Opening Session: Remembering Khushwant Singh, the enigma
The man who wrote with malice towards one and all, did not spare himself, he penned his own epitaph which went as, “Here lies one who spared neither man nor God; Waste not your tears on him, he was a sod; Writing nasty things he regarded as great fun; Thank the Lord he is dead, this son of a gun.”Updated: Oct 12, 2018, 23:11 IST
Khushwant Singh once said, “I would like to be remembered as someone who made people smile.” And, indeed, the seventh edition of the Khushwant Singh lit fest, opened in the quaint hill station in Kasauli to ringing laughter as the writer and columnist’s irreverent pieces of writings, pet-jokes and anecdotes from his life were recollected by family and friends.
Paying homage to the literary genius, Khushwant Singh’s many friends spoke about different facets of his personality, his love for Delhi -- the city his father Sobha Singh helped build and was knighted for, his fondness for sex, scotch and scholarship, his immense knowledge about India, Sikhism and politics. However, they were unable to paint a definitive portrait of the grand old man and agreed that Khushwant Singh, was ultimately, a study in contrasts.
His son and festival director, Rahul Singh, opened the lit fest by reminding the audience of Khushwant Singh’s signature self-deprecating humour. “My father, always showed a postcard to all those who came visiting, which only had the words, ‘To the bastard, Khushwant Singh, India’. He’d laugh that even the postman knew which Khushwant Singh among all the Khushwant’s of India was being referred to.”
Indeed, the man who wrote with malice towards one and all, did not spare himself, he penned his own epitaph which went as, “Here lies one who spared neither man nor God; Waste not your tears on him, he was a sod; Writing nasty things he regarded as great fun; Thank the Lord he is dead, this son of a gun.”
Yet, his personality was multifaceted, “The same man who wrote of women, sex and breasts had also penned arguably the best poetic rendition of Guru Granth Sahib,” says Bhaichand Patel, a friend and neighbour of Khushwant.
“He was not a practising Sikh yet he was proud of his Sikh roots, and was one of the foremost experts on the subject,” says Rahul Singh. Indeed, when the SGPC, had written a stern letter to Khushwant Singh asking him to stop with his Santa Banta jokes, Khushwant had famously written back with three spunky words, “Go to hell.”
A documentary on Khushwant, Mashoor, which was shot 25 years ago when the writer was 80, was also shown. It was shot by long-time associate author Kishwar Desai. The documentary opened with Khushwant Singh reading dirty jokes from his vast collection of joke books, which he had archived from all over the world. Patel recalled smuggling Playboys, which were banned in India, in diplomatic pouches for Khushwant.
It was the same Khushwant whose Train to Pakistan had poignantly captured the tragedy of Partition.
Historian Reba Som said women inexplicably found themselves pouring their hearts to Khushwant. “He was my guest at Islamabad. At that time all anyone could talk about was Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s impending trial. Yet, as the wife of a foreign diplomat, I found myself sharing my worries about not being able to finish my doctorate.” Much to her chagrin, her preoccupation found a mention in an article about the death of Bhutto.
Not a nice man to know
No one could deny that Khushwant Singh was a loyal friend. Robin Gupta, the author of What Remains In The End, said that he only became an author due to Khushwant Singh’s mentorship and encouragement. “Though Khushwant urged me to pen down a book on Manto, I never got around to it,” Desai said.
The session, Portrait of Khushwant Singh, can be best summed up in poet Imtiaz Dharker’s words, “An ego-breaker, a whiskey-guzzler, a ghazal lover, he was not a nice man to know. I wish I had known him longer!”
If the dilemma of Prince Hamlet was to be or not to be, the quandary of folks of the Kamasutra land is to do or not to do. Such was the pondering that came up at the discussion of Gurcharan Singh’s new book, Riddles of Desire. Anchor Seema Anand asked delightfully proactive questions and to one such, the author revealed that the Kamasutra said that if someone kisses you, you must kiss back but that does not happen in civilised society. However, he made a strong case for renaming Valentine’s Day as Kama Deva Divas. A worthy suggestion for after all we are from Kamasutra land!
No ‘Me Too’ here
The theme this year at the Khushwant Singh Literature Festival is, Women and their environment, of course. However, a couple of excited young ladies thought that they would get to hear some ‘Me Too’, stories which are trending these days. Festival director Niloufer dampened their hopes saying, “Our emphasis is on positive women’s empowerment and not to indulge in male bashing.” The young ladies may have been disappointed but the male literati were certainly relieved.
(by Nirupama Dutt)