Khushwant Singh’s reminiscences about his
, the late KK Birla, brings to me a surge of déjà vu. It is not the first time that Singh has been selectively creative about events and reactions relating to those who have passed on and are in no position to contradict him.
Before proceeding any further, I would like to tell the readers that I had a relationship with Birla that transcended the usual ties between a newspaper owner and his editor. He treated me with great kindness and consideration, as a close and trusted confidant. He was truly a father figure for me and his demise grieved me greatly.
Singh writes that Birla offered to help Nirad Chaudhuri, then in dire financial straits in Oxford, “with any amount he wanted in any currency for the rest of his life”. Singh also claims that Birla offered to defray the travel cost to London and medical treatment for an eye surgery that Singh needed. How, pray, does such a generous man visit Singh’s home and take out his wallet to make a ‘chavanni’ offering to the Ganesh idol at his door? I doubt if such an incident ever took place.
I know for a fact that Birla never carried money, least of all small change. He didn’t have to. Singh says with unwarranted sarcasm, “I understood why Birlas were the wealthiest family in the country.” Apart from the fact that Birla was a generous philanthropist, Singh chooses to forget the old Latin adage: De Mortuis Nil Nisi Bonum (Nothing but good of the dead).
There are other events about which Singh appears to have a very convenient memory. He remembers only what suits him. He describes how, at the end of his third year as editor, a dejected-looking Birla told him, “I would like to try NC Menon out. But I would like you to continue writing your weekly column if you want.” Singh has let the cat out of the bag by having Birla say “if you want.” Actually, it hardly mattered to Birla one way or the other.
It is Singh’s nature to see a dastardly plot whenever he is eased out of any position. He is sure Indira Gandhi had him ousted because of his continuing association with Maneka Gandhi.
Singh says he was surprised to note when he joined the Hindustan Times that there were no Muslims on board. That charge is baseless. For, at that time, the Hindustan Times had Rashid al-Talib, Zeenat Imam, Ahtesham Querishi, Javed Faridi and Javed Naqvi, to name a few I remember.
The least Singh can do is to be grateful and remain just and fair to the memory of KK Birla.
(NC Menon was Editor, Hindustan Times)