Khushwant Singh, the very name to reckon with when it comes to assimilating those rumblings that has anything to do with Politics, Society or for that matter any itsy-bitsy thing that might perhaps escape the attention of your eye. It was through his regular column, “With Malice towards one and all” that he struck the right chord with the en masse giving vent to all those throttled ideas that linger on at the back of your mind but seldom find a vent, hurling out sardonic punches at anyone and everyone is quintessential of him and on that front he doesn’t spare even himself as well.
I happened to pick “Malicious Gossip”, a collection of his essays that have appeared in various news dailies over the past years, an ensemble of his write-ups picked from ‘Gossip: Sweet and Sour’ and ‘Malice’, giving an insight into the surging thoughts of the veteran journalist and writer, former Member of Rajya Sabha, the book is snappy in being penned down from a different perspective yet being very much in sync with the zeitgeist. You tend to relish his take on things recrudescing around, his experiences with people and in places giving that Bohemian feeling in the entire journey. It’s divided into four parts with the ab-initio one dedicated to his tryst with our neighboring country and his ‘Teerthasthan’ Pakistan, followed by his perception of certain people from the well-known to ones belonging to the hoi polloi, the third segment being dedicated to India and unraveling its facets and the culminating one adoring the picturesque locales beyond the precincts of our Motherland.
Well, I must admit right from the introduction, the book entices you as if gripping the lengths of mind in a state of trance. I was smitten by the audacity of Mr. Singh with which he declares his inclination towards Pakistan for going to that place is like performing ‘Haj’ and ‘Umra’ to him, it reverberates the notions of spiritual kind for him as if he has come to his ‘Varanasi’. In its opening chapter we are ushered into the Centenary Celebrations of Quaid-e-Azam Mohammed Ali Jinnah with the author being the only Indian delegate to be a part of the grand occasion. Perpetual burlesque follows his narration right from alighting at the Karachi Airport to his confrontation with the Parliamentarians out there hurling out at India by referring to the animosity exhibited by those belonging to the majority (Hindus) in Pre-partition India, the charade being pulled over by Khushwant Singh’s remarkable words that attains a higher level than the monotonous lingua franca that though India doesn’t welcome two nation theory that doesn’t stop us from saying Pakistan Zindabad. His cohort was debilitated for sure by rhetorical but his stand was firm, coupled with clarity of thought. The second chapter that talks at length about the days prior to, including the dooms - day when Pakistan Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was sent to gallows, is one that can send chills down anybody’s spine. We are apprised that this was in fact the upshot of the connivances that have brewed and gone to the hilt with things spinning out of Bhutto’s control, a heart wrenching account indeed that answers two questions, did a pall of gloom descend on Pakistan that was bereaved of one of its great leaders? ‘Yes’, Did anyone try to avert the imminent catastrophe? No. The man who gave the general public the term ‘istisal’, which in Arabic means exploitation, himself became a target of disastrous coup d’état that unfortunately ended with Namaz-i-Janaza.
As you deal with the persistent hangover post that intimate encounter with our neighbor, some gossamer thoughts being shunned for once and all that though alcohol might not flow like Ravi in Pakistan it’s is not rarity with the author being reprieved with his duckie, the Scotch. With this you venture into the second part that talks voraciously about people who seemed to have been etched in his mind and whose memories still linger on even as they are no more to mull o’er things posthumously. Apart from Rajiv Gandhi and his tussle to enter into politics juggling with all sorts of innuendoes and carving his own niche followed by an account of his younger brother Sanjay Gandhi’s funeral and thumping impact of his persona with slogans of ‘jab tak suraj chand rahega, Sanjay tera naam rahega’ echoing in the entire milieu; amidst slew of other names to reckon with the one that made for an impressive reading to me was the personal life of former Prime Minister of India, V.P. Singh the man who was torn between his biological parents and Raja of Manda who had adopted him, his overtures being simple ones be it politics or any other furcate of the larger picture that goes around by the name of life, his rise up the ladder ever since he was appointed as the Deputy Minister of Commerce by Indira Gandhi in a bid to riposte Dinesh Singh’s hold on the UP Thakur community way back in 1974, his complete cycle as a politician with the ABC (A for Amitabh, B for Bofors and C for Chaddha) being a harangued thing on the scribes’ front.
I’m oblivious of the synonym to ‘jump the shark’ moment while you are slithering through words, but yeah, I would like to confess that from the third part onwards the book did start losing its sheen giving the impression of a patina that was perhaps holding it for that long. Be it his foray into various parts of India it really doesn’t seem like a travelogue even for a moment that is digging under the earth and coming out with nuggets you’ve never ever come across, for it’s the humdrum he talks about in most of his accounts. For he neither describes Delhi nor Bombay taking every minutiae into account that make these cities the cosmopolitans they’ve emerged over a period of time, okay I guess I had enough of that ranting, Bombay girls versus Delhi beauties, any nouveau ratiocination that the author might have arrived at, err, no! I have this deadpan expression marking the contours of my face as I tread on from my place of origin to offshores that also to my dismay doesn’t offer a breather of any sort. I’m certainly bowled by the chivalry of the man who proclaims self to be drawn towards gorgeous ladies, but why does it seem that a woman’s bosom or a red light area would be the most sought after sights to behold in the entire world? To an extent I would say it’s like spilling the beans, a token of information one is usually not apprised of, for instance Kisaeng in Korea is what Geisha in Japan is, debauchery being commercialized in a crass manner. The sojourn, quite similar to one gone stag includes the likes of Indonesia, Uganda, Bangladesh, Thailand, Turkey, Papua New Guinea and few more destinations thus aiding you I certain ways if you are planning to head to any of them, his essays definitely not bearing any kind of kitsch yet appearing like a marquee that propels you towards a purgatory state without you even having a whiff of realization.
To conclude, I think my take would be thumbs-up for the first half with the latter part going astray, getting occluded by womanizing and pleasure-seeking instincts of the author adding that grogginess to the write-ups henceforth, failing to assimilate some other deeply enchanting foibles of that part of the world.