At the outset I would like to thank Niloufer and Rahul Singh for inviting me to this paradise on earth for, a veritable feast of Kasauli, Khushwant Singh, the Indian soldier and the girl child. This unique festival is dedicated to causes as dear to me as they were to Khushwant Singh. I was born and brought up in the Air Force and, though married to a civilian for years, it has been rightly said that ‘You can take a girl out of the armed forces but you cannot take the armed forces out of her.’ Today, I feel as if I have come home.
As for the girl child, each day I fight for her rights, in fact, her very existence, in my capacity as a gynaecologist for, the rich and poor alike, have no compunction in mercilessly destroying the loveliest creation of God.
I feel closest to the Almighty when I am in the midst of natural beauty. In Kasauli, I feel His presence more keenly than anywhere else. In fact, I feel closer to Khushwant Singh here, in his absence, than I felt during our meetings in Delhi.
Khushwant Singh was more than a mentor to me yet, I do not know into which slot to place my feelings for him. It was a heady cocktail of attraction (I prettied myself for him), affection, tenderness and awe – a fiery liquid cooled with the crushed ice of restrain that I offered at every visit with a sprig of shyness and a slice of humour.
Though I met him personally every 4-6 six months and attended a lot of his book release functions, we laid bare our souls in the letters we exchanged over a period of 25 years. One tends to be more candid in letters and over the years my letters evolved from reverent to the hilarious, salacious and outright scandalous! Though, I continued to address him as ‘Khushwant Singhji’ I would go on to discuss the most ‘unji’ like subjects. I do not know how and when I became his court jester but it became mandatory that I end each letter with a naughty joke. He regaled me with juicy anecdotes about the famous personalities he knew. We also shared intimate details about our personal lives. I have compiled these letters in a book called ‘Afternoon Girl – My Khushwant Memoirs’ which has been published by HarperCollins. It begins with the following poem which sums up Khushwant Singh, as I knew him:
The trinity he worships is
Booze, big bums and bad jokes
He wouldn’t like to own it now.
He cares not for religion and yet,
Translates holy texts into English.
A lovable paradox, a nasty old man,
A rip roaring raconteur, a stuffed shirt,
A stickler for time, abrupt and rude.
A charmer, a brown gentleman who
Calls English, his mother tongue.
A connoisseur of beauty – in women,
Who, hover around him
Like, butterflies on nectar
He has, no patience with god men
And soothsayers though
An occasional comely
Sanyasin holds his interest.
There are myriad facets to his
I have glimpsed but a few.
Many have capitalized on his name,
Many, like me, ride on his shoulders
The road to fame.
What he writes sells,
What is written about him sells.
Though he has mastered the
‘Art of bull shitting’
The public, scoops up handfuls,
Like the dung of the sacred cow.
Till they invent
A ‘condom for the pen’
He will write and regale
Till he drops dead.
Three cheers for the grand old man
Of Indian literature and his
Of a dirty old fellow.
Khushwant Singh was the biggest influence of my adult life. With the right amount of reprimands and appreciation at the right time, he goaded me to deliver my best. The least I owe him is, to continue doing so. The greatest legacy he has left me is a single sentence that will remain etched in my mind for as long as I live. He told me that ‘self pity is the worst form of self indulgence’. I would literally wallow in it but learnt to overcome this feeble feeling for he taught by example. Though blessed with name and fame, he had his share of sorrows which he overcame by practicing the following dictum – ‘work is the best therapy, scotch the best anti-depressant’.
According to a Tibetan proverb the death of an old man is akin to the burning of a library. Though it is difficult to connect the word ‘old’ with Khushwant Singh, here was one old man who actually left behind a library! Death was the elusive lover he was pre-occupied with. She obsessed and possessed him; stymied and mystified him – tantalizingly out of reach yet, ever at the back of his mind. He feared her arrival as much as he looked forward to it. Did he finally embrace her with ‘the mother of all orgasms’ (to borrow a phrase of his), or go quietly resting his weary head on her soothing breast? I am glad that she did not torture him.
Where do atheists go after they die? Certainly not from the hearts of those who loved them; perhaps, that is where they find their final abode. May you rest in peace my beloved friend, philosopher and guide. I’ll miss you every single day for the rest of my life. Even now every time I hear a dirty joke, the first though that comes to my mind is ‘I must send it to Khushwant Singh’.
It would not do to end my reminiscences of such a feisty personality on such a somber note. Instead, I will celebrate his zest for life, his ability to laugh at himself by sharing with you the last two Santa Banta jokes I sent him.
Santa to the heart specialist ‘How dare you tell me that ‘your wife has a cute vagina.’
‘I said ‘acute angina!’ Exclaimed the horrified cardiologist.
Madam ‘Aaj bahut garmi hai. Dil karta hai ki sara din fan ke neeche leti rahun.’
Santa ‘Madam! Mai aapka bahut bada fan hoon.’