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Khushwant Singh

An Iconic Wit, Writer, Raconteur and Urdu Buff

It is difficult to evaluate the legacy of Khushwant Singh an icon of our times. The Subcontinent suffered a great loss on 20th March, 2014 when Khushwant Singh, the iconic writer passed away, drawing curtains on a journey which was a symbol of courage and boldness. A fistful of his ashes were saved by his family to be taken to Pakistan where an unnamed friend wants to put them in the ground where he was born.

Khushwant was a man who existed to slay the pieties and hypocrisies of our time in as profane a manner as possible. Just how much of an iconoclast he was can be judged by the title of his regular column: ‘With Malice Towards One and All’. Khushwant wrote passionately, eloquently and with an unmatched sense of humour on the passions of his life. Writing on topics ranging from the beauty of the female form to the evils of sectarianism, Khushwant both enjoyed the life he led and strove to make it better for his countrymen. As editor of many magazines and newspapers, including the Hindustan Times, he always valued human rights and the ideal of secularism in his work as a journalist, even returning the decorations awarded to him by the government after the storming of the Golden Temple in Amritsar.

We, in Pakistan, also have a connection of our own with Khushwant Singh. He was born in a village Hadali in Sargodha district, and was working as a lawyer in Lahore at the time of Partition. He so impressed Jinnah that the founder of the nation, according to Khushwant’s autobiography, offered to appoint him as a judge should he remain in Pakistan. Khushwant decided to migrate but the horrors of Partition inspired ‘Train to Pakistan’ ‘Khushwant’s most enduring and lauded work. This historical novel gave a human face to the savage violence that accompanied Partition, sparing no group his anger and wrath but also showing the humanity of those caught up in a whirlwind of events that were not of their own making. Khushwant may have been the last person around who personally knew all the towering figures of Urdu and Punjabi poetry and his brilliant translations of Urdu poetry were a sign not only of his artistry but his abiding love for the form.

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