Khushwant Singh as I Knew, Read and Understood Him
How pleasant to know Mr. Lear!
Who has written such volumes of stuff!
Some think him ill-tempered and queer,
But a few think him pleasant enough.
His mind is concrete and fastidious,
His nose is remarkably big;
His visage is more or less hideous,
His beard it resembles a wig.
- Edward Lear in the poem How Pleasant to Know Mr. Lear
(Edited By Margaret Ferguson, Mary Jo Salter, Jon Stallworthy, The Norton Anthology of Poetry, Shorter Fourth Edition,W.W. Norton & Company, New York, London, 1997, p. 580-81)
A damsel with a dulcimer
In a vision once I saw:
It was an Abyssinian maid,
And on her dulcimer she played,
Singing of Mount Abora.
Could I revive within me
Her symphony and song,
To such a deep delight ’twould win me,
- S.T.Coleridge in the poem Kubla Khan (Ibid, p.429)
Yon rising Moon that looks for us again—
How oft hereafter will she wax and wane;
How oft hereafter rising look for us
Through this same Garden--and for one in vain!
And when like her, oh Saki, you shall pass
Among the Guests Star-scattered on the Grass,
And in your joyous errand reach the spot
Where I made One — turn down an empty Glass!
- The Rubaiyat of Omar Khyyam of Naishapur by Edward Fitzgerald (Ibid, p. 530)
“A lawyer by training, Khushwant Singh’s most enduring work has been done in the field of Sikh history and biography, and his full-length portrait of Ranjit Singh vividly brings out the leader, the ruler and the man. He has also published two novels, Train to Pakistan (1956) and I Shall Not Hear the Nightingale (1959), two collections of short stories, The Mark of Vishnu (1950) and A Bride for the Sahib (1967), and he has translated Rajinder Singh Bedi’s Urdu novel Ek Chadar Maili Si into English as I Take This Woman (1966). Train to Pakistan projects with pitiless precision a picture of the bestial horrors enacted on the Indo-Pakistan border region during the terror-haunted days of August 1947. The “leaders” had sowed the wind of communal suspicion, and Partition was the result; like a whirlwind, the mad act of Partition was uprooting masses of humanity, mangling them, and throwing them across the border in heap after heap.”
- K R Srinavasa Iyengar, Indian Writing In English, Sterling Publishers Private Limited, New Delhi , Reprint 1993, p.498
“Of Mano Majra the novelist writes:
Mano Majra is a tiny place. It has only three brick buildings, one of which is the home of the moneylender Lala Ram Lal. The other two are the Sikh temple and the mosque… There are only about seventy families in Mano Majra, and Lala Ram Lal’s is the only Hindu family. The others are Sikhs and Muslims, about equal in number…there is one object which all Mano Majrans — even Lala Ram Lal — venerate. There is a three-foot slab of sandstone that stands upright under a keekar tree beside the pond. It is the local deity, the deo to which all the villagers — Hindu, Sikh, Muslim or pseudo-Christian — repair secretly whenever they are in special need of blessing.”
(Khushwant Singh’s Train to Pakistan, Quoted by Iyengar, ibid, p.498)
“The Golden Temple has monopolized Amritsar’s scene since the day the fourth Guru, Ram Das, had its foundations laid over four hundred years ago and named it Harimandir—the temple of God. It was first known after its founder, Ram Das Pur. It changed its name to the waters which surround the central edifice re-created in marble and gold leaf by Maharajah Ranjit Singh to Amritsar, the proof of nectar. The dip in the holy waters cleanses you of your sins committed earlier: Amritsar Sarovar nehtey sab utray paap kamaatey. It is also known as Sift daa ghar — the house of praise.”
