Friday, March 21, 2014

No more Khushwant Singh


At long last, shortly before he would turn 100, Khushwant Singh has gone. India loses a pleasant writer and frequently humorous political and social commentator. He was a forthright spokesman of the Nehruvian English-speaking elite, at one time even the direct press chief of Jawaharlal Nehru himself. He also served as an assistant to Sikh leader Master Tara Singh, as novelist and historian of Sikhism, as editor for an array of papers, and as columnist, best known for the title of his long-running column “With malice towards one and all”.

By coincidence, I met Khushwant Singh on the airplane Delhi-Frankfurt some 22 years ago. Frankly, I got a rather good personal opinion of him. It was timely that we met, because I needed to prove my existence. He had just written a newspaper column stating that my book on Ayodhya had been written by Sita Ram Goel using a European name as pseudonym to confer an air of outside objectivity on his pro-temple thesis. Well, that matter was settled then.

We struck up a conversation, of which I distinctly remember that, upon my enquiring, he confirmed that he believed in a separate Sikh identity, as demonstrated by sporting beards and turbans, but that he did not believe in the need for any religion. (In my book Negationism in India, I devote some pages to  Khushwant Singh’s argument for the separate identity of Sikhism, and wonder aloud about this contradiction.) For emphasis, he repeated his main point: “No religion.” In a way, this is a classical Hindu position: one’s belonging to a community does not depend on a particular belief, so one can be an unbeliever all while remaining a card-carrying member.

He had always made fun of religion as such (and this without anyone charging him under Art. 295A), lampooning pieties such as “work is worship” with additions like “yes, but worship is not work”. And he did so till the end: as late as 2011 and 2013, he published books against religion and the belief In God, afterlife or rebirth. While Western scholars are now wavering about their long-held thesis of “secularization”, seeing a revival of religion in Russia and China and a demographic explosion among believers, here was one Indian who did see secularization as the wave of the future. He inferred that the development of the “scientific temper”, as enjoined by the Indian Constitution, would necessarily lead to the people’s outgrowing Scriptural beliefs.   

Yet he had deplored it when his son came home from the West divested of his turban. The son saw no point anymore in wearing the uniform of a particular religious sect when religion itself made no sense anymore. The simplicity of common sense reasons that religious identity presupposes religion. But the convoluted logic imposed by Indian identity politics and Nehruvian secularism will have none of it. If you manage to sell the identity of your religious community as somehow non-Hindu, ex-Hindu or anti-Hindu, secularists feel honour-bound to defend it. So, even without religion, a Sikh identity must be upheld because it irritates Hindus.

Or that at least is what secularists, in their utter ignorance of Hindu history, think. They do not know that Guru Govind Singh was cent per cent a Hindu and founded the Sikh militant order to serve and defend Hindu Dharma. They have defined Sikhism as a separate religion, and they don’t look any farther than the present legal arrangement, somewhat like foreign tourists who rely on a guidebook to quickly teach them about India. Indeed, the best appreciation of Nehruvian secularism is that it is the incomprehending tourist view of India’s religions.   

Like an obedient secularist, he was very good at getting the Hindus’ goat, e.g. by condemning Shivaji for disposing of his enemy Afzal Khan; but he was not so good at lampooning Islam or Christianity. Yet, unlike other secularists, he did occasionally criticize even Islam and Christianity. But not too much, so he did support the ban on Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses: avoiding the inevitable bloodshed was more important than upholding freedom of speech. In this manner, the religious obscurantists always have their way on condition of credibly threatening violence, for then the secularists will present it as virtuous and wise to drop freedom of speech and give in to the demand for book-banning.

He also did the secularist thing in supporting the Emergency dictatorship. Nehruvian secularism, being a despotism by nature, always disliked unmanipulated democracy. Indeed, it was under the Emergency that the Costituion was enriched with the declaration of India as a “secular, socialist”  republic, the only part of the Constitution without genuine democratic legitimation.

