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More Malicious Gossip

More Malicious Gossip

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More Malicious Gossip

274 pagine
3 ore
Sep 18, 2006


This selection of Khushwant Singh's prose is like the man himself: blunt, perceptive, incorrigibly provocative, often amusing but always bubbling with life. The book includes candid portrayals of public personalities such as Zail Singh, Rajiv Gandhi, Nani Palkhivala, Rajni Patel and Nargis Dutt. There are also vivid portrayals of public personalities such as Zail Singh, Rajiv Gandhi, Nani Palkhivala, Rajni Patel and Nargis Dutt. There are also vivid portraits of places such as Delhi, Amritsar, Goa, Lucknow, Bhopal and Hyderabad. Then there are his musings on such issues as communalism, terrorism and bride burning, still as vivid today as when the pieces were first written.
Sep 18, 2006

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More Malicious Gossip - Khushwant Singh



Khushwant Singh is undoubtedly one of the most widely read authors today. He is perhaps the most widely talked about as well. Reading through his columns in one continuous stretch this time has brought home afresh the diversity and depth of his writings. Khushwant has pronounced on topics as varied as politics, red-bottomed rhesus monkeys, Nehru’s yoga prowess, cuckoos and cuckolding, the flowering trees of Delhi, the menace of terrorism—the list is lengthy and extensive. Through these diverse writings, however, runs a common thread of unity—they are all effortlessly written and well- researched pieces of prose. In fact, when I start to describe them, I find myself using the same words as I would to describe their author—blunt, perceptive, incorrigibly provocative, often amusing but always bubbling with life.

Khushwant is very accessible. Almost anyone can ring up to request an appointment with him—be it to solicit his views, to show him a recently written book or to offer him an invitation. And Khushwant usually obliges. He has time to listen undistracted to others’ opinions, to read a book by a hitherto unpublished author, and to travel far to attend a seminar or conference, be it concerning the media or the views of Reverend Moon. Authors, ambassadors, industrialists, politicians are regular visitors at his home. He has his finger on the pulse of life around him and from this are born his columns—first-hand accounts of experiences, visits, meetings, readings.

How does he pack so much into his life? At seventy-two, he is active and alive, as his wife puts it, because of their self-imposed discipline. He rises at 4.30 a.m., plays tennis and religiously swims forty lengths every day after which he works in the mornings and meets callers in the afternoons. The evenings, i.e., from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. are for socializing. An invitation for dinner to their home requires you to be ringing the doorbell at exactly 7 p.m. A delay of even five minutes can earn you a welcoming reproach of You are late (though there is usually no malice intended and a bear hug always follows!). Dinner is served at 8 o’clock and by 9, you are hurriedly downing liqueur, with one eye on the clock, which chimes every fifteen minutes to remind you of the time in case you should overstay. And so it has been for over forty years now, with only one exception—when Khushwant invited Mrs Gandhi over to dinner to meet some foreign journalists. Usually, however, you can expect to be back home by 9.30, the hour when many are pouring their first drink of the evening. The person really responsible for the implementation of this strict routine is Khushwant’s wife, Kaval. As one guest rightly put it, She is better at ‘protecting’ Khushwant than all the security guards who camp outside his house.

I once met a writer who said, I am not writing too much these days because I have nothing to say. But Khushwant has something new and newsy to say to the world week after week. To be able to write a readable column every seven days is no mean achievement. Culling out the best of these writings is indeed a formidable task and I lay no claim to having achieved it. I have taken the easy way out by confining this book to three parts—dealing respectively with some of the personalities Khushwant has written about and some of the places he has visited. The third part includes some of his thoughts on various topics—Khushwant at his philosophical best, one might call it. In this division, there are many exceptionally well-written pieces which have unfortunately got excluded. For this omission, I plead guilty.

Khushwant seems to be at his best when writing about people—the near, the dear, the distant, the despised; he is perceptive, quick to praise and equally quick to highlight human failings. The first section starts with Khushwant turning the telescope on himself. This piece has been written specially for this book. The rest of the section includes candid portraits of people, most of whom have been in the public eye. There are three pieces on Zail Singh, and two on Rajiv Gandhi—written at different times, they reflect changed opinions and circumstances.

The second part is a travelogue of Khushwant’s visits to various parts of India and abroad. Since he travels fairly extensively and usually not merely on business, confined to hotel rooms, these pieces bring you the feel, the smell, the sights and the legends surrounding cities.

The third part includes a selection of Khushwant’s writings on some of the burning issues of our time—the menace of communalism and terrorism, the immolation of brides, the death penalty. Some merely state facts while others offer solutions.

