My tribute to KS (first published in DAWN on March 30)
IT is difficult to evaluate the legacy of writer, journalist and an icon of our times Khushwant Singh who passed away last week after leading a full life that many would dream of leading. Singh was immensely popular in Pakistan. For the past two decades I have spotted his books — legit and pirated — at almost all bookstores in every city. His writings had an impact and inspired generations to emulate his incomparable style. His larger than life stature in India was equally recognised in Pakistan.
Singh was born in Hadali village (now in Pakistan), lived in Lahore and until his last never disowned his roots. Such was his worldview that Partition and the ensuing bitterness did not change his empathy for Pakistan. This is why many Pakistanis were his friends and he gave them due attention, respect and time. A photograph of his best friend from pre-Partition days, Manzoor Qadir (jurist and Pakistan’s law minister under Ayub Khan) was displayed prominently in his living room.
It was Singh’s stature in the world of Indian journalism that is perhaps unprecedented for its influential relationship with readers. As a critic of the establishment, Singh guarded his intellectual independence. His proximity to Indira Gandhi and a brief period of closeness aside, he remained a fierce commentator on all things political and cultural. Singh for example returned the honours awarded to him after Gandhi’s operation at the Golden Temple in the 1980s. Over time, his column ‘With Malice Towards One and All’ became a regular window of refreshingly fresh and iconoclastic commentary. Singh’s attitude to Pakistan was always irksome for the rightwing Hindus and often he would get hate mail, which was a source of amusement to his expansive spirit. Of course Singh came from a privileged background and things were easier for him compared to a lot of writers and journalists across the region. But he did give up a career in law and diplomacy to become a writer. And a prolific one at that.
Bihar in translation
One of my lasting regrets is that when I migrated from Pakistan to India in August 1947, I did not learn to read and write Hindi. It was not entirely my fault as I got postings abroad and even lost much of the Urdu I knew. I was about to pick it up again in my years in Bombay. I envy those who are equally at ease with Hindi, Urdu and English.
One of them is Rakshanda Jalil of Jamia Millia University. She has written extensively about Delhi in English and translated Hindi novels. Though she is equally adept in Urdu, she does not write it, but uses it as her source material.
Rakshanda Jalil’s latest offering is translations of 10 short stories by Phaneshwar Nath Renu — Panchlight and other stories (Orient Black Swan). I had heard a great deal about Renu but was never able to lay my hands on any of his writing in English translation. I was aware that Renu (1921-77) was a Bihari from a tiny hamlet in Purnea district. He was deeply involved in the freedom movement and was jailed many times. His story Maraa Gayaa Gulfam was made into a highly popular feature film. Renu’s stories have the earthy fragrance of the soil of Bihar. […]