The Man called Khushwant Singh
Two years ago, I coxed a bunch of bachelors, male female, of all sizes and ages, to write on the pleasures of being single . I had been commissioned to edit a book , chasing the good life. Among its 200 or so pages there was one santanced that grabbed every viewer’s attention: “ Right on top of my list of the joys of living alone is the freedom to fart without being embarrassed.” No prizes for guessing that the sentence was Khusvant singh’s.
The other day he asked me if I knew the meaning of the word Baporia , Gujrati slang for people who copulate in the afternoon. He delights in such useless information and this particular gem was sent to him by his former protégé, Bachi Karkaria.
There was a time when I used to smuggle banned copies of Playboy into the country in a diplomatic pouch. Khuswant would eagerly wait to go through the pictures of voluptuous naked women and magazine’s famed dirty jokes.
With the possible exception of the editor of this magazine , I don’t know anyone who receives more abusive mail than khuswant. One envelope from abroad was simply addressed ‘ Khuswant Singh, Bastard India’. To his utter delight it reached him and he has been dining out on that story for years. Everything khuswant writes sells and these books give good masure of the man .
He may have the taste of scatology but has written one of the great Indian novels of the twentieth century, Train to Pakistan. Prime ministers and presidents drop by for an evening chat. His home is the port of call for many newly appointed ambassadors. His views are invariably sane when it comes to politics though, admittedly, he once signed L.K. advani’s nomination papers when he contested a south delhi parliamentary seat. I suspect he later regretted that particular decision.
When his son Rahul celebrated his 50th Birthday Rajiv Gandhi was invited to sujan singh park flat. They had been students together in Cambridge. Rajiv got delayed and by the time he arrived Khuswant had gone to bed. He emerged in his crumpled nightgown to greet the distinguish visitor and then, to our amazement, promptly went back to sleep.Rajiv stayed on to party.
It doesn’t matter who you are, if you are invited for drinks you are expected to leave at eaight; if the invitation is for the dinner you have to go by nine.not that many invities are coming our ways these days.
Forty years ago someone from Pakistan sent Khuswant a book in the hope of a review. The copy had a flaw-only the first four pages had print, the rest was blank. The publishers had obviously sent him the dummy by mistake. For Khuswant the blank pages were godsend. He has used it to jot down things. An editor has culled 365 of them for the book. One for each day of the year. They deal with a wide range of subjects; religion, love, hate, drinking, the joys of life,and reflections on old age and death. There is also a generous dose of sex and promiscuity. It’s a slim volume and it is witty in Khuswant manner.
You will find juxtaposed between uplifting quotes and verse from geneses, Bhagvad geeta and Bernard shaw, ribald limericks such as the following:
There was a young plumber
Who lay plumbing his girl by the sea
She said, “oh! Stop plumbing!
There’s somebody coming!”
Said the plumber, still plumbing
You have been warned. But let me balance that limerick with a quote from Gandhi that I hadn’t come across before...