- Khushwant Singh in ‘An unequal life’ under This Above All column, The Telegraph Saturday 17 July 2004, Calcutta, p.10
In the history of Indian English prose, be that novel writing, short story, literary pieces or sketches or columns as gossips and chats, there is none to rival him, let him down in his art of portrayal, comic sense, satiric jibes and sense of humor. A short story writer, a novelist, an autobiographer, a regional historian, a journalist and a columnist, he ekes out, treks along and trudges across a vast realm of writing. His prosaic corpus is vaster and his knowledge encyclopedic as because he encompasses in the wit and humor of the whole twentieth century in prose, featured as his talks, chats, gossips and one may call them columns. He is not a poet, but his heart poetic, as he keeps translating or reading Urdu poetry, a master of Hindustani. He can trace the history and origin of the Sindhi language and can tell of the Zoroastrians, not only the faith, tradition and culture of theirs, but the most beautiful maidens of theirs popular in India as housewives or celebrities. A Punjabi, turbaned, long-haired and bearded, old and centurion, he is like the old mariner of Coleridge:
It is an ancient Mariner
And he stoppeth one of three.
- “By thy long grey beard and glittering eye,
Now wherefore stopp’st thou me?
The Bridegroom’s doors are opened wide,
And I am next of kin;
The guests are met, the feast is set:
May’st hear the merry din.”
- S.T.Coleridge in The Rime of The Ancient Mariner (Ibid, p.431)
If one who has not read him will not come to feel it the nuances of Indianness felt through the Punjabi rhythm of life. Khushwant Singh was born on 2 February 1915 is an Indian novelist and journalist. Singh’s weekly column, With Malice towards One and All, carried by several newspapers, is among the most widely-read columns in the country which he stopped sometime ago before his death when he started falling sick and unhealthy. An Indo-Anglian novelist, Singh is best known for his trenchant secularism, his sense of humor, acidic satire and an abiding love of poetry. An observer of social and behavioral characteristics, he excelled in wit. He served as editor of several literary and news magazines, through the 1970s and 1980s.
Khushwant Singh, born in Hadali on 2 Feb.,1915, under Khushab District, Punjab (now Sargodha, Pakistan), in a Sikh family, the son of Sir Sobha Singh, was educated at Modern School, New Delhi, St. Stephen’s College, Delhi, Government College, Lahore, King’s College, London and called to the bar at the Inner Temple. After having practiced law for some years at Lahore Court, they moved to India and in 1947, he joined the Foreign Service in various capacities, as Information Officer of the Govt. of India in Toronto, Press Attaché and Public Officer for the Indian High Commission in London and Ottawa, working in the Department of Mass Communications of the UNESCO in Paris, All India Radio as a journalist.
In 1956, he turned to editorial assignments and edited the Yojana, the Illustrated Weekly of India, the National Herald, the Hindustan Times, from 1980 to 86, had been a member of the Rajya Sabha, he had been an establishment liberal, supported the emergency too but was disturbed as for the siege of the Golden Temple, Amritsar in 1984 and returned the award given by the Govt. Again, he got hurt when the anti-Sikh riots broke out in the aftermath of India’s assassination. A recipient of several prizes and awards, Padma Bhushan in 1974, Honest Man of the Year, Sulabh International in 2000, Punjab Rattan award, the Govt. of Punjab in 2006, Padma Vibhushan in 2007, Fellow of King’s College, London in 2014 and others, Khushwant Singh is also known as a novelist, a short story writer, an essayist, a columnist, a journalist, a historian and a translator.
A writer he had been always in the line of fire, earning a trenchant for biting satire and secularism, though not a politician but politicked he sometimes, a journo he knew the politics of coming into light and doing politics, fearless and undaunted in his acerbic attacks, using fun and humor as his tools to keep hale and hearty, one doing caricature, drinking, joking and making fun of even though was sober and serious and this the range of his light-hearted gossips and idle chats. A talk-giver, he turned brought literature and journalism close to and turned them into a lively talk, a gossip, a chat and this the tidbit of his literature. He was of the Punjabi and his jokes were Punjabi-Hindustani.
A long-living writer, for him, the whole century had been the canvas of his, an album of pictures and images, ideas and trends, a gallery of faces, portraits and images, those in art, science, theatre and he taking them up, recollecting the meets and visits, giving time to friendships and get-togethers and some meeting him over the lunch time, partaking of the drink and adhering to hilarity and the coloring and painting of the mood and as a satirist he learnt from life which taught him and the experiences of it rather than being scholastic as his career shows it to be.
