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I don't believe the likes of Anna Hazare can do a thing about this corruption :Khushwant Singh

Nov 2, 2011

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Face to Face

Khushwant Singh is an Indian novelist and journalist. Singh's weekly column, "With Malice towards One and All", carried by several Indian newspapers, is among the most widely-read columns in the country. An Indo-Anglian novelist, Singh is best known for his trenchant secularism, his humor, and an abiding love of poetry. His comparisons of social and behavioral characteristics of Westerners and Indians are laced with acid wit. He served as editor of several literary and news magazines, as well as two broadsheet newspapers, through the 1970s and 1980s. He is a recipient of the Padma Vibhushan the second highest civilian award in India. 

He's famously controversial and extraordinarily prolific. Born in 1915 and close to 97 years now, author, humorist and political commentatorKhushwant Singh could be the oldest journalist in the world - but this hasn't sweetened his bite too much. Speaking with Humra Quraishi, Singh discussed childhood memories, contemporary politics and facing death - with a spirit of celebration: 

How are you spending your days currently?

By not meeting anyone. In fact, i'm happiest when left alone. I have never ever felt lonely. There are books to give me company. I keep readingall through the day and before going to beda¦my hands have begun to shake but i still somehow manage to write longhanda¦

I wake up even earlier than before now and sit and think about what all has to be written and done during the day. I watch news on the television. Often i brood about my childhood - our ancestral village, Hadali, was in undivided Punjab, now Pakistan. Before Partition, my village had a majority of Muslims - almost 95%. There were only some Hindu and Sikh families and only one gurdwara, but just no communal tension... much after the Partition, on the two occasions i visited my village, they were so emotional. How they welcomed me, putting up banners and what not! It was touching. These days, these memories keep coming back.

Yet, your penchant for contemporary political commentary hasn't gone - broad comments on what's happening in the country today?

We have an honest and able prime minister but there is rampant corruptiona¦I don't believe the likes of Anna Hazare can do a thing about this corruption. Only Mahatma Gandhi would have been able to arouse mass consciousness to halt this corruption spreading all around. Meanwhile, on the other side, it's so obvious that chief minister Narendra Modi is targeting officers in Gujarat who dared to bare the truth.

But going by your long journalistic experience, is such disorder unique to India?

Well, the recent rioting in the UK pained me. The student days i spent there were my happiest. I defend the English today. I blame immigrants for that unrest, for they don't want to integrate. Why go abroad if you don't want to mix? If you don't want to integrate, stay put!

Your age is always a matter of public comment; do you privately think about death?

Yes. I think of death very often. I think of all my friends gone and wonder where they area¦I wonder why we don't discuss death in our homes. It's one of those realities no one can escapea¦I also believe in the Jain philosophy that death ought to be celebrated. Years ago, i'd sit at the cremation grounds. That had a certain effect on me, worked as therapy. And years ago, i'd written my own epitaph: 'Here lies one who spared neither man or God/ Waste not your tears on him, he was a sod/ Writing nasty things he regarded as great fun/ Thank the Lord he is dead, this son of a gun.'

Clearly, you have few regrets; is there anything you wish you could have done differently?

I should have started my writing career much earlier - i wasted several years pursuing the legal profession. The other regret is not to have written more against religious fundamentalists hell-bent on causing divides between communities of this land. They have to be dealt with severely. My worry is over the rise of right-wing fascist parties in the country. We have to save our country from these destructive forces.


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