Monday, September 20, 2010

Absolute Kushwant - a collection of essays

I read many authors but the author whose titles I buy most frequently is Kushwant Singh. I have read only one novel by him – Train to Pakistan – but all his short stories, written over last 50 years or so, and majority of his essays. The best thing about a Kushwant Singh essay book is that he keeps you guessing what the next essay is on. Political personalities, large sweep of history, social habits, friends, tittle tattle, nothing goes untouched. He converts everything, however large or complex the matter, into a simple, readable one-page-to-one-and-half page piece. His new collection of essays – Absolute Khushwant – is no different.

It is a collection of essays on anything you can think of – Nehru and Gandhi, the partition of subcontinent, honesty, religion, autobiographical pieces and there are many more. And in typical Khuswant tradition, all the pieces are immensely readable and in a matter of half an hour you will breeze through a bunch of them.

If you have been reading him for a while, you may find some of the articles repetitive and some just reworkings of his past articles but most are new. The book has a generous sprinkling of autobiographical essays dealing with his successes and failures, his marriage, his time in England as a law student, friends etc. The book also has a few pieces on the Nehru-Gandhi family where the author has drawn comparisons between the current scions of the family (mainly Rahul and Varun) with the old generation. He says Sanjay Gandhi was a courteous and warm person but a despot.

Rajeev comes in for heavy criticism and he rubbishes the claim that Rajeev was responsible for bringing computer to India and says such policies had started during Indira Gandhi’s time. He praises Rahul but says most of the things he does are gestures but they have a sound thought behind them. He informs Varun is a good poet but blames BJP for not punishing him for that venomous speech. The book also has some pictures.

Kushwant’s personal brushes with historical moments and personalities bring the events (Partition and 1984 Delhi riots etc) and personalities he talks about nearer to you. Having lived a life spanning almost a century and grown up in a family of high connections and privileges, he has many of them.

When Kushwant Singh was at Modern school, it was once visited by Mahatma Gandhi. Gandhiji sat on a platform and the students in front of him; Singh was in the front row. While talking to the students, Gandhiji suddenly bent, held Singh’s shirt collar and said: “Where is it made?” “Foreign,” Kushwant replied proudly. “Had it been made in India, it would be so much better,” told the Mahatma. Kushwant started wearing Khadi following the incident. During the partition, he fled Lahore, when it became unsafe for non-Muslims to stay, and reached Delhi. Upon reaching Delhi, near Parlaiment House, he heard Nehru’s "tryst with destiny”.

Even at 95, Kushwant continues to bring fun to his readers through the written word.  
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