As a writer, he is but a satirist, a laugher, laughing and joking and commenting and in his mockery was the aesthetic sense of art, the art of satire and criticism, literature as the criticism of life, the element of fun, pun and humor, the art of humor and the humorist and he deriving from to correct and comment, to say them ironically as humor was the forte of his, the feast, to engage and entertain the art of the gossip-master, the great old talker, holding the hand, conversing with.
Something of travels and tours, the Punjab, Lahore and Delhi and London, of Paris and Ottawa, something of migration and domicile, his birth, rearing, attachment and departure, schooling and profession, discovery of Punjab and the history of Sikhism, art and architecture, knowledge and wisdom, thought and idea, conversation and gossip, reminiscence and recollection, he carries with him, a writer of male domination, love, sex and relationship, combined with drinks and jokes, a drinker’s verse lying on the table.
As a short story writer of The Mark of Vishnu and Other Stories, 1950, The Voice of God and Other Stories, 1957, A Bride for the Sahib and Other Stories, 1967, he has countless to register in his name, the anecdotes turned into stories.
To quote in the words of Prof. M.K.Naik,
“For the bibliographer, Khushwant Singh is the author of four volumes of short stories − The Mark of Vishnu and Other Stories (1950); The Voice of God and Other Stories (1957): A Bride for the Sahib and Other Stories (1967) and Black Jasmine (1971). But in actual fact, a large majority of the stories in the first, second and fourth collections are the same. Singh’s most characteristic note is a rather heavy-handed satire on several aspects of modern Indian life, including bureaucracy (e.g., ‘Man How the Government of India Run’); democratic election procedures (e.g. ‘The Voice of God’); anglicized Indians (e.g. ‘A Bride for the Sahib); and Indians abroad (‘Mr. Kanjoos and The Great Miracle’). The uproarious farce in ‘Maiden Voyage of the Jai Hindia’ and ‘Rats and Cats in the House of Culture’ is also typical of this author, whose obsession with sex colours stories such as ‘The Rape’, ‘Kusum’ and ‘Morning of the Night Before’. In ‘The Mark of Vishnu’, ‘The Memsahib of Mandla’ and ‘Death Comes to Daulat Ram’ we find him drawing upon the supernatural and folk-lore--the usual stand-by of the Indian English short story writer. That Khushwant Singh is not entirely incapable of more delicate effects is proved by stories like ‘A Love Affair in London’ and ‘The Portrait of a Lady’-- a memorable pen-portrait of a grandmother, recalling old Sabrai in I shall Not Hear the Nightingale.”
(M.K.Naik, A History of Indian English Literature, Sahitya Akademi, New Delhi, 1982, Ibid, p.248)
A novelist of Train to Pakistan, 1956, I Shall Not Hear The Nightingale, 1959, Delhi: A Novel, 1990, The Company of Women, 1999, he astonishes us with his profundity; the screws, turns and twists of the matter. Train to Pakistan is a Partition novel dealing with the partition people which the author Krishan Chunder in the story The Peshawar Express and K.A. Abbas in his short story The Refugee too take upon to deal with the grim and grisly situation; the gory and ghastly scene.
Let us see how Prof. M.K. Naik assesses him in Chapter 5 named The Asoka Pillar: Independence And After:
“The realism of Khuswant Singh is of an earthier variety. He has declared that his ‘roots are in the dunghill of a tiny Indian village’ and his fiction reeks with the odor of his roots. One of his characters says, ‘It was not possible to keep Indians off the subject of sex for long. It obsessed their minds.’ Whatever the measure of truth in this generalization, it is certainly valid in the case of this novelist. Khuswant Singh also appears to take a markedly irreverent view of Indian life and character. His style, hard and vigorous, employs colorful Punjabi expletives and terms of abuse a la Anand while his irony is honed like a Sikh sword.