I have thoroughly enjoyed compiling this book and catching up on the doses of Malice that I happened to have missed. I am sure Khushwant’s other readers join me in wishing him many, many more years of active and alive writing.

Rohini Singh


With Malice Unspared


Seeing Oneself

The gods in their wisdom did not grant me the gift of seeing myself as others see me. They must have thought knowing what others thought of me might engender suicidal tendencies in me and decided to let me stew in my own self-esteem. Now I am up against the formidable task of having to write about myself. The young lady who is compiling, sifting and editing an anthology of these articles insists that the collection will not be complete without a prefatory piece on what I think of myself.

It is a daunting assignment. Have you ever tried to look at yourself squarely in the eyes in your own mirror? Try it and you will understand what I mean. Within a second or two you will turn your gaze from your eyes to other features—as women do when they are making up or men do when they are shaving. Looking into the depths of one’s own eyes reveals the naked truth. The naked truth about onself can be very ugly.

I know I am an ugly man. Physical ugliness has never bothered me nor inhibited me from making overtures to the fairest of women. I am convinced that only empty-headed nymphomaniacs look out for handsome gigolos. They have no use for the likes of me; I have no use for the likes of them. My concern is not with my outward appearance, my untidy turban, unkempt beard or my glazed look (I have been told that my eyes are that of a lustful badmaash) but what lies behind the physical, the real me compounded of conflicting emotions like love and hate, general irritability and occasional equipoise, angry denunciation and tolerance of another’s point of view, rigid adherence to self-prescribed regimen and accommodation of others’ convenience. And so on. It is on these qualities that I will dwell in making an estimate of myself.

First I must dispose of the question which people often ask me: What do you think of yourself as a writer? Without appearing to wear the false cloak of humility, let me say quite honestly that I do not rate myself very highly. I can tell good writing from the not so good, the first-rate from the passable. I know that of the Indians or the Indian-born, Nirad Chaudhuri, Naipaul, Salman Rushdie, Amitava Ghosh and Vikram Seth handle the English language better than I. I also know I can, and have, written as well as any of the others—R.K. Narayan, Mulk Raj Anand, Malgaonkar, Ruth Jhabvala, Nayantara Sahgal or Anita Desai. What is more, unlike most in the first or the second category, I have never laid claims to being a great writer. I regard self-praise to be the utmost form of vulgarity. Almost every Indian writer I have met is prone to laud his or her achievements. This is something I have never done. Nor ever solicited awards or recognition. Nor ever spread false stories of being considered for the Nobel Prize for literature. The list of prominent Indians who spread such canards about themselves is formidable: Vatsyayan (Agyeya), G.V. Desani, Dr Gopal Singh Dardi (Governor of Goa), Kamla Das and many others.

Am I a likeable man? I am not sure. I do not have many friends because I do not set much store by friendship. I have found that friends, however nice and friendly they may be, demand more time than I am willing to spare. I get easily bored with people and would rather read a book or listen to music than converse with anyone for too long. I have had a few very close friends in my time. I am ashamed to admit that when some of them dropped me, instead of being upset, I felt relieved. And when some died, I cherished their memory more than I did their company when they were alive.

I have the same attitude towards women who I have liked or loved. It does not take much for me to get deeply emotional about women. Often at the very first meeting I feel I have found the Helen I was seeking, and like Majnoon sifting the sands of desert wastes my quest for Laila was over. None of these infatuations lasted very long. At times betrayal of trust hurt me deeply but nothing left lasting scars on my psyche. The only lesson I learnt was that as soon as you sense the others cooling off, be the one to drop them. Dropping people gives you a sense of triumph; being dropped one of defeat which leaves the ego wounded. I do not have the gift of friendship. Nor the gift of loving or being loved.

Hate is my stronger passion. Mercifully it has never been directed against a community but only against certain individuals. I hate with a passion unworthy of anyone who would like to describe himself as civilized. I try my best to ignore them but they are like an aching tooth which I am periodically compelled to feel with my tongue to assure myself that it still hurts. My hate goes beyond people I hate. I drop people who befriend them. My enemy’s friends become my enemies.

Hate does not always kill the man who hates, as is maintained by the sanctimonious. Unrepressed hate can often be a catharsis. Shakespeare could gnash his teeth with righteous hatred:

You common cry of cours whose breath I hate

As reek O’ the rotten fens, whose loves I prize

As the dead carcases of unburied men

That do corrupt the air.

Fortunately there are not many people I hate. I could count them on the tips of fingers of one hand—no more than four or five. And if I told you why I hate them, you may agree that they deserve contempt and hatred.

