On what Khushwant Singh’s death makes me painfully aware of, and what his writing has taught me.
It’s begining. Slowly.
You read some works as you were growing up, but most of them were Dead White Europeans, who were considered classic writers-Shakespeare, Austen, and the like. But you knew they are long dead and gone.
Slowly, you get to know contemporary writers. You read for pleasure. You read for broader vision. And slowly you get acquainted about contemporary writers. And somehow, they change you. They stir your soul, because it’s exactly your world they write about.
John Green, not so much about cancer, but resonance to being a nerdy teenager with exploding fangirl.
JKR because growing up.
Suzanne Collins because we all have a revolutionary within us.
It was after a particularly challenging exam, that I sat on the internet before I saw a friend’s post about how much he meant to her. And my heart skipped a beat. How can it be?
A quick Google Search sufficed. It was clearly written in blue bold. Khushwant Singh, aged 99, dies.
Suddenly, I feel helpless and empty. A pit in my stomach. My throat aches, and I want to cry. But I don’t.
Khushwant Singh is not my favorite author. But he has inspired me. Perhaps one of the only writers of realism that I truly admire. I had planned to read A train to Pakistan for a long time, but when it was put on the reading lists for Partition writers, I was overjoyed. Between Manto and him, I had to choose, and I chose him. And I am glad I did.
Train to Pakistan was easily a brilliant read. His usage of symbolism was as brilliant as his critique on what freedom meant to the poor-nothing. They were to be treated in the same way by Indians as they were by the Raj. They could live on without knowing that India gained Independence. And it was true.
I wouldn’t say Train to Pakistan is my favorite book, or Khushwant Singh my favorite writer. But I would say it opened my eyes into what I wouldn’t have thought of. While the horrors of Partition has been brilliantly chronicled through photographs and history text book essays, nothing I have ever read made me think of the hypocrisy in the system- a mere passing down of power from one race to another, from one Empire to another. The people still remain.
What Langston Hughes said about the African Americans stands true for marginalized Indians too-
Who said the free?
Not me? Surely not me? The millions on relief today?
The millions shot down when we strike? The millions who have nothing for our pay?
For all the dreams we’ve dreamed
And all the songs we’ve sung
And all the hopes we’ve held
And all the flags we’ve hung,
The millions who have nothing for our pay—
Except the dream that’s almost dead today.
Because freedom was not freedom to those who toiled and made the country what it is today. And that is what Singh taught me.
And his death? It is making me realize how these authors, who I long to meet, might die too. I have become aware of the fact that slowly each of my favourite authors will die, leaving behind a legacy, and the memories of my childhood would be all that remains. And I can picture this-
I am in a car, and it is raining, returning home from work. The radio plays my favourite songs, and suddenly a news is broadcast- that one of my favourite authors have demised. I stop the car, and let my tears get intermingled with the falling rain, a testimony to the brilliance of this dead author, that as in the books they have written, the Universe chose pathetic fallacy to mourn for their death, as they had for our favourite characters.
And I would be, as millions of others, inconsolable.
And as to Khushwant Singh, I only hope he stays timeless, as he deserves to be: A reminder that our ancestors are very much responsible for violence and destruction, unlike what they portray it to be- We were better than you.
And may the horrors of history serve as a warning for the fallacy of humanity we like to wear on our sleeves.
May he stay a legend, and rest in peace.