin­i­tive por­trait of the grand old man and agreed that Khushwant Singh, was ul­ti­mately, a study in con­trasts.

His son and fes­ti­val di­rec­tor, Rahul Singh, opened the lit fest by re­mind­ing the au­di­ence of Khushwant Singh’s sig­na­ture self-dep­re­cat­ing hu­mour.

“My fa­ther, al­ways showed a post­card to all those who came vis­it­ing, which only had the words, ‘To the bas­tard, Khushwant Singh, In­dia’. He’d laugh that even the post­man knew which Khushwant Singh among all the Khushwant’s of In­dia was be­ing re­ferred to.”

In­deed, the man who wrote with mal­ice to­wards one and all, did not spare him­self, he penned his own epi­taph which went as, “Here lies one who spared nei­ther man nor God; Waste not your tears on him, he was a sod; Writ­ing nasty things he re­garded as great fun; Thank the Lord he is dead, this son of a gun.”

MULTIFACETED PER­SON­AL­ITY

Yet, his per­son­al­ity was multifaceted, “The same man who wrote of women, sex and breasts had also penned ar­guably the best po­etic ren­di­tion of Guru Granth Sahib,” says Bhaic­hand Pa­tel, a friend and neigh­bour of Khushwant.

“He was not a prac­tis­ing Sikh yet he was proud of his Sikh roots, and was one of the fore­most ex­perts on the sub­ject,” says Rahul Singh. In­deed, when the SGPC, had writ­ten a stern let­ter to Khushwant Singh ask­ing him to stop with his Santa Banta jokes, Khushwant had fa­mously writ­ten back with three spunky words, “Go to hell.”

A doc­u­men­tary on Khushwant, Mashoor, which was shot 25 years ago when the writer was 80, was also shown. It was shot by long-time as­so­ci­ate au­thor Kish­war De­sai.

The doc­u­men­tary opened with Khushwant Singh read­ing dirty jokes from his vast col­lec­tion of joke books, which he had archived from all over the world.

Pa­tel re­called smug­gling Play­boys, which were banned in In­dia, in diplo­matic pouches for Khushwant.

It was the same Khushwant whose Train to Pak­istan had poignantly cap­tured the tragedy of Par­ti­tion.

His­to­rian Reba Som said women in­ex­pli­ca­bly found them­selves pour­ing their hearts to Khushwant.

“He was my guest at Is­lam­abad. At that time all any­one could talk about was Zul­fiqar Ali Bhutto’s im­pend­ing trial. Yet, as the wife of a for­eign diplo­mat, I found my­self shar­ing my wor­ries about not be­ing able to fin­ish my doc­tor­ate.”

Much to her cha­grin, her pre­oc­cu­pa­tion found a men­tion in an ar­ti­cle about the death of Bhutto.

NOT A NICE MAN TO KNOW

No one could deny that Khushwant Singh was a loyal friend. Robin Gupta, the au­thor of What Re­mains In The End, said that he only be­came an au­thor due to Khushwant Singh’s men­tor­ship and en­cour­age­ment.

“Though Khushwant urged

He was not a prac­tis­ing Sikh yet he was proud of his Sikh roots, and was one of the fore­most ex­perts on the sub­ject

RAHUL SINGH SON AND FES­TI­VAL DI­REC­TOR

me to pen down a book on Manto, I never got around to it,” De­sai said.

The ses­sion, Por­trait of Khushwant Singh, can be best summed up in poet Im­tiaz Dharker’s words, “An ego­b­reaker, a whiskey-guz­zler, a ghazal lover, he was not a nice man to know. I wish I had known him longer!”

Neeru Nanda from au­di­ence ask­ing a ques­tion from a pan­el­list.

For­mer IB spe­cial di­rec­tor AS Du­lat Au­thor Gur­cha­ran Das

Writer and JNU pro­fes­sor Nivedita Menon.

Au­thor and colum­nist Kish­war De­sai, writer and his­to­rian Reba Som and au­thor Bhaic­hand Pa­tel on the first day of the Khushwant Singh Lit­er­a­ture Fes­ti­val at Kasauli in Hi­machal Pradesh on Fri­day. PHO­TOS: RAVI KU­MAR

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