Excerpt: Treasured Epistles by K Natwar Singh

Some of the most famous political and literary figures of the 20th century maintained an affectionate correspondence with K Natwar Singh. The letters collected in this volume recreate a vanished world. An excerpt
K Natwar Singh (R) with Nirad C Chaudhuri.(Courtesy Rupa)
K Natwar Singh (R) with Nirad C Chaudhuri.(Courtesy Rupa)
Updated on Jan 19, 2019 11:40 AM IST
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256pp, ₹500; Rupa
256pp, ₹500; Rupa

Author, diplomat and parliamentarian K Natwar Singh maintained friendships with some of the most prominent personalities of the last century. He corresponded with Indira Gandhi, in whose secretariat he worked for five years, with C Rajagopalachari, Han Suyin, Jawaharlal Nehru’s sisters Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit and Krishna Hutheesing, Lord Mountbatten, and eminent authors like RK Narayan, Mulk Raj Anand, EM Forster and Nirad C Chaudhuri. The two letters reproduced here, from Forster and Chaudhuri, each mentioning the other, reveal facets of both these great writers.

K Natwar Singh with EM Forster (Courtesy Rupa)
K Natwar Singh with EM Forster (Courtesy Rupa)

31 March 1959

My dear Natwar,

A line – which ought to have come before, but advancing years makes one slack – to thank you for your good and seasonable wishes, also for your nice article on me; though am I all that shy? My birthday festivities went well, and I enjoyed them, and they ended in quite a magnificent concert given by the College Musical Society. I keep very good health for my age, and I hope you do for yours.

I have just finished B Rajan’s ‘The Dark Dancer’. What do you think of it? I am much impressed. I have seen a proof copy of Chaudhuri’s ‘Passage to England’. What a talented but spikey chap he is? He actually goes out of his way to warn us British against the myth of Indo-British friendship, which I do think is a bit much. I must try to find out something more about him, apart from what he himself tells.

Harsha is out of college and working hard I fancy – anyhow I don’t see as much of him as I should like. Mrs Pandit has passed with benignity. There has been some good Indian music. And I have tried to talk to the Cambridge Majlis, but the exigencies of influensa have compelled us to postpone till next term.

Oh! Yes, and Mahalenobis of Calcutta has become Hon. Fellow of King’s College – that’s all the strictly or semi-strictly Indian news that I can think of, so I will now conclude with my love.

Yours ever
EM Forster

41 Harefields,
Oxford, OX2 8HG

My Dear Natawar Singh,

Thank you very much for your letter and for the proof copy of your piece on me. I found it very interesting, and what you have written about EMF’s review about my Passage (A Passage to England, 1959) justifies my poor opinion of his character. He aired condescension towards me, which showed what a fool he was. But he was trying to square his account with me.

I follow different principles. I had an article ready pointing out what a poor novel his Passage (A Passage to India, 1924) was, apart from his shoddy theme, it was full of howlers about Indian life. He made a Shudra the brother in law of a Brahmin (both Bengali) and gave the name of Amrit Rao to a Bangali barrister from Calcutta. But I never tried to publish it, because I hold that if I have personal relations of a satisfactory character with a man I don’t criticize him unless it is a matter of duty.

Even when it is a duty, I don’t criticize anyone if people might think that I have a personal reason to write unfavourably. The New York Review of Book offers me $500 to write a review of Ved Mehta’s book on India. Since he was blind that book could not be authentic. But I told the editor that since VM has spread calumnies (all falsehoods) about me in his book, people might misunderstand me. I cannot understand how you could write favourably about his book on Gandhi. What can a potboiler (efficient) writing for an American public (who will never buy a book on India which is authentic) -- and a Punjabi at that, understand about Gandhi – especially about his sexual obsession. G’s sexuality is not to be understood in terms of the Kinsey Report, or the Psychopathia Sexualis. Hindu sensuality is of a brand and with is its own. When you read my book on Hinduism, you will get a glimpse of its real character and be startled.

K Natwar Singh (Raj K Raj.Hindustan Times)
K Natwar Singh (Raj K Raj.Hindustan Times)

You want an advance copy to read? If so, let me know if I can send it to you through the High Commission here. Though you come from Vrij, you do not know what Krishna of Vrij is. (Braj, as in the langauge of a region comprising Vrindavan, Gokul, Goverdhan and Barsana - K Natwar Singh’s footnote)

Read more: Why letter-writing still holds relevance in this day and age

You want to know what I think of Amita Malik’s piece on me in the Times of India. Well, I am certainly flattered, but I also know what others write about me must be their image of me. I have readymade formulae to embody my view of other people’s view of me. I am often asked: “We hear so many stories about you. Are they true?” I reply: “If they are from me, you should discount 95%, but if against, the whole 100%.”

Yours very sincerely,
(Nirad C Chaudhuri)

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