Writer, Journalist and Khushwant Singh’s son Rahul Singh represented his father and read the text at the Seminar. The seminar was organized by PU Department of English and Cultural Studies.
“First of all, let me say how honoured I am that you, the Department of English and Cultural Studies of Panjab University, are devoting a whole day to discuss me and my writings. There are many more eminent writers than me who deserve the honour more. I am a mere scribbler whose scribbles some people like and enjoy. However, I have just entered my 100th Year and I believe that I have managed to write over 80 books. I also think that I may have had the longest continuously running weekly column of any writer. I began it when I took over the editorship of the Illustrated Weekly of India in 1969 and after I left the Weekly, or rather was fired from the Weekly, I continued it in other publications, mainly the Hindustan Times of which I was also the Editor. That makes over half a century of the column which I titled, “With Malice Towards One and All”. It has a cartoon by Mario Miranda, the late cartoonist who used to work with me in the Weekly, with me sitting in a light bulb, pen in one hand and glass of scotch whisky in the other. In the last few months my energy levels have gone down, as have the regularity of my column. I should also add that when I became Editor of the Illustrated Weekly, its circulation was around 65,000. When I left ten years later, it had crossed 4,50,000, making it by far the most read news weekly in the country. Some of the young journalists, who worked under me, like M J Akbar and Bachi Karkaria, later became big names in the journalistic profession. Part of the success of the Weekly was due to the cover stories that we often carried on various Indian communities, copies of which were lapped by members of that community.
We are such a wonderfully varied, vibrant and colourful nation that we should all feel privileged to be Indians. I certainly do, despite the many frustrations and shortcomings that we face. But we are still largely ignorant about each other. Look at the disgraceful way those from the north-east, our fellow Indians, are treated in some parts of the country, even today, made fun of and discriminated against.
My main aim in my writings has been to inform, provoke and occasionally raise a laugh. We take ourselves much too seriously and there is also a great deal of humbug and hypocrisy around. So-called godmen, astrologers, faith healers and the like, are constantly making fools of us. We spend too much time in worthless rituals and are prey to superstition. I have always believed that worship is not work; it is work that is worship.
Though I am an agnostic, I am also proud to be a Sikh. I admit that is something of a contradiction-I believe strongly in the sense of Sikh identity, of Sikhs retaining their symbols of the turban, long hair and the beard. Without that, I am convinced, the Sikh religion will eventually die out and perhaps merge with Hinduism. I know that many Sikh, perhaps even a majority of them, have discarded these symbols of Sikh identity. That is something the Sikh leadership should discuss and ponder over.
Nevertheless, I was appalled over “Operation Bluestar” and opposed Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, though I wish more Sikhs had also done so. But I rarely go to a gurdwara, yet I study all religions. There is a poem called Abou Ben Adhem which represents much of how I feel towards religion. I will summarise it. Abou Ben Adhem awakes one evening and finds an angel in his room writing in a book of gold. What are you writing? He asks the angel. The angel replies, the names of all those who love the Lord. Is mine there? Asks Abou Ben Adhem. No, replies the angel. Then, says Abou Ben Adhem, put me down as one who loves his fellow men. The angel returns the next evening and tells Abou Ben Adhem that he is on the very top of the list. So, be like Abou Ben Adhem. Love your fellow human beings. Loving your Lord, no matter of which religion, is less important.
What disturbs me most these days is the growth of intolerance and of fundamentalism of all religions, mine own, Sikhism, Islam and Hinduism. We must combat this menace if we are to develop and grow as a progressive, peaceful and secular society. I have hope in our new young generation who are better educated and more aware of what is going on in the world. Cell phones, twitter, facebook, of which I know nothing and which come under the umbrella of social media, are I believe helping in this process.
I have several concerns. The two most important in my view is education and welfare of the girl child which we have neglected. And secondly, the ecology and the environment, which we have degraded and abused. I have been fortunate enough to have spent a lot of time in Kasauli in a house that my late wife inherited from her parents. It is part of a cantonment and the military has kept it in pristine condition. I wish more parts of India had been kept like that.
I am at the sunset of my life, which I have lived to the full, with few regrets. As I said I am a proud Sikh and, above all, a proud Indian of a great, though often bewildering, nation. Thank you once again for this honour”.
Note: This is the full text of noted Writer and Journalist Khushwant Singh’s Message at the Seminar on topic of “Khushwant Singh: The Writer, Historian and Journalist” at PU Campus on February 5, 2014) This note was read out in Punjab University , Chandigarh on Feb. 4, 2014
Khushwant Singh’s address : Khushwant Singh , 49-E-SUJAN SINGH PARK, NEW DELHI 110003