His father Sir Sobha Singh had made his money as builder and contractor who
was responsible for constructing many buildings in and around what is today
New Delhi. Lady Varyam Kaur was a fine woman and mother. Khushwant singh attended
modern school where, by his own admission, his distinction was a record in
zeros in arithmetic. However he excelled in Urdu. It was perhaps an early
streak of a writer in him. Later on he attended Government college in Lahore.
Family was well off and soon Khushwant was sent to king's college, Cambridge
and the inner Temple in London.
Khushwant Singh is many things to many people. More you read about him, hungrier
you get. He is the high priest of journalism and can be said to be India's
best. he is a free thinker and an international celebrity. Khushwant Singh
had become a legend and an icon in his lifetime. He is a lawyer, critic and
columnist. He is a prolific writer and historian. He is a man people love
to hate and may even agree "not a nice man to know". Yet, you would
love to read him day after day to no end.
Khushwant Singh was born in 1915 in village Hadali in Khushab district Sargodha,
Punjab- now in Pakistan. Family was very rich. His father Sir Sobha Singh
had made his money as builder and contractor who was responsible for constructing
many buildings in and around what is today New Delhi. Lady Varyam Kaur was
a fine woman and mother. Khushwant singh attended modern school where, by
his own admission, his distinction was a record in zeros in arithmetic. However
he excelled in Urdu. It was perhaps an early streak of a writer in him. Later
on he attended Government college in Lahore. Family was well off and soon
Khushwant was sent to king's college, Cambridge and the inner Temple in London.
After qualifying in law, Khushwant Singh returned to India. He set up a legal
practice in Lahore. He struggled in practice for several years before the
Partition of India in 1947. This forced him to abandon his practice and family
settled in New Delhi where they already owned real estate. Soon after he was
offered a job in diplomatic service in the Ministry of External affairs. This
first took him to London - a familiar ground to him, and later to Canada.
He also served in Paris with UNESCO, to astonishment of some of his peers
to whom diplomatic perks were attractive, Khushwant Singh found life of 'babudom'
to his disliking and left MEA.
He joined All India Radio in 1951 as a journalist. This was just the beginning
of an illustrious career of Khushwant Singh. He was founder editor of Yojana
from 1951- 1953. Soon he was editing the prestigious National Herald. Later
on he was to edit The Illustrated Weekly of India, a magazine which increased
its circulation many folds after he became its editor. Khushwant Singh was
also chief editor of New Delhi and editor of Capital's newspaper Hindustan
Khushwant Singh has world-wide readership. He has written for almost all
the major national and international newspapers in India and abroad. He has
numerous TV and radio appearances at home and Internationally. He has had
an extraordinary career as a writer. A book, "A history of Sikhs"
by him remains to this day a well-researched and scholarly work. It is a classic
two-volume book on Sikh History and is used as reference by many scholars.
He has written several novels, both fiction and nonfiction, which have been
translated into many languages. Khushwant's "Train to Pakistan"
won him international acclaim and Grove Press Award in 1954. He brought history
to our doorstep both for Punjabi and non-punjabi speaking people. He wrote
the book "Maharaja Ranjit Singh" explaining his secular rule. He
also wrote "Fall of Sikh kingdom". His translation of Japji, Hymns
of Nanak and the Guru shows his spiritual side. From Mind to Supermind. A
commentary on Bhagwat Gita, testifies his secular nature. Another book declaring
Love in four languages, he along with Sharda
Kaushki, presents a selection of finest poems in English, Hindi, Urdu and
Punjabi. He is a man for many people in many languages. He has translated
Amrita Pritam;s poems "Pinjar" (Skeleton) into English.
He is best selling author of over 80 books and two weekly columns syndicated
in over 40 English publications. India Today describes him "The Capital's
best known living monument." In the year 1999, when Sikhs celebrated
300th year of Khalsa at Anandpur sahib. It is estimated that about eight million
people visited the city at the time. To the delight of million of Sikhs, he
was honored with "Order of Khalsa" (Nishaan-e-Khalsa), the highest
decorum bestowed upon by the Sikhs community.
