Nobody who knows me will be surprised that the subject of my first author review for this columns none other than Khushwant Singh. I have professed a great admiration for him ever since I had the privilege of reading one of his books in my twenties. That book was A Bride for The Sahib and Other Stories, and it was an eye-opener; it made me realise that it was not only possible, but also essential, to lovingly and honestly portray social interactions and expectations from an Indian point of view. Until I read his book, it had been sorely missing from my lexicon; although I had read other Indian authors, nobody wrote with the disarming honesty that Singh wrote with.
Khushwant Singh was born in 1915 in Hadali in what is now the Punjab province of Pakistan. He was a novelist, a lawyer, a journalist, and a politician (he was a member of the Rajya Sabha between 1980 and 1986). He studied in St Stephen’s College, Delhi, Government College, Lahore, and King’s College, London. He started his career as a lawyer in 1938, and worked at the Lahore Court for eight years.
In 1947, after the independence, he began his career in the IFS (Indian Foreign Service), serving as Information Officer in Toronto, and press attaché and public officer for the Indian High Commission in London and Ottawa.
He joined the All India Radio in 1951 as a journalist, and spent two years working in UNESCO in Paris. His literary career began in 1956; he founded and edited Yojana between 1951 to 1953, and served as the editor of The Illustrated Weekly of India – which became India’s pre-eminent weekly under his tenure – and also served as the editor of The National Herald and The Hindustan Times.
As a writer, Singh was deeply critical of secularism and organized religion; he possessed an impish sense of humour that is visible in his writing, and he spared nobody (his column With Malice Towards One And All was syndicated across India). He approached eroticism with honesty and a deep love for his characters — especially the flawed ones — which makes his writing remarkably easy to identify with. His work was contemporary Indian erotica; Indians no longer needed to reference erotica that was hundreds of years old because Singh was making it acceptable to discuss erotica in literature again.
Khushwant Singh died in 2014 at the age of 99, but he leaves behind a rich and varied literary legacy that spans genres; not all of his works are erotic, but they are all written with warmth, humour, and vision. While I would recommend all of his work without a second thought, I especially recommend Train to Pakistan, Truth Love and A Little Malice, I Shall Not Hear The Nightingale, The Portrait of A Lady, Why I Supported The Emergency, Delhi: A Novel, and Khushwant Singh on Women, Love and Lust.