Khushwant Singh Leaves Behind a Huge Vacuum


Khushwant-SinghKULDIP NAYAR

I called him Professor Sahib. He had taught me Company Law in my final year of LLB in Lahore. He was a Bar-at-law from London and was a popular lecturer because he never stopped any student from leaving the classroom at any time.

After Partition, I lost contact with him till we met at a test for an All India Radio post. He rejected me because I could not pronounce some English words properly.

He spent many years with the AIR. This was when we became good friends. By then he was a celebrated author for having written a two-volume book on the Sikh history.

Although he strongly wrote against Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale during the militancy in Punjab in the late sixties and the early seventies, he returned the Padma Bhushan after Operation Bluestar.

He was against all that Bhindranwale stood for, but he could not reconcile himself to the attack on the Darbar Sahib, considering it a Vatican of the Sikh community.

No doubt, he was secular and vehemently opposed all those who preached parochialism. Yet, he did not want the entire community to be targeted for the sins of a few extremists.

He used to write a weekly column, and expressed his secular views boldly. Still during 1984, the Hindu extremists forced him to seek refuge in a foreign mission to escape the massacre of Sikhs which was going on with the complicity of the police.

Unfortunately, he supported Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, more so Sanjay Gandhi, an extra-constitutional authority, during the Emergency.

His proximity to Sanjay was because of his wife, Maneka, a distant relative. At that time, Khushwant Singh was dubbed as Khushamat Singh.

He never forgot a friend. After my return from jail during the Emergency, I met him in Bombay. He had heard that I would be sacked by the Indian Express because of my anti-government views.

He voluntarily offered me a column in the Illustrated Weekly which he was editing. He told me that the remuneration for the column would be adequate to cover my expenses if and when I lost my job.

That eventuality did not come because the owner of Indian Express, Ram Nath Goenka, stood by me like a rock.

Yet, Goenka too faltered when the Emergency looked like an unending tunnel. He thought it fit to hire Khushwant and offered him the chief editorship of the Indian Express.

The latter, already feeling unhappy in the Times of India group, took no time to accept the offer. I, who was a go between, was to intimate Khushwant about the date of joining.

By that time it came to be known that Emergency was ending followed by elections. Goenka read the story in Bombay and rang me up not to contact Khushwant.

He never forgave Goenka.

Khushwant had an open house. All, big or small, Hindus or Muslims, men or women would congregate at his place in the evening and enjoy his hospitality.

He was, however, strict about his sleeping hours. Everybody had to leave by 8pm. He would wake up at four in the morning and make tea for himself.

That was the time when he did most of the writing. He was 99 on the February 2. We, his friends and admirers, were preparing a documentary on him to celebrate his 100th birthday.

Today, when I went to his house and touched his feet, I felt that his absence has left a vacuum which is difficult to fill.

Clarion India - News, Views and Insights about Indian Muslims, Dalits, Minorities, Women and Other Marginalised and Dispossessed Communities.


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