In my first week in the new school, DPS Navi Mumbai, there was a career counselling group that came to advice and advertise. They had started their presentation by claiming that every human has a dream job be it a rockstar, a musician or an entrepreneur. When they asked the crowd for examples, I announced ‘A writer’ and I remember a considerable amount of laughter to follow. The girl next to me asked rhetorically “Seriously!!!” And I replied without amusement, “I wrote a 40,000 word autobiography last month because I was bored. (I was 16 and the new city wasn’t much fun then).” Needless to say that it was believed by every faculty member that I was coaxed into taking science. I wish that had been the case as I’d have found myself an excuse for my ‘6 point GPA’.
I remember sitting on the first bench on a day when most of the students were absent in school. It was eleventh standard and our first term exam results had just been declared. I had scored a 93 in English while the rest four made a cumulative of around 110. My chemistry teacher who always had an amazing insight into people’s minds said to me. “You know Khushwant Singh? He used to fail in every subject.” I thought it was a mean way to take a dig at me but then she continued; “But he always used to top English. He writes brilliant novels now… the only thing of significance was that he was filthy rich… so you got to study now to provide for your dreams later.” I loved that teacher and since that day developed a liking for the Old Sardar as well.
I am not an avid reader as many perceive me to be. I spend most of my day researching varied things on the internet but find it very hard to pursue novels. I recently watched ‘Liberal arts’ and was somewhat inspired to read something. I picked up what would probably be Khushwant Singh’s last book, ‘Khushwantnama-The lessons of my life’. The novel is what an almost century old retrospective writer thinks about different aspects of the country.
The book is not a particularly enlightening piece but radiates immense experience to say the least. There is brutal honesty in his views and he rarely frets over any kind of judgement that might come his way. He very proudly calls himself a lecher, single malt and meat fan and his truculent views on religion borders on sacrilege. Had the same book been written by a young author, it would have been dismissed as another angry Indian pointing out modern righteous anecdotes. But coming from someone who has seen the country go through the world war and partition to eventually turn out the Ignited (sarcasm) India that we are today, gives this book enough credibility.
Khushwant Singh has always lived a life of luxury. It is no secret that he comes from ridiculous amounts of treasure, but the man made a respectable name for himself through writing. As I have pointed out before (to my embarrassment) that I don’t read much, I just remembered him as the guy who used to write all the ‘Cool’ stories of our Hindi textbooks. He is a man who lives lavishly and chooses not to be humble about it. He reads most of his days and has probably enough knowledge to compete with Prof. John Oldman (The man from earth). He goes to dinner (alone) every day after having a peg of single malt whiskey. He has done so much in a lifetime that when he says ‘I’d die a man without regrets’, it doesn’t seem obligatory. In a nutshell he is everything a writer wants to be by the end.
‘Oft when trance calls my name,
I sit and I do ponder.
Can I wail with a feather in hand
And other, a wine, much fonder.
Midnight tells a pendulum;
While I hear a silence in the distance.
The smoke of some Cuban delight,
While I fall in dreams of fall’