Khushwant Singh was awarded the Padam Bhushan in 1974. Ten years later in
1984, he returned the honor as protest to Government of India against the
storming of Golden Temple by the Army. On June 8, a day after the incident,
he drove to Rashtrapati Bhavan and returned the framed citation to the President
of India, Giani Zail Singh, who himself was a Sikh. It was an act of Courage.
When he returned to his house, his home became information centre for the
Sikhs. Every TV channel and radio station from abroad contacted him about
the details of the damage to Golden Temple. It also saw his falling out with
Nehru family. Khushwant Singh was member of Parliament, Rajya Sabha, from
1980 to 1986. His dry and icy comments frequently landed him in Soup. Dr.
Bideshwar Pathak, founder of Sulabh International, says, "Khushwant's
biggest attribute is that he speaks what he feels. He is honest to the extent
that he offends even his friends and icons revered by people. It does not
matter to him that it jeopardizes his chances in life. I think it is this
quality that made Gandhi into a Mahatma." Critics many not agree with
this assesment entirely because Khushwant Singh was the editor of The Illustrated
Weekly of India during the time of Emergency rule imposed by Indira Gandhi.
He was not very vocal and to his critics, this made his position less than
honest. His son Rahul Singh says "My father is a foolish politician but
emotionally he is honest."
In July 2000, Khushwant received Sulabh Award for 'upholding moral values
and being a person of impeccable character and exceptional integrity'. Andhra
Pradesh Chief minister Chandrababu gave away the award. The function was marked
by the release of a book on life of the worthy recipient called "Khushwatn
Singh: An Icon of our Age". To the delight of thousands of Khushwant
followers, External affairs minister Jaswant Siingh released the book. This
book is a collection of article by the writers of varied backgrounds including
IFS Pavan Verma, Solicitor General Soli Sorabjee and Dr Bindeshwar Pathak,
the founder of Sulabh International for Social Service.
Khushwant Singh Detests Indian politicians. He laments, "We have so
many donkeys as PM".
Khushwant Singh has crossed swords in the court but has never acted unlawfully.
His writings are passionate and speak his mind and soul. Khushwant has never
paid heavily for his writings from his so called Honest Pen. He admits, "There
have been dozens of times when I have been dragged to court. In most cases,
I was let off without being convicted". Punjab and Haryana Court once
hauled him up for an article on Corruption in the Judiciary. Unable to prove
anything unlawful, they let him off. In December 1995, Khushwant Singh was
writing Truth, Love and a little Malice, an autobiography, when court passed
injunction against him and barred him from Publishing any reference pertaining
to Maneka Gandhi, a plaintiff, in his book.
Khushwant Singh is full of life. He believes in enjoying life to the fullest.
He is not materialistic. He is a serious man but his casualness portrays his
persona s not so serious. He is not a bore and people of all ages feel at
home with him. A frank discussion about sex is not a taboo to him. It is his
openness, which unfairly sticks a label of 'dirty old man' to him. In real
life Khushwant Singh is a thorough gentleman. Sex, Scotch and Scholarship
another book by him is fun to read. When asked about his drinking habit, he
admits, "I started drinking at the age of 25. I have never been drunk
even once in the last 60 years of drinking." His favourite is Premium
Scotch but readily admits; I don't care for champagne. To me it tastes like
When his book "In the Company of Women" was launched, the occasion
was attended by alll who happened to be anybody including Pakistani High Commissioner
Ashraf Jehangir Qazi. High Commissioner had brought along his daughter who
wanted to meet him. Khushwant Singh, an unorthodox man in his behaviour and
manner, planted an innocent peck on Miss Qazi's cheek upon greeting her. This
was to cause an agitation in Pakistan. Ever vigilant, the mullahs in Pakistan
revolted at the site of a kafir kissing a pure blooded Muslim girl good enough
to be his great grand daughter. High Commissioner, to his discomfiture, was
asked to submit an explanation to the Pakistani government. To a critic who
ponders if he is anti-Hindu and admires Muslims, he replies, "I am emphatically
not anti-Hindu. I rise to the defence of Muslims because they are far too
often discriminated against and I feel we should befriend them. I have no
particular admiration for them, only a lot of good will".
