I grew up reading Khushwant Singh’s columns. During my High School days, one of the best tips for writing came from him. In one of his interviews he said, “Write simply as the idea is to communicate and not merely be erudite.” Henceforth, simplicity was the essence of my writing...
Nandita Puri with Khushwant Singh in the later’s home in Delhi. Pic Courtesy/Nandita Puri
Years later, in 2005, during when I wrote my first collection of short stories, Nine on Nine, I went to meet Singh at his Delhi residence for a blurb. He graciously gave me one: “Engrossing, well worded ...whatever she writes is a joy to read” (for which I am ever grateful) but not before pointing out that Sydney was spelt ‘Sydney’ and not ‘Sidney’, which I had erroneously written! That was how sharp his focus was even in his niceties.
While nursing his single malt, I asked to have a photograph with him. He answered in the affirmative. “Yes. But on one condition?”
“What?” I asked.
“You’ll have to sit on my lap.”
Before he knew it, I plonked myself on his lap while my hubby clicked. I could only dare to pose thus because of the irrepressible sardar!
Thus continued our friendship. I used to call to wish him on his birthdays till he kept getting deaf. “Write to him,” his son Rahul told me once, and thereafter Singh would reply in his squiggly scrawl.
Once, when I turned up at his Kasauli residence without warning, the watchman almost turned me away saying he was sleeping. But from through the iron gates I could see sardarji sunning himself (it was mid-day) with his legs curled up.
I shouted out to him. He asked, “Who is it?” I yelled out my name. Lo and behold, the gates were opened and we sat over a cupola to the chagrin of his man Friday. Not only that, I was invited for a delicious Chinese dinner with the entire family. But before dinner I was given a gentle reprimand to be more disciplined and prolific in my writings. This, from one of the most prolific writers of our times.
They don’t make writers like him anymore.
Or men, for that matter.