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Of Ideas, People And Places


Sadia Dehlvi

PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER: UNCOLLECTED WRITINGS
By Khushwant Singh .Edited by Mala Dayal
Aleph Book Company, New Delhi, 2015, pp. 231, Rs. 499.00

VOLUME XXXIX NUMBER 10 October 2015

Having been close to Khushwant and hearing countless stories firsthand, reading the book made me feel as though I am sitting by him, listening to him recount his impression of ideas, people and places. He remains the best raconteur I knew, and will probably never meet anyone better. Some stories are familiar, while others seem refreshingly new. That’s because most essays in this collection were written during the sixties and seventies, with some even dated in the late fifties. Mala Dayal, Khushwant’s daughter and editor of this book has been careful in selecting its content. It contains his columns and essays that have not been previously published in the innumerable collections of Singh’s works. The book is divided in four sections, ‘Unforgettable People’, ‘Memorable Places’ ‘The Indian Way’ and ‘A Matter of Politics’. People were what fascinated Khushwant the most. He enjoyed meeting all kinds of people, from the commoners to celebrities. The first section of the book covers public icons like Baba Kharak Singh, Jawaharlal Nehru, Dev Anand, Amir Khusrau, Lata Mangeshkar, Humayun Kabir, Fakhruddin Ahmed to the portrait of Raman Raghav, the serial killer who terrorized Mumbai in the sixties. Typical of Khushwant, these are marked with rare perceptiveness and an edge of humour. I particularly enjoyed the charming chapter, ‘Nehru as a Writer’, where Khushwant recalls being Nehru’s escort to the bookstores in London. Nehru picked up twenty books, fifteen on Bernard Shaw and five on Oscar Wilde. ‘The only conclusion I drew from this selection was that the Prime Minister was familiar with the works of Shaw and Wilde—because he did not buy a single book by them, but all on them’. Such close encounter insights typify the writings on people. There is gossip and malice too, hitting out at Nehru’s special assistant M.O Mathai, calling the chapter ‘Being Untrue to One’s Salt’. He writes, ‘Mathai claims to have had loyalty and affection for Nehru. This does not stop him from maligning Nehru as a lecher who, unknown to the world even sired a bastard. Can there be a better example of disloyalty to a master who is unable to answer such calumny? Does this not amount to being untrue to one’s salt, of being a namak haram?’ Forever disturbed by the strained relations between India and Pakistan, Khushwant lost no opportunity to write about the country ...


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