Khushwant Singh is a man larger than life. Befitting his accomplishment,
he was honoured by Guru Nanak Dev University, Amritsar viz. Doctorate of Literature.
The entire senate rose to deafening applause when the vice-chancellor introduced
Sardar Khushwant Singh to the faculty. Khushwant Singh has been a lawyer,
diplomat, critic, journalist, novelist, historian, humorist, naturalist and
a politician - all rolled into one.
Article-excerpts taken from: "A man called Khushwant Singh" by
This article by him is taken from his book 'The Vintage Sardar'
The task of seeing oneself
The gods in their wisdom did not grant me the gift of seeing myself as others see me. They must have thought knowing what others thought of me might engender suicidal tendencies in me and decided to let me stew in my own self-esteem. Now I am up against the formidable task of having to write about myself. It is a daunting assignment.
Have you ever tried to look at yourself squarely in the eyes in your own mirror? Try it and you will understand what I mean. Within a second or two you will turn your gaze from your eyes to other features—as women do when they are putting on make-up or men do when they are shaving. Looking into the depths of one's own eyes reveals the naked truth. The naked truth about oneself can be very ugly.
I know I am an ugly man. Physical ugliness has never bothered me nor inhibited me from making overtures to the fairest of women. I am convinced that only empty-headed, nymphomaniacs look out for handsome gigolos. They have no use for the likes of me; I have no use for the likes of them. My concern is not with my outward appearance, my untidy turban, unkempt beard or my glazed look (I have been told that my eyes are that of a lustful badmaash) but what lies behind the physical—the real me compounded of conflicting emotions like love and hate, general irritability and occasional equipoise, angry denunciation and tolerance of another's point of view, rigid adherence to self-prescribed regimen and accommodation of others' convenience. And so on. It is on these qualities that I will dwell in making an estimate of myself.
First, I must dispose of the question which people often ask me: 'What do you think of yourself as a writer?' Without appearing to wear the false cloak of humility, let me say quite honestly that I do not rate myself very highly. I can tell good writing from the not so good, the first-rate from the passable. I know that of the Indians or the Indian-born, Nirad Chaudhuri, Naipaul, Salman Rushdie, Amitava Ghosh and Vikram Seth handle the English language better than 1.1 also know I can, and have, written as well as any of the others—R.K. Narayan, Mulk Raj Anand, Mulgaonkar, Ruth Jhabvala, Nayantara Sehgal or Anita Desai. What is more, unlike most in the first or the second category, I have never laid claims to being a great writer. I regard self-praise to be the utmost form of vulgarity. Almost every Indian writer I have met is prone to laud his or her achievement. This is something I have never done. Nor have I ever solicited awards or recognition. Nor ever spread false stories of being considered for the
Nobel Prize for literature. The list of prominent Indians who spread such canards about themselves is formidable: Vatsayan (Ageya), G.V. Desani, Dr Gopal Singh Dardi (Governor of Goa), Kamala Das and many others.
Am I a likeable man? I am not sure. I do not have many friends because I do not set much store by friendship. I found that friends, however nice and friendly they may be, demand more time than I am willing to spare. I get easily bored with people and would rather read a book or listen to music than converse with anyone for too long. I have had a few very close friends in my time. I am ashamed to admit that when some of them dropped me, instead of being upset, I felt relieved. And when some died, I cherished their memory more than I did their company when they were alive.
I have the same attitude towards women whom I have liked or loved. It does not take much for me to get deeply emotional about women. Often at the very first meeting I feel I have found the Helen I was seeking, and like Majnoon sifting the sands of desert wastes, my quest for Laila is over. None of these infatuations lasts very long. At times, betrayal of trust hurts me deeply, but nothing leaves lasting scars on my psyche. The only lesson I have learnt is that as soon as you sense the others cooling off, be the one to drop them. Dropping people gives you a sense of triumph; being dropped, one of defeat which leaves the ego wounded.