Khuswant Singh’s first novels Train to Pakistan (1956) (Mano Majra in the American edition,1956) illustrates all these features of his art. The impact of Partition on a small village on the Indo-Pakistan border is shown here with pitiless realism of description and the swift tempo of the narrative carries the reader along. The integrity of the novel is however flawed in two ways: the only role that Iqbal, the Communist who comes to the village for party work, seems to play is that of acting as the mouthpiece of the author; and there is also the conventionally romantic motif of the love of Jugga, the Sikh village gangster, for (of course) a Muslim girl, in saving whom he duly sacrifices his life.” (Ibid, p. 220)
To quote him again:
“I shall Not Hear the Nightingale (1959) has a greater authenticity, though the crudity persists. The novel presents an ironic picture of a Sikh joint family illustrative of different Indian reactions to the freedom movement of the ’forties, including double-dealing, posing and treachery. In Buta Singh, the magistrate, the novelist has mercilessly pilloried Indian officialdom. Khushwant Singh’s obsession with sex results in exercises in copulation involving major characters as well as minor in practically every chapter. The only character that wins our respect is the old mother Sabhrai who has ‘the dignity of an ancient people behind her.’ The novel derives its title from her reply to her son’s assurance that after Independence, ‘once more the Nightingales will sing.’ She says, I shall not hear the Nightingale ’ − a sentiment in tune with the temper of the novel.”
(M.K. Naik, Ibid, p.220-21)
There was an Old Man with a beard,
Who said, “It is just as I feared!—
Two Owls and a Hen, four Larks and a Wren
Have all built their nests in my beard!”
Edward Lear in the poem ‘There was an Old Man with a Beard’
(The Norton Anthology of Poetry, ibid, p.579)
As an autobiographer of Truth, Love and a Little Malice, 2002, he is a whistleblower, maybe a blackmailer, talking about girls and the company of women.
A historian with the titles The History of Sikhs, 1953, Ranjit Singh: The Maharajah of the Punjab, 1963 and others, he is prolific and wide-ranging.
A writer as controversial as Thomas Hardy, D.H. Lawrence and G.B. Shaw, he had been of his stance, a Kubla Khan and Omar Khayyam of his type, talking about wine and the company of women, kisses and misses, wine, sex and literature, leaking out the extra-marital affair and live-in relationship or enlightening, sometimes making a reference of the women loved and lost and the women lodging casing against him as for skirmishes or jokes, mystified or understandable, saucy, salty and spiced for literature and popularity sake. Instead of being a great a comedian, a caricature-doer, a satirist in verse, a writer controversial and politicking, drinking and feeling the pleasures of writing he was sarcastic and sardonic, honest and confessional, a romantic of his type and this forms the base of the portrait of an artist as a young man and he was, apart from being the grand old man of letters, the Great Sardarji, we mean the Lion of Punjab, Mr. Khushwant Singh.
Though the critics of his may charge with a libel, as for the sleaze, may be he, the dirty old man of literature, as he knows not to rein in and instead keeps on saying whatever it comes to his mouth, love, sex or friendship, a writer earning the sobriquet of eat, drink and be merry, draws from the theory of consumption, Hedonism and consumerism, the bottle the source of his inspiration, his Muse and the moonstruck, Cupid-hit heart and after having drunk, he hearing thumri, ghazal and shayari, old wine drenching slowly and classical music too going on slowly.
A lover of controversies, which never left him behind, followed him wherever went he, a drinker drank he wine and the varieties of it, telling about tastes and flavors, drank it himself, made others too, keeping the company of, tried to blackmail or got he blackmailed, wanted he to be a politician, but fell short of, a reader, a commentator, a critic of life, he was, Mr. Khushwant Singh the man and writer, the journo and the politico as he knew the politics of being in the limelight, dodging the age, gossiped he about love, sex and company.
Khushwant Singh the Punjabi novelist, short-story writer, essayist, autobiographer, which talk we is also a columnist, editor, reader and writer of prose. A journo and politico, he is so funny, so humorous, so witty, ironical and sarcastic, a master cracker of jokes, taking a fillip and saying it all, inculcating doublespeak and invoice.
