A life well lived … a life lived in a way that when the man died, the word that most of the people knew him were using was generous.
The Sardar of English literature passed away a few days back. The Sardar named Khushwant Singh. If you are an English literature afficianado you would definitely know him as one of the leading lights of English literature in the 20th century, and if you are from India, you could not have missed him for he had a penchant of getting into controversies. Whether it was supporting Emergency (which was controversial, I am told … I was all of 3 years old then), or pecking the Pakistan High Commissioner’s teenage daughter on the cheek (he was then in his 80s), or saying on a TV program that he would drink whisky in the middle of the road, and as long as he’s not creating a nuisance, nobody should have any problem with it, Khushwant Singh often got into controversies. I sometimes feel he relished them. Not necessarily for the sake of the controversy itself, but rather, as a way of cocking a snook at the concervative parts of Indian society. Those parts which turned red at the very mention of the word sex. It was almost as though he was telling them to lighten up.
A man of many parts, Khushwant Singh was a lawyer, diplomat, journalist, historian, and writer. An atheist, among whose work is counted a scholarly set of books on History of the Sikhs. He was also a man who wrote his own epitaph, which went something like this:
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.
Writing nasty things he regarded as great fun … maybe thats why his weekly column used to be called “With Malice Towards One And All”, though I found very little malice, but a clear-minded look at things happening around him. And of course, there was always the joke at the end of the column which was delightful reading. Khushwant Singh was one of those men who is ever-ready to laugh at himself, as much as at anyone else. Part of the column he wrote was a joke, which was titled Khali-Sthan Jokes. He was indeed the pioneer of the Santa Banta jokes which have become so popular all over India and the world.
My first exposure to Khushwant Singh happened when I was in school, and though I dont remember which was the first story penned by him that I read, I do remember reading a short story named The Mark of Vishnu, which was part of the English syllabus. Over a period of time, I have read a number of books written by Khushwant Singh, including an excellent one about Maharaja Ranjit Singh. Some of the other books which delighted readers included I Shall Not Hear The Nightingale, Delhi: A Novel, and Train to Pakistan.
Here’s to a life lived, full to the brim.