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Monday May 20, 2024

The legendary Khushwant Singh

By Dr Ramesh Kumar Vankwani
February 03, 2023

February 2 marks the birth anniversary of Khushwant Singh, a literary personality of our region, who was born 108 years ago in the village of Hadali, Punjab in present-day Pakistan. During his 99 years of rich life, he had remarkable achievements in the fields of journalism, advocacy, politics and diplomacy.

At the time of Partition in 1947, tragic circumstances forced him to migrate from his birthplace. Although he went across the border, he kept Pakistan in his heart and used to visit his homeland every year. On various forums, he expressed his emotional affiliation with Pakistan. Similarly, his popularity in our country was at such a level that when he came here, taxi drivers did not charge fare and shopkeepers refused to take money from him.

Khushwant Singh’s circle of friends included Quaid-e-Azam, who was among the distinguished guests at his wedding ceremony. After the creation of Pakistan, Quaid-e-Azam wanted Singh to be appointed as a judge of the Lahore High Court. However, he preferred to migrate from here.

Singh witnessed bloodshed on the occasion of Partition, which he depicted in his famous novel ‘Train to Pakistan’ published in 1956. The story narrates the migration of Muslims towards then newly-formed Pakistan when a group of extremists attacked the train; a local Sikh sacrifices his life to save the passengers going to Pakistan. The novel broke records of popularity and included him in the list of world-known writers.

He was also associated with Unicef, Foreign Office, India House at London and All India Radio. He was also a member of the Rajya Sabha in India. After the death of his father and later his wife, he became lonely and found refuge in reading and writing. His relationship with the newspaper was so strong that his column continued to be printed till his last breath. He was associated with various newspapers, including ‘Hindustan Times’, ‘Yojana’ and the ‘Illustrated Weekly of India’, and the ‘National Herald’. He was a writer of English language but his columns were also published regularly in Urdu newspapers. In his writings, he would occasionally mention the poetry of Mirza Ghalib and Allama Iqbal.

He wrote books on almost every issue, including fiction, non-fiction, history and literature. His book ‘A History of Sikhs’ – on Sikhism and the history of the Sikhs – is one of his bestselling books and has received worldwide recognition. He won the hearts of pro-peace groups by writing the book ‘The End of India’ to condemn the rise of religious extremism in different parts of the country.

His book ‘Khushwant Nama’ shares that he always wanted to be known as a man who brought smiles to people’s faces. His sense of humour was his hallmark. He was a role model for aspiring journalists, and was always ready to guide young writers and emerging journalists. He did not spend a single penny of the royalties earned from publishing books on himself but donated all the money to charitable institutions.

Khushwant Singh died in New Delhi on March 20, 2014 at the age of 99. Earlier, he bequeathed that after the last rites, his ashes should be taken to the school in the Pakistani village of Hadali, where he once studied as a child. The memorial plaque of Khushwant Singh on the Hadali school building is an incomparable sign of love for his birthplace Pakistan.

In my view, Khushwant Singh was equally popular in Pakistan and India in his lifetime. And even today his personality can bring people living on both sides of the border closer. Happy birthday to the great son of the soil, Khushwant Singh.

The writer is a member of the National Assembly and patron-in-chief of the Pakistan Hindu Council.