Sex, Scotch And Infinite Laughter

By Sunil Kumar

One of the leading literary luminaries of post-Independence India is dead. Known for his acerbic wit and sense of humor; Khushwant Singh passed away in New Delhi today. For a generation unaware of the cross-currents of history and writing in this country; Khushwant Singh can prove to be an enigma.

I had the pleasure of reading some of his books such as “Sex, Scotch and Scholarship” and “Train to Pakistan“. Khushwant Singh was a rare spirit; who apparently lived by the spirit of his name. His father Sobha Singh; a famous builder played a pivotal part in the construction of India’s capital; New Delhi(or the Lutyen’s Zone).

In a time when malice seems to be an integral part of existence; Mr. Singh was remarkably secular in the true sense of the word. The generosity of spirit seems to a direct result of his largely Punjabi ethos; deep affinity and faith for his Sikh heritage. The erstwhile Punjab had a rich, diverse and vibrant culture that spans millenia; and along with the present-day Sind was the genesis of India’s civilization.

Known as an establishment liberal; pro-Congress in simple words; Khushwant Singh was a member of the Rajya Sabha during Indira Gandhi‘s tenure; when he returned the Padma Bhushan to protest the Indian Army‘s assault on the Golden Temple. The merits of this intrusion(or possible repercussions) are beyond the scope of this post; and the media can debate this crucial aspect of the country’s history at length.

Quite like another old sentry of the media; Kuldip Nayar; Singh was close to India’s political leaders; especially the Gandhi family. In an interview to Karan Thapar; he describes Sanjay Gandhi as a polite bully; and the internal politics of the “parivar”. Indira acted as a village mother-in-law according to him; not recognizing Maneka; who was from a privileged background as an equal. This gives us insight into the Nehru-Gandhi family tree; the sordid bunch who have been given the keys to the Indian Union for a large period of its history. We know that the family has a mysterious past; and recent developments have only added to the miasma.

Writing a lot in his lifetime; Khushwant also described his time in the “Illustrated Weekly” where his mission in his own words was to entertain and provoke.(inform, incite, abuse et al). As an agnostic and a believer in debauchery(old school); Singh probably shook up India’s staid loins at a time when the country was all covered up. His columns and “joke books” were probably his most noticeable creations. Teaching comparative religion made him study the country’s traditions more comprehensively. Singh was also quite a raconteur; reveling in his evening durbar; going to sleep regularly around 9; getting up early and penning stuff for a formidable amount of time. He was also known for meticulous attention and a degree of known “humility”. Nearly everybody has an ego; and it is interesting to know that this man was quite effervescent.

Mr. Singh also believed that L.K Advani had sparked communal unrest in the country; and seemed to be fairly critical of his role. The most interesting aspect of his writing was his finesse in Urdu, Punjabi and English; often evoking nostalgia for the world that was; or a contemporary critique of the pretentious setup he saw around him; interactions between Indians and the rest; also a mindscape in which he was willingly engaged.

In one of his interviews; Singh stated that he did not mind “malice” towards the dead; and would welcome people mentioning anything against him when he was gone. From an admiring reader however; I only believe that his spirit of “sex, scotch, scholarship” along with infinite laughter certainly help to make the world a better place. RIP!


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