An old man, the grand old man of letters, in his dyed beards and hair, never looked old and frail, always entertaining with and sharing a joke, a hearty laugh, which but all liked to enjoy. There was nothing hidden from as he lived and shared in his own way, a commentator of the age and style, life and living-style, manner and etiquette, even in the old age he felt like eat, drink and be merry.
As an essayist, a writer of sketches and reflections, all covered up in columns, Khushwant Singh was like our A.G. Gardiner, Robert Lynd, Jerome K. Jerome and if we call him the Edward Lear of Indian English prose, it will be no mistake of ours, a writer so funny and so extraordinary, talking with the visitor, sharing a hearty laugh and living a healthy living. A controversialist, he had been always in the humdrum, hobnobbing of life, self-assessing and self-scrutinizing it always, always picking up to create a flutter, once kissed he the daughter of the Pakistani ambassador out of filial love to be in a whirlwind of the storm, into the fire line, a writer wrote he about daru, ladki and sex, a lover of Vatsyayana and Lawrence.
Who is in love with whom, who had an affair with whom and where, whose winked at whom, who liked what, how had it been the trend and tradition of the then times and of now, how dressed we and who what, he could tell it all, reminiscing and remembering to catch on the mental camera and to reflect and penetrate deep into the time-spirit, the time-lime?
Though the people call him liberal and light, but Khushwant Singh was not at all so, a very serious man indeed, sober and elegant, even failing son Rahul Singh in appearance and presentation, looking more smart than and people astonished to see him, dyed, painted and dented. A writer, he could tell of Elizabeth and Victoria, Maharaja Ranjit Singh, Nehru and Mountbatten and the Partition literature, of the Sikhs and Sikhism, the colonial and the post-colonial times not in terms of critical cannons and division, but the world as he saw it, British India and Post-1947 India.
The sense of humor which it had been so strong in him that he could do it all to make one burst into a laughter, to caricature it so well, using fun, pun and irony, taking about fashion, life and the trend of it, history, politics, art and culture, the changing scenarios and landscapes.
Adding the experiences of life in column writing, he took us by surprise and storm, doing marvels with the use of a pinch of salt and spices, serving salty and spicy things to take, had the quality of boxing below the permissible level, of raking the dead and making them stirred, Khushwant was Khushwant, no comparison with him anymore.
Just like the mariner of Coleridge’s The Rime of The Ancient Mariner, holding the hand of the wedding guest, the writer kept telling the tales of life, art and philosophy and the listener like the silent listeners of Walter de la Mare hearing, saying it not. Just like the Martha of Walter de la Mare, the protagonist kept saying the stories and the children hearing in the hazel glen, such the spell and incantation of his write-ups and columns, even the presidents and prime ministers could not turn over his good words regaling and recreating, making a self-criticism of.
His laughing stock was unfathomable, his ready wit and humor, hearty laughs and lively jokes, funny ideas and remarks even used to entertain the man under criticism and the taker, always making a self-criticism of his to understand himself best. Satiric, ironic, humorous, witty and sarcastic, trendy, controversial, epigrammatic and ironical, he used to caricature and joke with, used to take, we mean drink, not cold drinks, but something hot-hot to warm up and used to write too to regale and entertain it all.
A Punjabi, he could tell of the Punjab jointly, the East and the West of it, Heer and Ranjha, the folktales doing the rounds, the robust culture and diet of his, tandoori and tadaka; the history of the Punjab and Sikhism, a researcher researching to reveal, one telling about the painful Partition and the pathetic sequence of it, history, culture, politics and philosophy; Yoga, bhoga and health fitness, age and ageing and growing with it, morning walkers and their jogging. He could dwell upon whatever it came to his mind and used to take to as for a delving and delineation even the slightest things, the trivial things of life and society, please and thank you to goodbye, why but and put are different in pronunciation, though the spelling almost alike, why the South Indian names longer to be written to shayari, ghazal and thumri and quawalli, the purdahwalli, the bai nautch to nautch girls.
