Khushwant Singh: 'The dirty old man' gets candid again

Last Updated: Tue, Jan 25, 2011 11:22 hrs

Name: Absolute Khushwant
Authors: Khushwant Singh and Humra Quraishi
Published by: Penguin Books
Price: Rs 250

Khushwant Singh is now India's grand old man of letters.

Publishers Penguin and author Humra Qureshi decided to seat him on the throne of judgment and glean his verdict on life, death and most things in between.

The result is Absolute Khushwant, made lively by the 95-year-old's still luminous impishness, wit and boldness.

So, even the rare moments of dreariness occasioned, for instance, by a rundown of the pills he is taking vaporise as passages such as these follow: "But yes, my heart is still young ... dil badmaash hai (the heart is naughty) ... bure bure khayaal aate hain (wicked thoughts emerge)... I fantasize."

And while there is not as much of the bure bure khayaal as the voyeuristically inclined might hope for, there is one chapter titled All about Sex, where Khushwant lets loose with statements like 'A partner once bedded becomes a bore' before holding forth on the more intimate aspects of his life.

The chapter Love and Marriage that follows sees him sharing his views on arranged marriages: In arranged marriages, the parties first make each other's acquaintance physically, by exploring each other's bodies and it is only after some of the lust has been drained out of their systems that they get the chance to discover each other's minds and personalities.

It is the kind of no-holds-barred candour and unpredictability that has made Khushwant Singh India's most famous living journalist and this book showcases it in spadefuls.

His other big calling card has been his closeness to the famous Indian personalities.

Absolute Khushwant explores this relationship in some detail allowing him to dissect Jawaharlal Nehru (an exemplary leader, but not above political chicanery and nepotism), Indira Gandhi (stern, severe and cold) and Sanjay Gandhi whom he lets on he admires more than Rajiv Gandhi (the boy scout).

There are assessments of the latest generation of Gandhis - Rahul and Varun - too.

And mind you, it is not all about the Gandhis when it comes to politics.

There is a delightful tidbit about Manmohan Singh and the loan of Rs 2 lakhs that Khushwant advanced to the man whom he rates as the best Indian Prime Minister ever.

When it comes to LK Advani, till recently the leader of opposition, he is scathing, terming him the "one man who has done more damage than any other".

Another chapter that finds him in roaring form is On being a writer. 'Almost every Indian writer I have met lauds his or her achievements' is but one among his many deliciously wicked observations about them.

Khushwant also shares his biggest worries, regrets and his views on the British, on Partition, on religion, on death, on the 1984 Sikh riots, on the 26/11 Mumbai terror attack, on the people whom he respects and admires...

In the midst of all this, the book attempts to yield us a glimpse of the real him.

A lover of solitude, who gains inspiration from Rabindranath Tagore's 'Ekla Chalo' (Walk Alone).

A caring husband, who had to live with the heartbreak of seeing his "possessive and aggressive" wife's growing fondness for another man.

And an agnostic, who as he confesses in one chapter, has never wasted a moment in prayers, love affairs or relationships.

Dirty old man? Not quite. But what emerges in its place is a more endearing portrait.

When it comes to the writing, there are a handful of editorial tics that Humra and the Penguin editors ought to have spotted.

Even more glaring, however, is the mention in Page 128 of Advani as the BJP's candidate for the top job (Prime Minister). Surely that could have been avoided in a book published in 2010.

Those minor blips aside, Absolute Khushwant is a good buy for the existing legion of Khushwant fans across India and also for the neo converts.

Buy now: Absolute Khushwant - The low down on life, death and most things in between

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