A tribute in verse to Khushwant Singh

  • Vikram Seth
  • Updated: Mar 21, 2014 03:12 IST
  • Internationally renowned author and journalist Khushwant Singh is seen interacting with trainees from Hindustan Times on July 6, 1983. (KK Chawla/HT Photo)

    Khushwant Singh, larger than life

    Internationally renowned author and journalist Khushwant Singh is seen interacting with trainees from Hindustan Times on July 6, 1983. (KK Chawla/HT Photo)

  • Noted author Khushwant Singh, who passed away at the age of 99, talks to then IPS officer Kiran Bedi during a game of tennis on November 10, 1994. (Santosh Gupta/HT Photo)

    Khushwant Singh, larger than life

    Noted author Khushwant Singh, who passed away at the age of 99, talks to then IPS officer Kiran Bedi during a game of tennis on November 10, 1994. (Santosh Gupta/HT...

  • Noted author and journalist Khushwant Singh, who passed away at the age of 99 on Thursday, chats with painter and sculptor Satish Gujral at a book release function on September 24, 1999. (Shiv/HT Photo)

    Khushwant Singh, larger than life

    Noted author and journalist Khushwant Singh, who passed away at the age of 99 on Thursday, chats with painter and sculptor Satish Gujral at a book release function on...

  • Noted author and journalist Khushwant Singh, who passed away at the age of 99 on Thursday, with author Bulbul Sharma (left) and others at a book release event on September 24, 1999. (Shiv/HT Photo)

    Khushwant Singh, larger than life

    Noted author and journalist Khushwant Singh, who passed away at the age of 99 on Thursday, with author Bulbul Sharma (left) and others at a book release event on...

  • Noted author and journalist Khushwant Singh, who passed away at the age of 99, and author Amitav Ghosh (extreme right) at the International Festival of Indian Literature on February 21, 2002. (Sunil Saxena/HT Photo)

    Khushwant Singh, larger than life

    Noted author and journalist Khushwant Singh, who passed away at the age of 99, and author Amitav Ghosh (extreme right) at the International Festival of Indian Literature...

  • Internationally renowned author and journalist Khushwant Singh, who passed away at the age of 99 on Thursday, is seen at his home in New Delhi. The author spent most of his day hours reading and writing in his library. Kaushik Ramaswamy/HT Photo

    Khushwant Singh, larger than life

    Internationally renowned author and journalist Khushwant Singh, who passed away at the age of 99 on Thursday, is seen at his home in New Delhi. The author spent most of...

  • Internationally renowned author and journalist Khushwant Singh, who passed away at the age of 99 on Thursday, at the launch of his autobiography ‘Truth, Love and a Little Malice’ on February 5, 2002. The name of the book was derived from a column he wrote for Hindustan Times. It was syndicated in several newspapers with the title ‘With malice towards one and all’. Sunil Saxena/HT Photo

    Khushwant Singh, larger than life

    Internationally renowned author and journalist Khushwant Singh, who passed away at the age of 99 on Thursday, at the launch of his autobiography ‘Truth, Love and a Little...

  • Noted author and journalist Khushwant Singh is seen signing copies of his autobiography ‘Truth, Love and a Little Malice’ after its launch on February 5, 2002. The name of the book was derived from a column he wrote for Hindustan Times. It was syndicated in several newspapers with the title ‘With malice towards one and all’. Sunil Saxena/HT Photo

    Khushwant Singh, larger than life

    Noted author and journalist Khushwant Singh is seen signing copies of his autobiography ‘Truth, Love and a Little Malice’ after its launch on February 5, 2002. The name...

  • Noted author and journalist Khushwant Singh, who passed away at the age of 99 on Thursday, in conversation with a journalist on January 7, 1999. Pradeep Bhatia/HT Photo

    Khushwant Singh, larger than life

    Noted author and journalist Khushwant Singh, who passed away at the age of 99 on Thursday, in conversation with a journalist on January 7, 1999. Pradeep Bhatia/HT Photo

At 7 o’clock this evening, though thinking of Khushwant’s death, feeling sad, and sitting in a library writing this, what came to my face was a smile — and I almost reached out for a scotch and soda. This was the hour when one rang his doorbell and was welcomed in — for an hour precisely — before being ‘welcomed out’ again.

When I was at his house earlier today, and wanted to go into the room where his body was lying, I couldn’t for a while because he was undergoing a medical procedure. In a typical act of generosity, he was donating his eyes.

Read: When Khushwant was target of Krishna Menon's ire

Read:Goodbye Khushwant Singh, our favourite Sardarji

Apparently, he had been very poorly these last three or four days. But yesterday evening he had his usual drink, he enjoyed a dinner of prawns, he talked a little with his family, and he read his weekly copy of Private Eye. It is good to know that on his very last day on earth the man who gave so much pleasure to so many received a fair amount himself.

He had a full innings — a century, almost — and has left us a wealth of memories and impressions, a great range of works in many different genres, and an unsettling sense of ‘almost loss’. For surely, one feels, he is still around.

Read: As editor, Khushwant Singh indulged in irreverent humour

Read: 'Khushwant taught us to celebrate life, live every moment'

I really don’t have the heart to write a full-fledged obituary, but offer in lieu an acrostic sonnet that I wrote to him a number of years ago. The last three lines refer to “The Portrait of a Lady”, one of his most moving short pieces, which would bear comparison with anything of that length written by anyone anywhere.

King of the Columnists and prince of hosts,
Hero of cats (twenty at least) who feed
Under your aegis, trencherman of toasts —
Scotch, naturally, not French — God knows we need
Humour and courage, tolerance and wit
When hope is scarce and murder’s blessed by prayer,
And every bully, oaf and hypocrite
Nurtures his flock on hatred and hot air.
Threats to your life have not made you less bold.
Sexcess can’t spoil you. May you scatter your words
Inimitably on for decades more —
No less amused and generous than your old
Grandmother, standing by the courtyard door,
Halting her prayers to feed and chide the birds.

This is what I think of him; this is whom I will raise my glass to now and in the future, as I used to in the past:
A fearless writer; a man of great discipline yet full of zest for life; an irreverent wit and considerable scholar; a generous spirit to beings both two-legged and four-legged; a great Indian who embodied as much as he espoused our national values of affection, tolerance and understanding; and a true friend.

Read More:
With Malice Toward One and All – Khushwant Singh's column for HT
'Khushwant wanted Sikhs to retain identity, wasn't a good student'

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