I do not have the gift of friendship. Nor the gift of loving or being loved. Hate is my stronger passion. Mercifully it has never been directed against a community but only against certain individuals. I hate with a passion unworthy of anyone who would like to describe himself as civilized. I try my best to ignore them but they are like an aching tooth which I am periodically compelled to feel with my tongue to assure myself that it still hurts. My hate goes beyond the people I hate. I even drop those who befriend them. My enemy's friends become my enemies. Hate does not always kill the man who hates, as is maintained by the sanctimonious. Unrepressed hate can often be a catharsis. Shakespeare could gnash his teeth with righteous hatred:
You common cry of curs whose breath I
As reek o' the rotten fens, whose loves I
As the dead carcases of unburied men
That do corrupt the air.
Fortunately, there are not many people I hate. I could count them on the tips of the fingers of one hand—no more than four or five. And if I told you why I hate them, you may agree that they deserve contempt and hatred.
I hate name-droppers. I hate self-praisers. I hate arrogant men. I hate liars. Is there anything wrong in hating them? People ask me, why can't you leave them alone? Why can't you ignore their existence? Now, that is something I cannot do. I cannot resist making fun of name-droppers, calling liars liars to their faces. And I love abusing the arrogant. I have been in trouble many times because of my inability to resist mocking these types. And since most name-droppers, self-praisers and arrogant men go from success to success, become ministers, Governors and win awards they don't deserve, my anger often explodes into denouncing them in print. I have been dragged into courts and before the Press Council. This can be a terrible waste of time and money. I think I will have wax images of my pet hates and vent my spleen on them by sticking pins in their effigies. May the fleas of a thousand camels infest their armpits!
To each his own grief
There are two schools of thought on the subject of death—eastern and western. Orientals believe that the best way of coping with the death of a loved one like a parent, spouse or child is to cry your heart out till you are drained of tears. The custom, vaine (chants of lament), and breast-beating were regarded as cathartic. All this is followed by chautha, chaaleesveen, bhog, antim-ardas or a prayer meeting in memory of the departed soul. Friends are expected to call, in
the belief that grief shared is grief halved. Westerners believe that grief is a private matter and should not be exhibited in public. Shedding tears is unmanly. One should put up a stoic front and get over the loss by oneself.
I had to cope with the problem myself very recently. Being an agnostic, I could not find solace in religious ritual. Being essentially a loner, I discouraged friends and relations coming to condole with me on the death of my wife. Most of them ignored my request. I found this commiserating with me an emotional trauma J spent the first night alone sitting in my chair in the dark. At times I broke down. But soon recovered my composure. A couple of days later, I resumed my usual routine of work from dawn to dusk. That took my mind off the stark reality of having to live alone in an empty home for the rest of my days. But friends persisted on calling. And upsetting my equilibrium. So I packed myself off to Goa to be by myself. I am not sure if it will work out.
Everyone has to evolve his or her own formula for coping with grief. People who believe in god turn to him. The words of the 34th Psalm are pertinent: 'The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.' Jesus Christ was not ashamed of weeping before everyone when he lost a friend: 'When Jesus saw Many weeping and the Jews who had come along with him also weeping, he was deeply marred in spirit and troubled: "Where have you laid him?" he asked. "Come and see Lord," they replied. Jesus wept. Then the Jews said, "See how he loved him!"' (John 11:33:38)
As one would expect, Osho Rajneesh made light of the darkest of subjects including ways of coping with grief. In his collection of sermons, Walking in Zen, Sitting in Zen, he cites the case of an Italian, Perelli, and his unusual method of getting over the shock of losing his wife: 'At the funeral of his wife, Perelli made a terrible scene, so terrible and heart-rending, in fact, that friends had to forcibly restrain him from jumping into the grave and being buried with his beloved, Maria. Then, still overcome with grief, he was taken home in the rented limousine and immediately went into complete seclusion.
'A week passed and nothing was heard of him. Finally, worried about the poor guy, his late
wife's brother went to the house. After ringing the doorbell for ten minutes—and still worried— the brother-in-law jimmied the front door, went upstairs and found his dead sister's husband busily banging the maid.
'The bedroom was a mess—empty champagne bottles everywhere.
'"This is terrible, Perelli!" the brother-in-law declared in shocked tones. "Your dead wife, my sister, has been dead only a week and you're doing this! You're doing this!"
'So busy in the saddle was Perelli, that he managed only to turn his head. "How do I know what I'm doing?" he said, "I got such grief! I got such grief!"'
The Telegraph, 26 January 2002