Once he fell from his usual anti-Hindu stance. Condemning Congress for the 1984 anti-Sikh riots, he ppreferred to vote for their most credible opponents, the BJP, in subsequent elections, before the Ayodhya demolition of 1992 made him revert to his more familiar opposition to Hindu nationalism.

But he had the virtue of being able to take a laugh at himself, much in contrast to the pompousness and self-importance of most secularists. As a dabbler in erotic writing, he gracefully accepted the sobriquet “dirty old man” of Indian public life. At least I will vouch for “old man”, and hope to emulate him in remaining active as a writer till age 98. That is when his last book came out: The Good, the Bad and the Ridiculous (October 2013), another argumentation against religion, which he saw as his farewell to writing. And now, on 20 March 2014, he has taken his leave from life, peacefully in his own home in Delhi.

Since he is not going to heaven or hell, and since he is not coming back either, we had better get used to living without Khushwant Singh. For a committed atheist, it would mean nothing to wish him “Fare well” or “God be with you”, so I will only say: “It was nice knowing you.”


archeologiste Horsa said...

This "dirty old man" initially ridiculed RSS for considering sikhism to be integral part of Hinduism. With steady stream of scholars like mohan singh , harjas oberoi and mc leod joining the chorus he eventually had to wag his tail and say "sikhs are keshdhari Hindus". Since ' de mortuis nil nisi bonum ' Good riddance is all I can say

Gururaj BN said...

Khushwant Singh was a joker, passing for an intellectual. He might have had some spark of creativity when he wrote novels and short stories. His inconsistent stands, tendency to lean to vulgarity might have entertained people. He left no lasting mark on the contemporary history, though he wasted tons of newsprint with his writing.

Kamal Singh said...

Such people are mere blots on the history of India. They don't deserve any importance.

desicontrarian said...

He was a man who loved the abuse by his critics. It was the Illustrated weekly that first freely published no-holds-barred criticisms. Vinod Mehta of Outlook is the other biggy editor to emulate him.

His father was a British Raj Toady who was rewarded for services, something well-hidden by secularists. He identified Bhagat Singh during the trial as the person who threw the bomb down from the visitor’s gallery of the Central Legislative Assembly in Delhi. Khushwantji defended him during the controversy on his rewards in Manmohan Singh's India. Such filial loyalty.

However, he was great in his satirical self-obituary. Shows high self-confidence.

ysv_rao said...

Wow desicontrarian I didn't know that his dad was a collaborator and that too snitching on Bhagat Singh!

There is one thing I never understood - why exactly should I as a Hindu feel grateful for Sikhs and their contributions to independence struggle when they were just as over represented in the British armed forces which were designed to quash aforementioned struggles!

And there is the business of their over representation in post independence armed forces for which us Hindus are again supposed to fall on our knees and grovel in gratitude.

What used to be left unsaid was other ethnic groups esp Southerners ,Biharis and Bengalis would clamor for spots in the Indian army only to be turned away not due to failing to meet the requirements but because Sikhs, Rajputs and other favored groups started believing their own hype regarding martial races and the obscene sense of entitlement it entails
Something that never really subsided even to this day inspite of Operation Blue Star.

desicontrarian said...


Well-known Sikh act of siding with the British was 1857. The Purbias who were massacred in lakhs or crores(?) definitely have no need to be grateful. After 1857, under a concocted Martial Race doctrine, those groups that were Pro-British
were actively recruited into the armed forces and Sikhs enjoyed immense advantages. The Kingdom of Patiala was a prominent supporter and Amarinder Singh enjoys the benefits today!

The originally Martial Bengali Hindus were emasculated and diverted into romantic English poetry pursuits, literature and headless revolutions i.e. Marxism.

If you sort ethnic groups by whose side they were on in 1857, you'll get a clear pattern of "Martial and Non-Martial Races" divisions! Over time, it could have become a self-fulfilling pattern.

The imposition of Colonial models is itself a meta-pattern. Castes for example were not as important as the the British made it out to be. Neither was "Manu Smriti - The Hindu Law". They were made important by Colonial officials, policy-makers and "Civilizers" of India. Herber Risley identified castes by Nasal Indexes.

