Khushwant Singh: Sparking Change Through Literature

“Not forever does the bulbul sing,
In balmy shades of bowers,
Not forever the spring lasts.
Nor ever blossom the flowers.
Not forever reigneth joy,
Sets the sun on days of bliss,
Friendships not forever last,
They know not life,
who knows not this.”

Khushwant Singh, Train To Pakistan.

Khushwant Singh was a man of many thoughts. He was a renowned Indian author, writer, journalist, diplomat and a social critic. The Indian writer passed away at the age of 99, in 2014. Today marks the writer’s 108th birth anniversary. Singh’s writing was emblazoned with sarcasm and humor through which Singh brought out the fabric of the socio-religious elements that pervaded our society, which, more often than not, have influenced our past, and continue to influence our present and future. On his birthday, let’s take a dive into his personal early life, and his literary works.

Khushwant Singh: Early Days, Education And Growing Up

Khushwant Singh was born in 1915 in Hadali, Pakistan, to parents, Sir Sobha Singh and Veeran Bai. Many people might not know this but his birth name was not ‘Khushwant.’ His grandmother gave him the name ‘Kushal Singh’, which means, ‘Prosperous Lion’. His father, Sir Sobha Singh was a contractor and a builder. He was indeed born in a wealthy family.

Khushwant’s education was from reputed institutions. He did his schooling from Delhi Modern School in 1912. Afterwards, from 1930 till 1932, Khushwant did Intermediate of Arts at St. Stephen’s College in Delhi during 1930-1932. He got his BA degree from Government College, Lahore, in 1932. Next thing on his list was LLB. For this, he traveled to London, and studied law at King’s College. By 1939, Khushwant started working as a professional lawyer at Lahore Court.

Post 1947, owing to partition, Khushwant and his family migrated from Pakistan to India. The grief and sorrow of separation from his hometown, the place where he was born and grew up, was rarely felt in his myriad writings. His most acclaimed work, ‘Train to Pakistan’ was in fact based on the partition of India and Pakistan, and is, quite understandably, categorized under, ‘Partition Literature.’

Literature and Journalism: Khushwant’s Archives

Along with being a lawyer, Khushwant was an avid writer. He wrote both fiction pieces and critical newspaper articles. After the partition, Khushwant initially worked as a diplomat for a new independent India. A few years later, in 1951, he founded and edited ‘Yojna’ which was an Indian government journal. Throughout the next years, from the 1960s to the 80s, Khushwant worked as an editor for numerous well-reputed newspapers of India. He was the editor of the Illustrated weekly of India, Bombay, Editor-in-Chief of National Herald, New Delhi, and the Editor of the Hindustan Times as well. His Saturday column, “With Malice towards One & All” in the Hindustan Times was a well-read and much liked column of the newspaper.

When it comes to literature, Khushwant has an enormous shelf. Some of his most legendary books (fiction and non-fiction) are, ‘Train To Pakistan’, ‘I Shall Never Hear a Nightingale’, ‘The Portrait of a Lady: Collected Stories’, ‘Why I Supported The Emergency’, and ‘Delhi: A Novel’. These works display Khushwant’s wit and wisdom, humor, simple narration, and his sharp observance of the society.

His written works contributed to the Indian literature and its culture, and for this service, he was awarded the Padma Bhushan in 1974. In 2007, he was awarded with the Padma Vibhushan. In 2010, he also received the Sahitya Academy fellowship award by the Sahitya Academy of India.

Khushwant breathed his last at his residence in Delhi. His last remains were buried in Hadali School (now in Pakistan), his birthplace. On the marble plaque installed there are the words,This is where my roots are. I have nourished them with tears of nostalgia!” inscribed.

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