The irony is that I agree with the sentiments that lie behind Khushwant’s book. His feelings, his principles, his passion (if you can still call it that), I fully share. Khushwant is writing about the way he sees India developing and the direction in which he thinks it’s heading. Both dismay him. Perhaps rightfully. And it’s true that many share his concern and feel it equally deeply. But that’s as far as it goes.
These were supposed to be essays and I had presumed they would cast fresh light, illuminate with argument, inform and put in perspective. After all, that’s what the essay is supposed to do. That’s what the blurb on the back cover promised. That’s the hope with which I approached this book. But do Khushwant’s essays live up to this expectation? They don’t. They repeat old thoughts, in tired, uninspired language, with assertion rather than analysis and with irritating resort to what he has written and published previously in The Illustrated Weekly. And when a man repeats himself, it’s obvious he has nothing new to say. But when the repetition isn’t worthy of being read a second time, it can be soul-destroying to struggle through it.
I am sorry to be hurtful, but if I was honest I would have to say this is an unworthy effort. It’s a little book in every sense of the word.
Sadly, it’s not just the content that is trite. More disillusioning is the fact that stylistically, the book is unreadable. On earlier occasions when I have disagreed with Khushwant’s work, it was still a pleasure to read. Not this time. In an introduction that accurately foretells what is to follow, Khushwant Singh writes: "Far from becoming mahaan (great), India is going to the dogs, and unless a miracle saves us, the country will break up." Neither the language nor the argument gain in sophistication. I should have stopped reading at that point. But diligence got the better of me. For once, I wish I had been less conscientious and more discerning.
I’m not sure if the end of India is upon us, but I do know that just because a man can still write does not mean his writing is worthy of publication. Just because he sells doesn’t mean he’s worth buying. So let me be blunt: don’t read this book. And if you have already bought it, let it lie on your shelf. The best tribute one can pay Khushwant is to forget all about it. In fact, the sooner the better.