The last day of the three-day Khushwant Singh Litfest that began on Friday at Kasauli Club, was an eclectic mix of talks about the man who inspired the litfest and his patrons who grew to be popular writers. As three authors: Navtej Sarna, Suneet Aiyer and Juggie Bhasin held sessions based on their books, it was apparent that all it took was a foreword by Khushwant Singh to turn an amateur into a best-selling author.
In Hindi, English, Punjabi and even Persian, these writers read excerpts from their books while highlighting their ‘sharp 7 pm’ meetings with Singh.
In the words of Juggie Bhasin, whose recent novel, The Terrorist, has managed to create ripples, “He (Singh) treats everyone as an equal, even if they are first-timers.” One of the reasons, he justified, that drew him to meet Singh before writing on the circumstances created by the state that convert victims into terrorists.
As those in the know recalled Singh’s voicing of fears about Punjab and the Sikh identity being drowned by mainstream Hindus, light was thrown by knowledgeable writers such as Navtej Sarna, senior diplomat and author of The Exile, a book on Maharaja Duleep Singh and who is
credited with translating Zafarnama (Guru Gobind Singh’s letter to Aurangzeb) into English.
“If lions don’t write,” Sarna quoted, “then hunters will.” But since the ‘lion’ had written, there effortlessly flowed flawless Persian from Sarna’s lips as he explained some of his book’s contents. Credited Singh for being the first real Sikh historian, he added, “No other comprehensive history has been written on the Sikhs other than by Khushwant Singh.” The Exile, Sarna added, was ‘history told as a novel, with added emotional and psychological dimensions of the tragic hero — Duleep Singh’.
On the pertinent issue of Sikhs in danger of losing their identity, Sarna said a community responds when there is a challenge. “The Singh Sabha movement was in response to the Sikhs’ fear of losing their identity. The physical manifestations of identity are very important in Sikhism,
especially because of the circumstance in which the Khalsa was born,” he observed.
Meanwhile, Aiyer, who said she probably started the first ever column on women in India in the magazine, Link, shared her experiences ofwriting her book, Homage to Guru Gobind Singh, under Khushwant Singh’s guidance. “You can’t take a Sikh’s identity from him,” she added.
During another session titled Holidays in Kasauli, Deepti Naval, Inderjit Bhadwar, Navtej Sarna and Minakshi Chaudhary read excerpts from their books. Badhwar, an award-winning author and journalist, has worked in the US and India. His 2004 novel, The Chamber of Perfumes, won France’s most prestigious international award as best foreign novel.