‘My father was a keen observer of all religions but abhorred fundamentalism in any. He even opposed Sikh fundamentalism for which he received numerous threats. But he was the same man who returned his Padma Bhushan after Bluestar.”
Subtly underlining the grim communal situation in India in the past one month, the fourth edition of the Khushwant Singh Litfest started on a more hopeful note with the focus on the theme of this year’s festival – 100.
Always Khush, always wanted
The beloved ‘Sardarji’ would have turned 100 this year and his son Rahul Singh declared the festival open by recounting the purpose of the litfest that is dedicated to the Indian soldier and Kasauli’s ecology.
He said, “The festival this year would also focus on Khushwant’s contemporaries like Bhisham Sahni and Ismat Chugtai who would have all turned 100 along with their bettering Indo-Pak ties and stronger people-to-people interaction between the two countries.”
Chattering youngsters, uniformed school-goers, and men and women in their festival best gathered to be part of the opening session titled ‘Always Khush, Always Wanted’ highlighting the great writer’s humorous avatar and brazen attitude.
As moderator Harish Trivedi rightly put it, “This is the kind of inspired pun that is neither forgotten nor forgiven.” The Pakistani contingent, comprising Oxford University Press (Pakistan) managing director Ameena Saiyid and former Pakistan ambassador to the US Syed Abida Hussain, recounted their memories of the man who, as Trivedi put it, was India’s best known writer in English. The panel also included Khushwant Singh’s nephew Pammy Singh and poet Sudeep Sen.
Wine, women and malice?
Anecdotes were the order of the day as they brought out in full force the essence of the writer’s personality and gave everyone a chance to be a part of his life that was mostly in stark contrast to the image he created for himself – that of a self-deprecating figure who was into wine, women and malice.
Pammy Singh fondly remembered his ‘chachaji’ saying, “The memories of him etched in my mind are the ones in which he would recount the history of many a monument as we passed by them when he would drop me to college. A lesson of history was his way of communicating with children, imparting knowledge and sharing information.”
Saiyid referred to KS as her ‘favourite person’ and recounted the first time she met him. “I came to India in 1980. And Khushwant invited me for a drink at his place. I was awestruck by the man who cracked a dirty joke about a donkey which I cannot recount here. But he was a lovable and warm person.”
New kind of journalism
Columnist Bachi Karkaria, his one-time colleague at ‘Illustrated Weekly’ said, “He was ahead of his times when it came to journalism. Much of what we see now was reflected in what he did for the magazine. The circulation of the magazine went from average to raving. He gave opportunities to numerous youngsters and never shut himself out. His exit from the magazine was a big blow to us.”