Article: Remembering the Indo-Pak personality Khushwant Singh on his first birth anniversary
by Ravi Nitesh
A year ago, on March 20, 2014, ‘we’ lost him. His importance can be felt with the word we, as we stands for the people of India and Pakistan. He was born in Pakistan and died in India but lived in India and in Pakistan from within. He was famous for his fearless writing and lovable gestures. He wrote on many diverse issues. While living in India and despite being unwell in his later days, he always told friends that he never minded meeting guests from Pakistan.
A month ago, when I was moderating the Aaghaz-e-Dosti session called ‘Shared History-Shared Hopes’ during the World Book Fair, Sadia Dehlvi talked about Khushwant Singh. She recalled him as a friend and mentor. She recalled that Khushwant, who was the writer of the famous novel Train to Pakistan, always said, “Pakistan is my Makka-Madina.” Khushwant was one of the most progressive writers of the subcontinent and worked as a bridge between India and Pakistan. He belongs with the best of them: Manto, Premchand, Hali and others.
Khushwant Singh was born on February 2, 1915 in Pakistan and he died at the age of 99 on March 20, 2014 in India. He was popular as a writer and journalist. He served many newspapers and magazines and was known for his fearless writing and humour. However, those who knew him found a great friend in him. Very few know that he was a practicing lawyer at the Lahore Court (1938-1947) and then was part of the Indian foreign service.
Disputes and controversies would often accompany his struggles. His writings would often run into controversies. There were other things like his exit from Illustrated Weekly magazine and the allegation of him being ‘establishment-friendly’, but he faced all his critics in his own way and continued to do what he thought was appropriate. He returned his Padma Bhushan (one of the highest civilian awards in India) in protest at the siege of the Golden Temple in Amritsar by the Indian army. On the other end, he also seemed inclined towards atheism as he stated that he never believed in God, rebirth, the day of judgment, etc. He believed in the finality of death from where nothing returns. He wrote in Train to Pakistan: “India is constipated with a lot of humbug. Take religion. For the Hindu, it means little besides caste and cow protection. For the Muslim, circumcision and kosher meat. For the Sikh, long hair and hatred of the Muslim. For the Christian, Hinduism with a sola topee. For the Parsi, fire worship and feeding vultures. Ethics, which should be the kernel of a religious code, has been carefully removed.”
He was well aware of his critics, from critics of his personal life to professional life, from critics of his thought to behaviour and writing. It seems he had a carefree approach towards them; he never minded allegations and criticism. In his book Reflections, he wrote, “Do not fear critics. Everyone has opinions. I have had more nasty reviews than any other writer I know. They are like the hate mail I get for attacking fundamentalists and hypocrites. I do not lose sleep over it. Critics have their job to do; I have mine. Fifty years from now, people will still be reading and enjoying my work, or at least being provoked by it. The critics will all be forgotten.”
He even attacked modern-styled secularists who preferred meditation over prayers. In End of India, he writes: “A modern fad, which has gained widespread acceptance amongst the semi-educated who wish to appear secular is the practice of meditation. They proclaim with an air of smug superiority, ‘Main mandir-vandir nahin jaata, meditate karta hoon’ (I do not go to temples or other such places, I meditate). The exercise involves sitting lotus pose (padma asana), regulating one’s breathing and making your mind go blank to prevent it from ‘jumping about like monkeys’ from one (thought) branch to another. This intense concentration awakens the kundalini serpent coiled at the base of the spine. It travels upwards through chakras (circles) till it reaches its destination in the cranium. Then the kundalini is fully jaagrit (roused) and the person is assured to have reached his goal. What does meditation achieve? The usual answer is ‘peace of mind’. If you probe further, ‘And what does peace of mind achieve?’ you will get no answer because there is none. Peace of mind is a sterile concept, which achieves nothing. The exercise may be justified as therapy for those with disturbed minds or those suffering from hypertension, but there is no evidence to prove that it enhances creativity. On the contrary it can be established by statistical data that all the great works of art, literature, science and music were works of highly agitated minds, at times minds on the verge of collapse. Allama Iqbal’s short prayer is pertinent: Khuda tujhey kisee toofaan say aashna kar dey keh terey beher kee maujon mein iztiraab naheen (May God bring a storm in your life, There is no agitation in the waves of your life’s ocean).
He was a man who was full of wonders and surprises. What he could write, speak or do could not be predicted. He followed freedom of expression in the full sense. Though after his death he was cremated in Delhi, he wanted to be buried after his death. The reason behind this was above any personal desire or religious motive; instead it was because of his belief that, by burial, he will give back everything to earth, from which he had taken everything. He even talked to a religious institution for providing him a space where he could be buried after death but, later, he abandoned the idea because of the terms and conditions in this agreement. He actually never wanted to be imprisoned by any such restrictions.
After his death, he found another way to break the chain: to fly with freedom. As per his desire, part of his ashes were scattered at Hadali, Khushab (Pakistan). Khushwant’s desire to fly still lives as his thoughts, memories and stories are still flying beyond boundaries, touching millions of hearts.cattered at Hadali, Khushab (Pakistan). Khushwant’s desire to fly still lives as his thoughts, memories and stories are still flying beyond boundaries, touching millions of hearts.
Ravi Nitesh is the Founder of Mission Bhartiyam (Aaghaz-e-Dosti India)