Now Brown Sahibs continue to bear the White Man's burden in such diverse fields as quotas, vote banks, "caste, curry and cow" narratives etc.

ysv_rao said...


Thank you for the links. In particular that post about the truly innovate approach at logistics and signals developed by the "mutineers" in 1857.

Oh for sure the martial races theory is a load of bull designed specifically by the British for their noxious agenda of divide et impera

As a south Indian I grew with a bit of an inferiority complex- here you have all the northies dominating the armed forces and use their propaganda arm Bollywood to highlight their achievements and put down south Indians as wimps and traitors

There were actually quite a few movies made in the early 90s when Islamic mafia money ruled the roost where they showed a Indian Muslim as a super patriot who would rather die than submit to a traitor but the Tamil Brahmin scientist begged and groveled for his life and agreed to assist the villain in his nefarious anti India schemes

But then I started reading history with a little more details

I read about the martial valor and empires Satavahanas, Hoysalas, Nayakas, Polygars Rashtrakutas, chalukyas,Vijayanagar, Chola,chera,Pandyas who heroically defended against defeated Scyhians,Parthians, Huns, Arabs, Turks, English irregulars amongst others and curiously there was no Punjabi ,Kashmiri or proto Rajput equivalents
And what are Marathas if not Prakitized Kannadigas even if it is unfashionable for them to admit it nowadays.
Hey wait a minute.....I said to myself

You couple the above with the observations of Greek and Chinese travelers where they note the Poorbias and Southerners were taller, braver and more violent than the Northwesterners who were in turn viewed as timid and pretentious and then you realize that something odd is going on vis a vis our conventional view of history

Punjabis in particular were Johnny (or Jaswinder) come lately to the martial scene . Nothing wrong with that, beter late than never but what is wrong is falsifying history via your newfound self respect ,influence and prosperity to make yourself as the eternal warriors of the Indian martial flame. And they shared this "honor" with related ethnic groups like Afghans,Rajputs and Jats

They were aided in this falsehood by the British were found in these groups a readiness to betray their fellow Indians for more benefits for themselves. It also helped that these particular groups were fair skinned and more Caucasoid than the other Indians

And this in turn provided reinforcement for their silly Aryan Invasion Theory which was but a fig leaf for their conquest of India ( everyone else was invading India why not us?)

ysv_rao said...

Mind you these Northwestern propagandists are alive and well and still look on "Poorbias", Bengalis and Southerners with contempt: Case in point. A year or so ago I checked wikipedia's entry on Pala dynasty and found this map which shows the maximum extant of their conquests

But that map is no longer portrayed on the Pala Wikipedia page (hence the Yadavhistory reference) but this once

Notice anything missing in the second one?

Yup. Apparently it was too embarrassingly for the "mighty" Pushtuns and their related Hindu lickspittles Kambojas, Gurjaras and Sindhis to admit that they once ruled by "effeminate" Bengalis

Further down in the page , there is this weasel argument given for the omission of Afghanistan in Pala dominions

"Devpala extended the boundaries of the empire further. The Munger (Monghyr) copper plate of Devapala states that his empire extended upto the Vindhyas and Kamboja. While an ancient country with the name Kamboja was located in what is now Afghanistan, there is no evidence that Devapala's empire extended that far. Kamboja, in this inscription, could refer to the Kamboja tribe that had entered North India (see Kamboja Pala dynasty)."

So Bengali glory is being destroyed at the root level even today.

And now the South:
Most Southerners really had been demartialized in the last 200 years.

The Nairs in 1920 were targets of Moplah homicidal frenzy from whom they failed to defend themselves
It is conceivable to imagine the Nairs would succumb so easily to their depredations in say 1800s when they defeated Tipu Sultan despite overwhelming odds but were later emasculated by the British who forbid them from bearing arms and banned Kalaripayattu

THe early East India company as well as Marathas and Muslims relied so heavily on Telugu troops that Teliga became synonymous for soldier in areas wherever their paymasters moved.
All that came to an end with the Polygar rebellions.

Please see my page on the Central Asian/northwest vs poorbia dynamic for more details