Patwant Singh

Sweet And Sour

I switched on my TV set to hear what different channels had to say about him. Perhaps they could include tributes from the Prime Minister, chief minister of Punjab, Sikh leaders and literary personalities. I went from one channel to another. Not one had anything to say about him. I switched off the TV in disgust, Perhaps the morning papers would make up for the omission. Of the six I get, only two paid him tribute. That is the way of the world — no sooner dead than forgotten.

Patwant was a man of substance and had many achievements to his credit. Though almost 10 years younger than me, we shared many things in common. Our fathers were builders of New Delhi. Both of us were brought up and educated in Delhi. He tried his hand on building, gave it up and turned to writing in design and architecture. Then he turned to Sikh themes — eminent personalities like Bhegat Puran Singh, biography of Maharaja Ranjit Singh and much else. A sort of sibling rivalry grew between us. The similarity of our names and themes we wrote on added fuel to the rivalry. But neither of us ever criticised the other. He was a devout Sikh; I a ‘dheela dhaala’ non-believer.
Whenever I rang him up, he did not answer with a ‘hello’ as most people do, but with a full blast of the Khalsa greeting “Sri Wahguru Ji Ka Khalsa, Sri Wahguru ji ki Fateh.” It made me feel a second-class Sikh.

He was very fastidious about his dress and style of living. Always smartly turned out with moustaches twirled up.

In earlier times he could be seen walking briskly like a soldier in Lodi Park. He wore gloves in winter and had a pedigreed dog alongside. People said he has the Hollywood version of a Sardar.

He lived in double storeyed bungalow on Amrita Shergil Marg abutting Lodhi Gardens. His sister Raseel Basu lived on the ground floor, he on the upper floor re-designed by himself. A cosy study lined with books all round where he served his guests pre-dinner drinks. A large sitting-cum-dining room with a huge fire-place in the centre — covered by an umbrella-like chimney. Guests sat around it and were served with the most gourmet continental style food by gloved waiters. I have never been at a dinner as classy as Patwant’s.

There was a lot more to him than erudition and good living. He built a hospital for poor peasants near the sulphur hot springs at Sohna in Haryana. He spoke out boldly on issues concerning the Sikhs. He never forgave Gyani Zail Singh for not preventing ‘Operation Blue Star’ and the negative role he and Prime Minister Narasimha Rao played in the massacre of Sikhs in 1984. Nothing daunted him, because he never asked for favours or honours from anyone.

I lost track of Patwant and saw nothing of him for the last 20 years. I heard that late in life he married a Parsi lady-friend, Meher Dilshaw who was devoted to him. Earlier this year, I heard from my friend Jaya Thadani who lives part of the year in London that Patwant and Meher had lunch with her and he looked very ill. Then on Saturday, Aug 9, he called it a day. He was 84.

Sexy hockey
Once again I missed out one amusing item in ‘The Telegraph’ of Kolkata which appeared a couple of years ago, and has been spotted by an Englishman Beeve Gourd and reproduced in a recent issue of ‘Private Eye’ in its column ‘Funny Old World’. It reads: “The idea of using condoms in the manufacture of hockey sticks came to me five years ago,” Sanjay Kohli of R K Sports told a press conference, “after a large number of sticks began to get damaged. The hook is the most important part of the stick, because it is used to strike the ball, but it’s also the most vulnerable part, because it’s made from seven pieces of mulberry wood that are bound and glued together. We used to paste a plastic net onto the hook to prevent it splitting, but once the net perished, the stick could not be repaired. It was causing me nightmares.

One day I bought a box of condoms, and slipped one over the hook. The results were tremendous. After I’d heated it, the condom gripped the wood much better than the nets ever did, and was much longer lasting. It sounds absurd and embarrassing to be using condoms in the manufacture of sports goods, but it’s been a wise decision, because a lot of expensive mulberry wood was going to waste. The only problem I had was with the local condom supplier, because we were buying so many that he thought we must have opened a brothel in the neighbourhood. He refused to keep selling us box after box until I invited him to the factory to show him how it’s done. He’s promised to keep the technique a secret until I have obtained a patent.”

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