Edited By Ashok Chopra
An anthology of sexy stories by Khushwant Singh—and all of them packed into a mere 219 pages? But if the man’s a sex maniac and can think of nothing else, why has he written so little on sex? Especially, as the blurb itself says, when he’s authored more than a hundred books and penned countless words for countless magazines?
The answer quite simply is that the Sardar in the Bulb is not as obsessed with bosoms and buttocks as he himself likes to make out. A wholly rounded human being, he does have a glad eye—but then, which full-blooded man hasn’t? After all, the good Lord chose to make our gender look ordinary, but, conversely, made almost every member of the other half worth not just one look but several, preferably of the sideways kind.
The savvy Khushwant Singh, who has more of his father’s commercial cunning than he would care to admit, spotted this universal male failing decades ago. And he has leveraged it to run the most successful business enterprise in the written word that India has known while getting on with his real interests—the history, heritage and future of his community, the Sikhs.
That magnificent obsession has been both his doom and his triumph.
The downside, of course, is the idiocy of his being the greatest supporter of the Emergency for little better reason than that the man behind it was married to the daughter of a Sikh mother. This was on par with him accompanying a communalist to the filing of his nomination to protest the pogrom of 1984.
But these idiosyncrasies pale in comparison to the monumental achievement of having none to compare with his expertise, enthusiasm and expression of Sikh lore. His magnum opus, A History of the Sikhs, not only roused Sikh pride, it also alerted them to the inescapable danger of their losing their identity within a generation or two. For, too many of their youngsters had started shedding their beards and their turbans.
Khushwant’s portrayal as a purveyor of pulchritude does disservice to him. Not that he minds; he’s laughed all the way to the bank.
Identifying himself as one of his community, retrieving for them their glorious history, instilling in them a new reverence for their customs and usages—this is the real Khushwant. Someone who reminded not just his community but the world of how Sikhs forged their lives anew after the horrors of Partition, and the Sikh genius for spiritual integration, synthesising the best in all they found around them—symbolised by a Muslim Pir laying the foundations of the Golden Temple and the shabads and the sayings of the Gurus taking the Bhakti movement to its apogee by bringing together the best of all the faiths of India. The Khushwant who wakes before the crows start cawing to painstakingly translate not only Allama Iqbal’s Shikwa (Complaint) but also his Jawab-e-Shikwa to show that to be a true Sikh you should not be narrowly confined to any fundamentalism but self-confident enough to embrace all and everything that appeals to the highest in yourself.
To portray such a universal human being as a purveyor of pulchritude is a lasting disservice to Khushwant the Immortal, inching towards his hundredth year. Not that Khushwant minds; he’s always enjoyed laughing all the way to the bank.