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Kushwant Singh: India’s Own Top Writer in English Passes away at 99.
The British ruled India for over 150 years. The exact period id 190 years in case one considers the Battle of Plessey (1757) as the start of British power under the aegis of the East India company. One of the spinoff of British rule was the English language , which is now the associate official language along with Hindi.
After the British left in 1947, the study and development of English increased and today India has more English speaking and knowing persons than the combined population USA, Canada and Australia. This has brought forth a generation of writers who have written in English.
Indian Writers in English
India has produced a bevy of writers who have written in English. Some of the names are well known in the west as well and include Mulk Raj Anand, Nirad C Choudhry, John Masters, Salman Rushdie, Manohar Malgonkar, Jawaharlal Nehru, Vikram Seth, Kushwant Singh and many more. Kushwant Singh is a star among Indian writers in English> he has just expired at the ripe old age of 99, leaving a rich legacy behind.
Kushwant Singh was born in 1915 at Hardoli near Sargodha in undivided Punjab a time when the Raj was in full sway. This area now forms part of Pakistan. He was a Sikh, though he often expressed the belief that there was no god. He was born with a silver spoon as his father Sir Sobha Singh was a prominent builder of the city of New Delhi which was planned by Luteyns.
Kushwant studied at the Modern School in Delhi and then joined Government College, Lahore before coming to get his degree from St Stephens at Delhi. He continued to the Kings College, London before entering the Bar at the Inner Temple. Kushwant was thus a highly qualified man and he made good use of his education
After completing his education Singh joined the Indian Foreign Service and was posted at London, where he fell out with Krishna Menon, the Indian High Commissioner and resigned. He took up journalism and remained the Editor of the “The Illustrated weekly of India’ for 8 years, but just 8 days before he was to retire he was sacked as he during the previous 2 years had supported the emergency imposed by Indira Gandhi. With the defeat of Mrs. Gandhi in 1978, Singh was sacked in a week.
Kushwant took up full time writing and continued to regularly contribute columns. The last was published just a week back. He wrote in various newspapers like the Hindustan times. He was active till his last days.
Kushwant Singh as a Writer
Kushwant’s forte was writing in English. He also knew Urdu and thus could blend the local language of the Punjab with English. He wrote over a 100 books and novels of which “Train to Pakistan” is the most acclaimed. The book was also made into a film and Kushwant appeared on the International scene. His other famous novels are Delhi, Black Jasmine and Company of women. His autobiography, "Truth, Love and a Little Malice", was published by Penguin Books in 2002.
Kushwant wrote prolifically. He always wrote with his pen as he just could not get used to using a keyboard.
Kushwant Singh as Historian
Kushwant wrote the monumental history of the Sikhs. This book he wrote in 2 volumes and was the first comprehensive history of the Sikhs after Lord Macaulay and Joseph Cunningham, who wrote the History of the Sikhs during the days of the Raj.
Singh and Politics
Singh was a close friend of the Indian Prime Minister Mrs. Indira Gandhi and supported the emergency. However he had to pay a price later for this support .Kushwant Singh was shocked with the killing of Sikhs in 1984 in aftermath of the assassination of Indira Gandhi. He was so dismayed that he returned his national award of Padma Bhusan.
Later he accepted a higher award the Padma Vibhusan in 2006. Singh was a self-confessed secularist, but at times his anti-Hindu bias over took him. In a discussion with VS Naipaul, he defended Muslims and Muslim rule, while Naipaul pointed out to him that Muslim rule was destructive in nature.
In the Indian context, Kushwant Singh wrote prodigiously, but one has a feeling that he could have concentrated more on fiction. Perhaps had he written some more books on fiction like Manohar Malgonkar or Rushdie, his place in Indian literature would have been infinitely higher. Yet his position as a writer of English prose is among the top.
List of Prominent works of Kushwant Singh
. Mark of Vishnu and Other Stories, 1950
- The History of Sikhs, 1953
- Train to Pakistan, 1956
- The Voice of God and Other Stories, 1957
- I shall not hear the Nightingale, 1959
- The Sikhs Today, 1959
- The Fall of the Kingsom of the Punjab, 1962
- A History of the Sikhs, 1963
- Ranjit Singh: The Maharajah of the Punjab, 1963
- Ghadar1915: Indias First armed revolution, 1966
- A History of the Sikhs, 1966 (2nd edition)
- A Bride for the Sahib and other stories, 1967
- Black Jasmine, 1971
- Tragedyof Punjab, 1984
- Delhi:A Novell, 1990
- Sex, Scotch and Scholarship: Selected Writings, 1992
- Not a Nice Man to Know: The Best of Khushwant Singh, 1993
- We Indians, 1993
- Women and Men in My Life, 1995
- Uncertain Liaisons; Sex, Strife and Togetherness in Urban India, 1995
- Declaring Love in Four Languages, by Khushwant Singh and Sharda Kaushik, 1997
- The Company of Women, 1999
- Truth,Love and a Little Malice (an autobiography), 2002
- With Malice towards One and All
- The End of India, 2003
- Burial at the Sea, 2004
- Paradise and Other Stories, 2004
- A History of the Sikhs: 1469-1838, 2004
- Death at My Doorstep, 2005
- A History of the Sikhs: 1839-2004, 2005
- The Illustrated History of the Sikhs, 2006
- Why I Supported the Emergency: Essays and Profiles, 2009
- The Sunset Club, 2010
- Agnostic Khushwant Singh, There is no GOD, 2012
- The Good, the Bad and the Ridiculous, 2013 (Co-authored with Humra Qureshi)