The New Delhi that writer-columnist Khushwant Singh knew like the
back of his hand has now become an alien city in which the
98-year-old thespian has lost his way, the writer says in his new
volume of ruminations.
"It has grown out of all proportions, extending from Alipur to
Faridabad, from Ghazibad and Noida across the Yamuna in Uttar
Pradesh to Gurgaon in Haryana," Singh says in his just-published
autobiographical account, "Khushwantnama: The Lessons of My Life".
Luytens had planned a city for a few thousand civil servants and
staff; it now has a population of 16 million; he had planned roads
for a few thousand cars, tongas and bicycles; now almost every
family has a car or two or three and the roads are jammed from
sunrise to sunset - and even after, Khushwant Singh says of the
metropolis that his father Sobha Singh, a pioneer architect, had
laid out with Lutyens and his crew.
"It is a city in which more than twice as many women get molested
and raped than in Mumbai...I don't go out any more. The last time
I had to step out to visit the doctor, I found the roads clogged,"
Khushwant Singh says.
The author's soul-searching of the city, where he lived and worked
for most of his adult writing life, is steeped in memories,
nostalgia and umbilical cords that tie him to the growth of modern
Delhi with blood. There is a wistfulness about his reflections
that borders on mourning - the blues of a man suspended on a thin
thread between living and passing away.
But Khushwant Singh is nothing short of a marvel. His pen keeps
painting his musings even as his body - confined to a wheel chair
- could be falling apart slowly. He wants to give up, but his zest
for life refuses to let him off the hook.
Death has been occupying Khushwant Singh for the last few years
since he had published "The Sunset Club" - a novel about three
80-year-old men discussing about life, lust, politics and society.
"In my 98th year, I have little left to look forward to, but lots
to reminisce about. To draw a balance sheet of my life and
failures. On the credit side, I have over eighty books, novels and
collections of short stories, biographies, histories, translations
from Punjabi and Urdu, and many essays," he writes, looking
One the debit side, the "reckless" sardar has "his character". "I
spend many evenings going over my evil deeds I committed in my
early years. With an airgun, I killed dozens of sparrows who had
done me no harm," he discloses about his roster of heinous deeds.
Two years ago, the writer decided it was time for him to withdraw
into himself at 96.
"Some people would describe it as retirement. I chose a hallowed
Indian word, 'sanyas'," Khushwant Singh says with a hint of
For nearly seven decades, the author, a former editor of the
now-defunct Illustrated Weekly of India and later the Hindustan
Times, has remained on the top of the best-selling charts with
classics like "The Train to Pakistan", "I Shall Not Hear the
Nightingale" and "Delhi".
The pithy hard-bound book covers Khushwant Singh's orientation in
pithy essays that explore "The State of the Nation", "The
Importance of Gandhi", "What Religion Means to Me", "The Business
of Writing", "Journalism Then and Now" and "Dealing With Death" -
all subjects close to his heart.
"Thinking Aloud" devotes itself to the writer's views on
partition, the English language paradox, sex and the qualities of
The style is beguiling and, at intervals, shines with
"I have always believed that sex is more important than romance.
Romance is a waste of energy. It takes up time and loses it lustre
soon... There is too much of sexual frustration in our country,"
Khushwant Singh says with his usual candour.
"I never rated myself very highly as a writer. At school, I was
hopeless at all subjects. And although I was very keen on sports,
I wasn't any good at games either. The only bright point was a
comment from my English teacher in my report card," he recalls.
"Ms. Budden, who had come from England to teach at Modern School
for two years, wrote that I had the possibility of making it as a
writer," the writer says.
So typically Khushwant Singh that it almost mists the eye.
Book: "Khushwantnama: The Lessons of
Author: Khushwant Singh
Publisher: Penguin Viking
Price: Rs 399
Madhusree Chatterjee can be contacted at email@example.com