Train to Pakistan stops forever

Khushwantnama: Thus others spake about the iconoclast who loved good life

Train to Pakistan stops forever

The chirpy and witty Sardar, who celebrated his life in style, finally left his station and there is no return journey. Khushwant Singh, the author of the acclaimed partition saga “Train to Pakistan,” left behind a web of literature he weaved on lives, both fictional and non-fictional.

With the latest gossip on his lips and a glass of scotch in his hand, he entertained the “who-is-who” of the capital in evening durbars at his home in Sujan Singh Park, near the posh Khan Market in Delhi, before he fell ill. He even loaned Manmohan Singh Rs 2 lakh when the latter needed money to hire taxis for campaigning when he contested for South Delhi Lok Sabha seat in 1999.

Khushwant Singh, who edited The Hindustan Times and Illustrated Weekly of India, was close to Indira Gandhi and Sanjay Gandhi and supported Emergency only to earn the wrath of liberals. He fell foul of Indira after he supported Maneka Gandhi following Sanjay’s death.

 Singh’s son Rahul believes that his father was politically naive. “He became close to Indira Gandhi but championed the cause of Maneka Gandhi after the death of Sanjay Gandhi. Later, he fell out with the same Maneka,” he said. 

If one knows Singh only for “naughty” writings, then it would be an injustice to a writer whose account of history of Sikhs or Ghadar movement, the first armed rebellion in India, or of Maharaja Ranjit Singh besides his novels like Delhi stand test of time.

Singh fell short by 10 months to hit a century in life but he never missed the bull’s eye whenever he picked up his pen, whether it was his regular “With Malice towards One and All” column or his short stories or novels, which became a rarity in the past couple of years.

As a writer, Singh remained the same, witty and sharp, as in his youthful days when he even wrote his own obituary. It was in 1943 at the age of 28 when he imagined how The Tribune would announce the news of his death in front page with a small photograph.

He imagined the headline would read “Sardar Khushwant Singh Dead” along with the text, “we regret to announce the sudden death of Sardar Khushwant Singh at 6 pm last evening. He leaves behind a young widow, two infant children and a large number of friends and admirers. Amongst those who called at the late Sardar’s residence were the PA to the chief justice, several ministers, and judges of the high court.”

Seventy-one years ago, he might have wanted a front-page report on his death in a newspaper in Punjab, but he grew to such proportions that prominent broadsheets across the world and publications in India’s remotest corners would devote pages for him.

Singh’s brush with obituaries did not end there. A friend and journalist Dhiren Bhagat published a “pre-obituary” in now-defunct Sunday Observer in 1983. Death was “rarely spoken about in our homes” but in the past years, Singh continuously broached about it. He remembered his wife’s death and how he wanted to face it alone. 

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