Khushwant Singh


Not one to mince his words, India's most admired writer, Sardar Khushwant Singh, recently appeared at his candid best during the launch of his latest book, Why I Supported the Emergency - a bold, thought-provoking and immensely interesting collection of essays and profiles, compiled and edited by Sheela Reddy.

The 94-year-old writer's intellect remains intact, in spite of failing health and a number of ailments. The "dirty Sardar" looked frail in form but unbeaten and bold in spirit. As the author entered the venue - "Windsor Palace" at Le Meridien in New Delhi, India - he was surrounded by beautiful ladies of different age groups. They hugged, kissed and shook his hands, and made sure that he was comfortable - to the envy of all men present at the event.

The veteran writer, while thanking all present at the book launch said, "Every occasion I come to this venue, I say that this is the last time you would be extending your hospitality. I am saying it again but I promise not to come next time."

Vinod Mehta, the Editor-in-chief of Outlook, who was in conversation with the author, said, "When talking about Khushwant Singh, I don't know where to start and where to end." He brought out the best in the author by posing some tongue-in-cheek questions, which had the audience applauding. Here are the excerpts:

Q: You are unkind to dead people. Is it because the dead can't sue?
Khushwant Singh: I have a different approach to obits. When you write obits, you usually tend to write good things. But it should not be so. If the fellow is a rascal, say so. When I will go, a lot of people will say nasty things about me. I will not be there to read but I hope my family takes it in stride.

Q: Who is the most obnoxious person you have ever met?
Khushwant Singh: Krishna Menon. He tops my list of obnoxious men. I served him for four years and I know what kind of a human being he was. Another one is Rajni Patel, a friend since college, but he was extremely corrupt.
(Laughs) There are others also, but I can talk about Krishna Menon, because he is dead and he can't sue. That's pretty safe. There are others also, but they are living.

Q: It is said that the Brits carry sex in their mind. What do you have to say about Indians?
Khushwant Singh: Indians have sex more often in their brains and not where it should be. Sex is an elemental passion. It's an integral part of our life. All human relationship is based on the desire to have sex. It's human to have desire for sex and when it is not fulfilled, it comes out in *******ed forms. That is why celibacy does not work. The desire to have multiple partners is also normal. Married people commit adultery in their mind - happy married life is a façade. I have a collection of sex jokes, which I hope will be published posthumously.

Q: It is strange what two people do to each other in bed. Do you agree with Naipaul when he says that it is difficult to write about explicit sex in literature?
Khushwant Singh: You are being dishonest if you are not writing about sex in your book. It is very natural and normal. Well, I have earned the name of 'dirty old man' but there is not much sex in my books. What I have written is very serious stuff - biography, history, religious texts, etc.

Q: Tell us, how do you lure so many beautiful women?
Khushwant Singh: I still don't know but it is a fact that I have very attractive women dropping at my place. But as I grow old, I get bored. So, I don't mince my words when I say good bye pretty soon.

Q: What do you think of editing standards of today?
Khushwant Singh: In my time, the editor was the boss. Now, the editors are executive officers carrying out the orders of the owner of the publication. The news you get is in the first page, rest is all Bollywood and fashion. The crossword puzzle is the only interesting thing in newspapers these days.

Q: L.K. Advani doesn't seem to like you much. Your take?
Khushwant Singh: I am disappointed in him. He was an able and clean man. I supported him initially. After 1984, Sikhs did not want to vote for Congress. I put forward his name. He came to thank me. But when he was the Home Minister, and he came with his bodyguards in tow, during an event, I took the liberty to say, "You sowed the seed of communalism in the country and the country will pay for it." Advani doesn't womanize; such men are dangerous.

Q: You were called Indira Gandhi's 'chamcha'? Your take?
Khushwant Singh: I supported her when I thought she was right in imposing the emergency. With some reservations, I supported the Emergency proclaimed by Indira Gandhi on June 25, 1975. Let me explain why. I concede that the right to protest is integral to democracy. You can have public meetings to criticise or condemn government actions. You can take out processions, call for strikes and closure of businesses. But there must not be any coercion or violence. If there is any, it is the duty of the government to suppress it by force, if necessary

But when she curbed the freedom of press during the emergency, I withdrew my support. Indira Gandhi had the habit of snubbing whoever opposed her. She was waiting for a chance to snub me. I never gave her the chance as I never met her after that.

Q: You are soft on Sanjay Gandhi. What do you think of him?
Khushwant Singh: He was a highly misunderstood man. He was a doer, he got things right. We need his compulsory population method. His idea of tree plantation was also good. I agree he made a mess of the Maruti project, but he had his own way of doing things, I supported him and I have no regrets.

Q: You also called him a 'goonda' (thug) ...
Khushwant Singh: He was a dictator. I saw him fighting physically. India would have probably progressed much under him. But India would not have been a democracy.

Q: Who is the most admirable man you have ever met?
Khushwant Singh: Manmohan Singh. He is simple, has no charisma, yet he is the best Prime Minister we've ever had. He is not corrupt, he has plans in mind and is taking the country ahead. He will be underrated with Advani calling him 'weak', but it's not true. I support him not because he is a Sardar, but he is truly admirable.

Q: What would you say about Maneka and Varun Gandhi?
Khushwant Singh: Maneka Gandhi brought up Varun alone. I somehow could not believe the abusive words against Sikhs and Muslims attributed to him. One of the men opposing him was a Sikh. Sikhs have this ability to accept jokes about them, but the remark 'uska bara baja denge' (I will fix him) is not the kind of thing to say in public. After all, most of his mother's relatives are Sikhs, He is a badly brought up child. I hope Varun will be banned from contesting the polls and the people will throw him out. But I am afraid that he will win the seat.


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1947-2014 (Archived)
Amazing story. He was an extremely attractive man in his youth. And apparently a loving man. I won't comment on his perspectives, though they are sharply thought through -- leave it at Yes women find him attractive. ;)


I've read a lot of his work but I must say he seemed to me to be a complete chumcha of the Gandhis. Supporting the emergency, forced sterilisations etc. is a bit strange..