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Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Portrait of a Lady: Introduction to Khushwant Singh

Khushwant Singh, one of the best -known Indian writers of all times, was born in 1915 in Hadali (now in Pakistan). He was educated at the Government College, Lahore and at King's College, Cambridge University, and the Inner Temple in London. He practiced law at the Lahore High Court for several years before joining the Indian Ministry of External Affairs in 1947. He began a distinguished career as a journalist with the All India Radio in 1951. Since then he has been founder-editor of Yojana (1951-1953), editor of the Illustrated weekly of India (1979-1980), chief editor of New Delhi (1979-1980), and editor of the Hindustan times (1980-1983). His Saturday column "With Malice Towards One and All" in the Hindustan times is by far one of the most popular columns of the day.
Khushwant Singh's name is bound to go down in Indian literary history as one of the finest historians and novelists, a forthright political commentator, and an outstanding observer and social critic. In July 2000, he was conferred the "Honest Man of the Year Award" by the Sulabh International Social Service Organization for his courage and honesty in his "brilliant incisive writing." At the award ceremony, the chief minister of Andhra Pradesh described him as a "humourous writer and incorrigible believer in human goodness with a devil-may-care attitude and a courageous mind." The Indian external affairs minister said that the secret of Khushwant Singh's success lay in his learning and discipline behind the "veneer of superficiality."
Among the several works he published are a classic two-volume history of the Sikhs, several novels (the best known of which are Delhi, Train to Pakistan, and The company of women), and a number of translations and non-fiction books on Delhi, nature and current affairs. The Library of Congress has ninety-nine works on and by Khushwant Singh.
Khushwant Singh was a member of the Rajya Sabha (upper house of the Indian Parliament) from 1980 to 1986. Among other honors, he was awarded the Padma Bhushan in 1974 by the President of India (he returned the decoration in 1984 in protest against the Union Government's siege of the Golden Temple in Amritsar).

                                                            A NEWSPAPER ARTICLE BY KHUSHWANT SINGH
                                               Ethnic jokes always target successful communities
Khushwant singh, Hindustan Times
December 04, 2011

Ethnic jokes are assumed to be in bad taste. Nevertheless, they flourish across the world. Their principal target is always the community which has done better than others. We have Bawaji jokes portraying Parsis as crack-pots. We have jokes about Marwari Banias who are busy making money. Most of all we have Sardarji jokes about Sikhs, being feeble-minded, although they have more to their credit than other communities. What is notable is that most of these are made by members of the community itself.
Unfortunately Sikhs have lost much of their self esteem and have become thin-skinned like other communities. They take offence at anyone trying to make fun of them. So it needed audacity to publish jokes about them. This has been now done with the publication of Bantaism — The philosophy of Sardar Jokes by Bhai Niranjan Singh Amrikawale (Rupa). You can take it from me that there is no philosophy behind this compilation. It is only a ruse to deter some ill-tempered Sardarjis from taking them to court. I reproduce a couple of samples of Sardar Jokes from the compilation:
Banta Singh was enjoying tea at a restaurant. He couldn’t help overhear the conversation at the next table where a young couple were seated. The guy asked the girl “How many cups of tea can a person drink on an empty stomach?” She thought for a while and replied, “I guess three.” Her friend smiled and said, “You are wrong.” The girl, a bit irritated, asked “So what is the correct answer?”
“Think about it. The correct answer is…one,” he said. “Once you have the first cup your stomach is no longer empty.” She laughed, and Banta Singh pondered over their conversation as they left. Such a nice joke. Something the wife would really enjoy, he thought That evening he asked her. “Well, Jeeto, how many cups of tea can you have on an empty stomach?” “I do not like tea,” she replied. “After five years of marriage don’t you even know that about me? Shows how much you care.”  He parried as best as he could, telling her it was a joke. “What I mean is, if you did like tea, how many cups could you drink on an empty stomach?”
“Swaal paida nahin honda jaddon” (the question does not arise when) I don’t like it only.” After some persuasion, he managed to cajole an answer out of her. “Two,” she said. Banta Singh could barely contain his exasperation. “You stupid woman,” he hissed. “Too bad. If only you had said three, I would have told you such a nice joke.”
And: A Sardar from a village was unfamiliar with the concept of a race. On a visit to the city he chanced upon a marathon. He saw hundreds of people dashing down the road for no apparent reason. He asked his friend what was going on. The friend explained the concept of a race. He said the top three finishers would get gold, silver and bronze medals.“But then,” asked the Sardar, “Why are all the others running ?” Why indeed?
This joke highlights the stupidity of competition. It questions the many races one participates in through life, unwitting and witting: with classmates, siblings, colleagues, spouses, even children. The moment you leave the race, you realise the absurdity of it — the ab-Surdity, if you must.
For a community of less than 2% of the Indian population to produce a Prime Minister regarded as the ablest of the able, most honest of the righteous and humblest of the humble is a matter of pride. His wife, Gursharan Kaur, was the first wife of an Indian PM to discharge duties expected of the wife of the ruler of the country. The man who plans India’s future, Montek Singh Ahluwalia, is also a Sardarji.  And till last year so was the commander-in-chief of the Army, General J J Singh. So envy is inevitable. And out of envy are born jokes to even the score.

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