May 31, 2020
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'Miss Budden Remarked In My Report Card That I Could Make It As A Writer'

Khushwant Singh turned 13 in 1928

'Miss Budden Remarked In My Report Card That I Could Make It As A Writer'
Roli Books
'Miss Budden Remarked In My Report Card That I Could Make It As A Writer'
I was obsessed with sex. Having never seen a naked woman, I was itching to catch a glimpse. Therefore, I spent most of my free time in the courtyard outside the servants’ quarters of our lone bungalow on Jantar Mantar (now part of Kerala House in New Delhi). It was here that the labourers hired to build South Block came to bathe after their day’s work was done. I spent hours peeping at them in the hope that one of them would lift their flowing skirt while washing and reveal to me her mysteries. Of course that never happened.

New Delhi was in the process of being built, and everywhere was dust and the sound of stone-cutting machines. An Imperial Delhi Railway line sprung up, and we’d often hitch a ride to the site of Parliament House in the 4-5 wagons as the train slowly trundled past our home, loaded with stones.

At school, I was hopeless at all the subjects. And although I was very keen on sports, I wasn’t any good at games either. The only bright point that year was a comment from my English teacher in my report card. Miss Budden, who had come from England to teach in Modern School for two years, wrote that I had the possibility of making it as a writer. Even then, I was a good storyteller, the family’s jester, narrating events with a punchline in a way that none of my brothers could. The comment from Miss Budden more than amused my father, who had already decided that I was going to be a lawyer because I was such a chatterbox.

With my future career already charted out by my father, who thought a lawyer in the family would help in his expanding building business—he was buying up land in the yet-to-be-built new city at Rs 2 a sq yard till he became a legend as the malik of half of Delhi—I was enrolled for Urdu classes at school. Modern School, true to its name, was one of the first public schools in Delhi in English medium, and there were no takers for Urdu, although it was one of the optional languages offered. So I began Urdu lessons in Maulvi Shafi-ud-din Nayyar’s class of one.

I also became converted to khadi around this time, thanks to a visit to the school by Bapu Gandhi. I bought some khadi material and took it to the tailor. "You want to make a suit of this?" asked the tailor, an Englishman. I was embarrassed, but resolute.

But I did eventually succeed in catching that longed-for glimpse, and before the year was out. We had gone for a picnic from school and a gust of wind blew up one of the teacher’s sari. She wasn’t wearing any knickers and I was truly horrified at what I saw.

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