I hate name-droppers. I hate self-praisers. I hate arrogant men, I hate liars. Is there anything wrong in hating them? People ask me, why can’t you leave them alone? Why can’t you ignore their existence? Now, that is something I cannot do. I cannot resist making fun of name droppers, calling liars liars on their faces. And I love abusing the arrogant. I have been in trouble many times because of my inability to resist mocking these types. And since most name droppers, self-praisers and arrogant men go from success to success, become ministers, governors and win awards they don’t deserve, my anger often explodes into denouncing them in print. I have been dragged into courts and before the Press Council. This can be a terrible waste of time and money. I think I will have wax images of my pet hates and vent my spleen on them by sticking pins in their effigies. May the fleas of a thousand camels infest their armpits!

I am not a nice man to know.


An Unfulfilled Dream

The world has begun to depress me. It may be that in the twilight years I have abandoned the zest for living and am preparing myself for the night of which I know nothing and the promised dawn in which I do not believe. On further self-analysis I am convinced that my depression is not entirely due to any morbid forethoughts of my demise. It is more due to the shattering of the dreams of my youth that the world has become a depressing place.

In my younger days I dreamt that within a matter of a decade or two, people would be free, there would be no tensions between nations and no wars, everyone would have enough to eat, drink and live in comfort; gifted men and women would enrich our lives with good books, pictures, music and dance. For some time things seemed to move in that direction. Many nations attained independence and began to settle their problems by talking to each other. We overcame most diseases, began to produce more food and make life worth living. All that remained to be done was to free the human race from the bondage of racial prejudice and religious bigotry and create an atmosphere in which people in power would not try to impose their views on their fellow citizens.

Alas! Racial prejudice not only continued as it was in the medieval ages but even erupted in the most virulent form in a state which I hoped would set an example to other nations on how to treat their racial minorities. The Soviet treatment of Jews is an even more sinister development than the treatment of blacks in South Africa or Rhodesia. Being an agnostic, I looked forward to a world where the new generation would free itself of the mumbo-jumbo of the archaic religious practices and yet be truthful, helpful and decent towards each other. Religion too has re-erupted in different forms all over the globe. Catholics fight Protestants, Copts fight Muslims, Muslims fight Jews. President Carter and Begin quote the Bible at each other. Heads of Muslim states find it necessary to proclaim they are Muslims. In Pakistan, General Zia-ul-Haq reintroduces chopping of limbs and flogging in public. No one protests. I take a look at my own country. Our new rulers tell us that we are going back to Gandhi—whatever that means. In effect all they are doing is using Gandhi as a broom to sweep away Nehru. The Punjab is ruled by Akali zealots. Many other states by equally zealous Hindu bigots sporting caste marks on their foreheads. Muslim friends advise me that if I mean to retain my image as a friend of the Muslims, I must not write anything critical pertaining to their personal law—including polygamy and the lesser status that their women (in comparison to others) have now been relegated to. The cow is once again sacred (to me so are other animals, particularly cats and dogs); and liquor is the worst form of poison. All these are beyond argument. This is not the India I dreamt of forty years ago. And I find it utterly depressing.

What Price Prohibition?

The Prime Minister has often repeated that he has an open mind on the question of liquor and if anyone can persuade him that prohibition is wrong he will change it. His open mind is a myth which no one believes in except himself. To the best of my knowledge he has never entered into a dialogue with an anti-prohibitionist and convinced him or her of his point of view. And on one occasion when he brought up the subject with me it was quite apparent that while he was eager to discuss the subject, he was not willing to change his mind.

The prohibitionists tell us that drinking is against India’s tradition, a very small percentage of the population drink and the money lost in excise will be more than made up by savings in personal expenses of erstwhile drinkers. All these points are made with greater force in Pakistan where, because of Islamic injunctions against liquor, a much smaller proportion of the population than the Indian indulge in drink. The martial law regime of General Zia, in its enthusiasm to propagate the Nizam-i-Mustafa (rule of the Prophet), banned liquor a few months ago. The following report in The Viewpoint of Lahore tells us how prohibition is working in Pakistan:

"As things stand at present, no appreciable decrease has occurred in the number of drinkers. Only, now they have to buy their quantity of liquor at exorbitant rates and, of course, in the black market. Previously they could buy Murree brands and the homemade stuff, now they have to buy foreign stuff, which is available in plenty.

"Pride of place belongs to the Indian whisky Solan which is smuggled at the price of Rs 40 per bottle and sold at Rs 200.

"When evening descends on Lahore, rows of vehicles, scooters, motor-bikes

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