First of all, it is quite audacious on my part to review the work of the veteran writer Khushwant Singh. I have read his various books and he is now amongst my favorite authors. Still, the two books I’ll try to review here are ‘More Malicious Gossip’ and ‘The Vintage Sardar’, both compilations of his best writings of his long spanning and successful career as a columnist, novelist, editor, journalist, traveler and a diplomat. He has achieved much in life and hence these literary pieces are not just plain essays or boring travelogues but, concise and thought provoking pieces that can flood the reader with knowledge and interesting facts.
The first book is More Malicious Gossip, which is published by HarperCollins. This book is divided into three parts, viz, ‘With malice unspared’- personality portraits, ‘Going places’- travelogues and ‘Musings’- essays.
The first part describes the lesser known facets of people admired and hated. Their lives, careers and their real self have been described (read exposed) in a very to-the-point manner. The people included are Lord Mountbatten, urdu poet Faiz ahmed Faiz, dacoit turned MP Phoolan Devi, criminal Charles Shobhraj, actors Nargis Dutt and Ingrid Bergman, and Mughal ruler Aurengzeb, amongst others. Whatever he writes is his unbiased and frank point of view. He bashes politicians openly and cuts them to size. He describes how an innocent village lass Phoolan became a notorious dacoit, how Faiz Ahmed Faiz (who also happened to be his senior in college) was unhappy with the way Pakistani government worked and was looped into the dirty game of politics, how Shobhraj cleverly escaped from prison, and many other things. This part 1 is immensely readable.
The second part is travelogues. Khushwant Singh has traveled around the world and his writings on places are also quite interesting. He describes places like
Syria, Germany and various Indian cities like Konark, Hyderabad and Goa.
The third part is Musings, essays and his thoughts and opinions on various things like disturbance in
Punjab, family planning, dowry deaths, God and religion. This part is also extremely interesting. Here you’ll find naked truths and unbiased contemplation of matters we come across everyday but rarely stop to ponder upon.
The second book is ‘The Vintage Sardar’, published by Penguin Books. This is a compilation of his articles, especially those from his coloumn ‘With Malice Towards One And All’ in Hindustan Times newspaper in late 80s and early 90s. The range of topics is wider in this book and various new categories have been included as well, like nature, sex, death and faith.
He talks about shrewd Pakistani General Zia Ul Haq and his deceptively innocent looks, Nehru’s affair with Lady Edwina Mountbatten and how paparazzi sneaked inside their hotel at midnight, the infamously nymphomaniac life of painter Amrita Shergill, who was also his neighbor in
and her catfight with Singh’s wife. He also takes us back to Mughal era and tells us what Babar told Humayun about Lahore in his famous letter, and much more, from the secretive functioning of the gay community of Mumbai to Singh’s tactful dealing with a verbally abusive caller. India
I loved both the books and undoubtedly I applaud Khushwant Singh for such a clear and informative yet interesting style of writing.