A bottle of wine on the desk, he taking it and the mood coloring and he taking the things in his stride with the flight of imagination, color and romance, writing about rum, Scotch, beer, whisky, brandy, vodka, champagne and their tastes, the new bottles with old wine, just the labels new, the old and new heroines and their affairs jokingly, who had been with whom?
To make the people laugh, burst into a laughter had been the credibility of his, a writer so witty, ironical and light-hearted, so serious and controversial, so bold and daring, even the man criticized used to laugh after hearing him, as such had been the man, the writer Khushwant Singh, sometimes wanting to translate the Gayatri mantra, sometimes striving to search for the meaning and the vibration of Om, sometimes talking of jogging and the jazz, the break dances, bell-bots and the blues, the whores and the concubines.
During the Operation Blue Star, he showed his undaunted courage to speak, to turn down the coveted prizes offered to and in the aftermath of Indira’s assassination, he resisted and protested against the atrocities on the Sikhs, the ire vented out foolishly, fought a case with Menaka as for his book, a writer so controversial and daring, representing the Punjab and its robust culture, hale and hearty viewpoint and outlook, upholding that in its true spirit. To see it otherwise, Khushwant Singh is a James Joycean and Henry Jamesian character, reading A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and The Portrait of a Lady and evaluating himself. As the author protagonist Joyce runs after Mangan’s sister in the short sketch Araby in his quest after beauty similar is the case with him, again to compare and contrast with, as Rosemary Fell behaves with the beggar girl out of jealousy in Mansfield’s A Cup of Tea short story similar the thing of his choice and liking. Oscar Wilde’s The Model Millionaire, the rich man sitting as a poor model in the art studio drawn by the artist friend, but pitied by another visitor fellow is another example of reading him in variation and gathering the ideas and images from.
An epitome of eat, drink and be merry, deriving from Charvak, borrow the loan, but take it clarified butter, he used to hold a healthy view for a healthy living, but was not a yogi but a bhogi, a man of worldly wisdom and practical values. Meditational yoga, he could not scale it higher, just the ale-houseman and the bar tender engaged him most, but instead of being godless and agnostic, he believed what others lacked in, as did he the confession of them with an open heart of his, the things which he lacked in or should have they. The last but not the least his is a piyakkad’s, a hard drinker’s assessment of life and the other thing is this that he is obsessed with the girl mania, one after the fair sex as D.H. Lawrence was in Sons and Lovers, Women in Love, The Rainbow, Lady Chatterley’s Lover and The Virgin and the Gypsy.
One thing that is correct to say that he had not been creative in his college days nor had the intention of becoming a writer and he turned to it luckily. The other thing is this that he had also something of a cringing nature as had been close to Mrs. Indira Gandhi during the critical emergency, which he supported too axing at his base of Sikhism and the Sikhistic people. He was such a writer who often triggered speculations; sparks and people doubted doubt him over sensing trouble, fuming and brewing. Some call him the dirty old man with the caption, daru piyo and write. Barring love, sex and Scotch, the company of women and relationship, he has nothing to talk with, which the darumen often entertain it indeed. It is also a reality that a daruman keeps selling and taking daru day and night. There is no talk to do, but daru, Indian or foreign. A seller too a daruman and a taker too so as for to be with it. He knows no limits in his talking, often transgresses beyond. Just the word of excuse, take it not, dismisses it all the charge levelled against, as we see say it during the Holi festival, take it not bad, this is Holi, a festival of colors, paints and dyes, hence get you colored, let the colored water be poured over or sprinkled on. The other charge against him is this that he could never understand the heart of a woman, full with the milk of kindness and suppressed for so long, was masculine in his vigor and assessment, which he could have at least instead of relishing upon liquor, brewed from different fruits and food contents, after being unmindful of the people living below the poverty line. A man from the upper stratum, he could never feel that.
