Millennium Post

‘I have always been a bit of a lecher’

At 98, Khushwant Singh counts himself lucky that he still enjoys his evening drink and relishes tasty food, but feels sad that he has always been a bit of a lecher and looked at women as objects of lust.

In Khushwantnama: The Lessons of My Life, the country’s most prolific writer and columnist reflects on a life lived fully and the lessons it has taught him. He writes on subjects as diverse as old age and the fear of death; on the joy of sex, the pleasures of poetry and the importance of laughter; on how to cope with retirement and live a long, happy and healthy life.

He also airs his views on politics, politicians and the future of India; on what it takes to be a writer; and on what religion means to him.

‘In my 98th year, I have little left to look forward to, but lots to reminisce about. I draw a balance sheet of my achievements and failures.

‘On the credit side I have over 80 books: novels, collections of short stories, biographies, histories, translations from Punjabi and Urdu, and many essays. On the debit side is my character...,’ Singh writes in the book, published by Penguin India.

He regrets that he committed many ‘evil deeds’ in his early years like killing sparrows, doves and rock pigeons.

‘I have also come to the sad conclusion that I have always been a bit of a lecher. From the tender age of four right to the present when I have completed 97, it has been lechery that has been uppermost in my mind.

‘I have never been able to conform to the Indian ideal of regarding women as my mothers, sisters or daughters. Whatever their age, to me they were, and are, objects of lust,’ he writes.

‘At 98, I count myself lucky that I still enjoy my single malt whiskey at seven every evening. I relish tasty food, and look forward to hearing the latest gossip and scandal,’ Singh, who was a member of Parliament from 1980 to 1986, says.

But Kushwant Singh says he has slowed down considerably in the past year or so.

‘I tire more easily, and have grown quite deaf.’

Singh, founder-editor of Yojana and editor of the Illustrated Weekly of India, the National Herald and the Hindustan Times besides author of classics such as ‘Train to Pakistan’, ‘I Shall Not Hear the Nightingale’ and ‘Delhi’, says his life had its ups and downs but he has lived it fully.

He feels he wasted precious time in ‘pointless rituals’ and ‘socialising’ and spending years of his working life as a lawyer and then a diplomat, until he took to writing.

‘I wasted many years studying and practising law which I hated. I also regret the years spent serving the government abroad and at home, and the years with UNESCO in Paris.

‘Although I saw places and enjoyed life, and, having little to do, started writing. I could have done a lot more of what I was best at. I could have started my writing career much sooner.’

His biggest worry today is the intolerance he sees in the country.

‘We are a cowardly lot that burns books we don’t like, exiles artists and vandalises their paintings. We take liberties and distort history textbooks to conform to our ideas and ideals; we ban films and beat up journalists who write against us. We are responsible for this growing intolerance, and we are party to it if we don’t do anything to prevent or stop it.’
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