Padma Vibhushan, journalist, author, columnist, Khushwant Singh has regaled us with his unassuming, striking, simple writing. His vast writing repertoire includes witty persona sketches, candid take on organised religion, and his lack of ‘faith’ in it; and in-depth chronicling of history.
For a man who called his name (own coinage), ‘meaningless’, couldn’t be more contrary, as his name has gained synonymity with sparkling writing and unbiased secularism. A man whose daughter, Mala Dayal, aptly calls him ‘a fine man may, be not a nice man to know’!
A lawyer, an IFS officer, a Rajya Sabha memebr, editor of Yojana and Illustrated Weekly and author of myriad books , breathed his last one-short of 100, in his Delhi abode, an apartment complex named after his grand-dad.
As an avid Khushwant reader and follower, even to his hills home, in Kasauli – Raj Villa, now a derelict colonial style bungalow tucked away enroute the Kasauli club in the tree lined uphill avenue! Here I am now, having just finished the latest collection of Mr. Singh’s previously unpublished (in an anthology) essays and reflections, edited by his daughter, Mala Dayal- Portrait of a Serial Killer. The book published on the hundredth anniversary of Singh is a collection of his world view and views on the world, and the people and places inhabiting it, in his characteristic
simple but not simplistic style- wit, a dash of sarcasm and a lot of affection!
The essays are drawn from sources like the Illustrated Weekly of India, Yojana, and New Delhi, as well as unpublished manuscripts in the possession of the anthology’s editor, Mala Dayal. Here’s a line-up of pieces on crime, war, caste, religion, larger-than-life personalities, politics, travel, philosophy and such like!
Neatly divided into four self explanatory theme based sections ‘Unforgettable People’ ‘Memorable Places’ ‘The Indian Way’ ‘A matter of Politics’- the book is a perfect Sunday read as Singh goes on in his distinctive style when he describes his brush with people, places, traits and news!
From the swashbuckling Dev Anand to his meeting with one of Amrita Shergill’s lovers- Malcom Muggeridge, peppered with a motley bunch of writers, politicos and yes a serial killer of 60’s fame!
It’s a warm, cream set of pages with words from the master himself- on why he says’God must be Italian’ or when he describes a unique kind of forest fire in Bokaro!
My favourite is Singh’s masterstroke in describing why he loves to hate and hates to love Delhi! Read the book if you are a Khushwamnt fan , and celebrate his100th , as he still lives on- that ‘son of a gun’!
He also prepared an epitaph for himself, which runs: