THE SAR­DAR OF SEX, SCOTCH AND SCHOL­AR­SHIP

The one- man word ma­chine is gone. The man in the light bulb just switched it off.

India Today - - OBITUARY - By Shob­haa De

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 de­voured 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, Khush­want, 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 dur- bar 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 lan­guage, you were kaan ka kachcha. You were trust­ing enough of the Gandhi fam­ily, blindly sup­ported 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 re­turn­ing the Padma Bhushan 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 pack­ag­ing tri­umphs—be­ing com­pi­la­tions of your col­umns. How­ever, no­body can take away your glory from A 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 dis­ser­vice. And you, dear Khush­want, were to the manor born. You were a rich man. 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 know about those 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 high­lighted 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. 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.

APHOTO OFY­OUNG KHUSH­WANT (EX­TREME RIGHT) WITH FAM­ILY

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