Khushwant singh is not the dirty old man of India, but the daruman of Indian English literature and he will review and read not for if a cup of coffee is given, but for a peg of fermented, brewed and distilled wine he can do that if offered to him, we mean foreign liquor, not desi but videshi daru and he sipping and enjoying life, with eat, drink and be merry, don’t mind, don’t care, be happy. Who called him the dirty old man and why, this has got some reasons, whether we know them or not, a dirty man as for talking about love, kiss, sex, live-in and extra-marital affairs, in the know of or leaking them, as and when confessing about love and attachment in his old age, playing the record of the younger-time love which may disturb many settled families. And he is not only the dirty man, but the daruman of literature, as because one who takes is a daru taker and the one who sells too is so and it is a reality that both of them take to daru, Indian daru or foreign daru, actually daru is daru, giving intoxication to, a spirited thing and as he is in the habit of taking, so keeps he eulogizing the bottles and can tell about the relishing of the brands, old and new, some as old wine in new bottles and labels, but the tastes and flavors of all those known to him.
Be it beer, brandy, rum or vodka, Scotch, whisky, champagne or any other brand, but mahua took not his pen and though he could tell about, wrote not so as he about those, first a Sikh then a politico journo, drinking and partying, enjoying and relishing upon Acharya Rajneesh’s sambhoga to Samadhi, Vatsyayna’s Kamsuttras, a writer D.H. Lawrentine and in the line of Omar Khayyam. The company of women talked he about, the green and red light areas, the whore house and the things related to, sex, Scotch, love and relationship, blackmailing and leaking, funny and saner, sober and serious sometimes, he was a man of the world, knowledge and wisdom, worldly gait and going, sometimes tricking and pinching, sometimes giving a twist and turn and sometimes serving with salt and spices to make it dainty and palatable.
While dwelling upon ‘Memory of a dawn’ under This Above All column, the columnist writes:
“Most of the English-speaking world know of Khayyam through translations by F.J.Fitzgerald. His translations first appeared in 1859. Many connoisseurs are of the opinion, with which I am inclined to concur, that his translations read better than the original.”
(The Telegraph, Saturday, 13 March 2004, p.12)
A voracious reader and a multi-faceted personality, he used to read books and was a lover of the poetry of George Meredith, Rudyard Kipling, D.H. Lawrence; Surya Kant Tripathy ‘Nirala’, Nissim Ezekiel, Keki N. Daruwalla and so on. Night of the Scorpion, The Ship of Death and other poems, he used to quote about in his columns to dwell upon the stray topics and random reflections of own. As for Bacon essays are dispersed meditations so are these for Khushwant Singh. The gamut and gimmick of his none has come to understand them. In Death at My Door, he has tried to feel all that which is as the final writ of destiny. John Donne’s Death, Be Not Proud, Thomas Hardy’s Aferwards, C.G. Rossetti’s Up-hill, John Keats’ The Terror of Death, etc. can enlighten anyone seeker after it. It is very difficult to assess a personality like that of Khushwant Singh (February 2, 1915 – March 20, 2014) as his scattered matters and literary stuffs still need to be collected and gathered to be put into a unified whole.
Now it is autumn and the falling fruit
and the long journey towards oblivion.
The apples falling like great drops of dew
to bruise themselves an exit from themselves.
And it is time to go, to bid farewell
to one’s own self, and find an exit
from the fallen self.
Have you built your ship of death, O have you?
O build your ship of death, for you will need it.
The grim frost is at hand, when the apples will fall
thick, almost thunderous, on the hardened earth.
And death is on the air like a smell of ashes!
Ah! can’t you smell it?
And in the bruised body, the frightened soul
finds itself shrinking, wincing from the cold
that blows upon it though the orifices.
− D.H.Lawrence in the poem The Ship of Death
( Palgrave’s Golden Treasury, With A Fifth Book Selected by John Press, Oxford Univ. Press, Calcutta, 2000, p.462)
Build then the ship of death, for you must take
the longest journey, to oblivion.
And die the death, the long and painful death
that lies between the old self and the new.
Already our bodies are fallen, bruised, badly bruised,
already our souls are oozing through the exit
of the cruel bruise.
Already the dark and endless ocean of the end
is washing in through the breaches of our wounds,
already the flood is upon us.
Oh build your ship of death, your little ark
and furnish it with food, with little cakes, and wine
for the dark flight down oblivion.
− D.H.Lawrence in the part V of The Ship of Death