I was introduced to Khaushwant Singh by my dear friend Hamid Gondal whom I lovingly call as “the Solicitor”, and for this I am deeply indebted to him. Since that one book (Truth, love and a little malice) I have bought and read about ten of his books, with Delhi topping the list. Khushwantnama is Khushwant Singh’s latest and last book. The maestro has now retired from writing, rightly so, what else can one expect form a man of his age (99)?
In “The Lessons of My Life”, Khushwant writes about about India as it is today, about religion and what it means to him, his love for Urdu poetry, Ghalib, about writing and what makes a writer, about journalism and where it stands today and his hobby of watching nature. A chapter titled “Thinking Aloud” is most amusing as it deals with various subjects like sex, greed, qualities of a President and Paradox of English language. He pens down his thoughts on poetry, humour, dealing with death and tops it up with twelve tips on living a long and happy life.
Being a prolific writer, one is amazed at what Khushwant has to say about the writing business where he humorously likens it to the profession of whoring! The writers being young hookers, the publishers as brothel keepers and the literary agents as pimps. Imagine what a young writer is to find in this new and strange world. He tells of writers like Vikram Seth, V.S. Naipul, Arundhati Roy, M.G. Vassanji, Jhumpa Lahiri and many other having a great impact on him.
The chapter on dealing with death is most lucid as Khushwant talks about death in a way that is logical and coherent. According to him, death is the end of everything, there is no hereafter or reincarnation as the proof of either does not exist. He narrates of his discussions on the subject of death with Dalai Lama and Acharya Rajnesh. He calls himself agnostic yet calls God as Baday Mian, he refuses to believe in religious rituals yet follows Hadith (Sayings of the Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him, SAW)). I think the old man is ashamed or maybe too proud to admit the existence of God. Deep inside he is a believer, for he says, while writing the A History of the Sikhs he felt the Guru’s hand on his shoulder. Get the picture?
I have found his 12 rules to live long and happy very informative and amusing. The maestro talks about importance of importance of staying fit, getting a massage, balanced diet, having a healthy bank balance, avoiding over eating, not lying, loosing temper, to give generously, not praying and adopting a hobby instead (strange) and to avoid constipation at all costs! Some of the rules I intend to follow.
Finally the old man says he’s done what he wanted to do and wants to die. He even has his epitaph ready;
Here lies one who spared neither man nor God,
Waste not your tears on him, he was sod,
Writing nasty things he regarded as great fun,
Thank the Lord he is dead, this son of a gun.
Khushwantnama, The Lessons of My Life is an interesting book and highly recommended. It is like listening to an old sage talking to you in whispers.