Discussing Khushwant Singh, even informally, has always been a bit difficult for the way he was. But the group of guests who spoke on the man, his vices and virtues did manage to bring out various aspects of Khushwant Singh’s life in a tribute to his personality.
Rahul Singh, son of the multi-tasker – a novelist, editor and an iconoclast – described his father as a man who always spoke his mind.
The view was endorsed by the guests – Basharat Qadir, son of renowned lawyer and Khushwaant’s ‘best friend’ Manzoor Qadir, F. S Aijazuddin, Shobha De, and Aitzaz Ahsan.
Aijazuddin, who moderated the session in a very candid and informative way, said Khushwant claimed that English was his mother tongue, defining the mother tongue as the language with which one is most comfortable.
To the chagrin of many of his countrymen, he would say he was not proud to be an Indian because of his hatred for those who ruled India – the government.
Discussing ‘Punjabiat’ of Kushwant, Chaudhry Aitzaz Ahsan, termed Hadali, a village in Khushab district, where Khushwant was born, a defining metaphor for Singh. He described Khushwant as more a citizen of South Asia for his approach towards the region, than being an Indian.
He highlighted Khushwant’s taking up the release of Pakistani army men with the then Indian PM, Indira Gandhi, “a task no one else could undertake”. He said Khushwant was one of those Indians with whom one could discuss Kashmir without stated positions blocking the discourse.
Writer Shobha De, who according to FS Aijazuddin, wrote more obituaries of KS than any of her contemporaries, remembered him as a complex personality who loved the “good things in life”. She talked about the KS’ Darbar he would regularly hold after 7.00 pm in the company of his favourites .
Qadir talked about the bond that made Khushwant and his father an inseparable duo. He related how Khushwant handed over the keys of his house in Lahore to his father at the time of partition in 1947 with the hope that he would return after the “dust had settled”. He said the thing that was common between the two friends was abhorrence for humbug and hypocrisy. He also talked about Khushwant’s link with Lahore that transcended the bloody partition.
POPULAR FICTION: At another session, Kishwar Naheed, Intizar Husain and Asaduddin discussed the parameters of popular fiction and why good fiction was most of the time not popular.
Kishwar blamed mediocrity of those who adopted fiction for television, as a major reason for making the mediocre writings popular.
Intizar Husain said the fiction rejected by the Arabs – ‘Alf Laila’– became immensely popular with the Indians. He said the Persian stories like ‘Sheerin Farhad’, ‘Rustam-o-Sohrab’ etc were also eulogised here instead of indigenous ‘Katha Kahani’ which included ‘Shukantla ka Qissa’ that was part of Mahabharata. He said in the next phase western genres like novel were popularised which set the standards for writing fiction here despite their disconnection with our tradition of storytelling.
Asaduddin, a well-known critic, said popular fiction trivialised basic important questions related to our society.
He was of the opinion that the fiction that became popular was not a mere chance, and that there always had been motives behind a certain variety becoming popular.
About his stories titled ‘Sangasan Batteesi’ Intizar Husain said it was relevant to our times, especially the rulers who claimed to be just, while the reality was altogether different.
The session was expertly moderated Asif Farrukhi.