It was a somewhat pleasant and relaxed day in November 2001. I had the mandate if not the instruction to seek the concerted views of some eminent people from various walks of life on two unprecedented documents brought out with care, caution and hope by my State Government. The idea was to learn from wide experience of such people and to take fruitful and sustainable initiatives for further improvement. The task in question enabled me to meet some distinguished citizens. One of them, Khushwant Singh, I can not easily and possibly forget. Each time I read about him or for that matter, get a chance to read his latest works, I am privileged to be reminded of my close ‘encounter’ with him.
It is a known fact that this magnificent genious does not hang a name plate over his main door, rather one historical and legendary board welcomes the visitors in the following way : “Please don’t ring the bell unless you are expected”. I ventured into his habitat, obviously upon getting an appointment. I was under the wrong impression that one of his personal staff would lift the telephone number 24620159. I proved incorrect when after repeated yet patient attempts, I tasted success. A grave, blunt voice greeted me. It was the celebrated, prolific and the controversial man himself. I was measured in my words while conversing. My more than adequate explanation convinced him. Thereafter, I was granted one of the rare opportunities of my life to meet a reputed intellectual, who was my consistent and favorite idol since the college days.
True to what I had heard and anticipated, despite all the wealth, Khushwant Singh appeared very simple, down to earth and straight forward. His drawing room, undoubtedly reflected his stature and personality. Ahead of taking a seat, I was rather distressed to see an ailing but beautiful old lady, attended to by two domestic helps. I gathered later that it was his life partner who had virtually become a vegetable due to some incurable disease. I was immediately reminded of what Khushwant had written about her in his controversial, informative but widely read autobiography “the day she departs I will stop writing”. The celebrated old man, however, has refrained from fulfilling his resolve. After her death, he has churned out more than four books. This speaks volumes about his depth, aptitude and a remarkable urge to share his feelings, emotions and wisdom as long as he can.
The moment I explained the purpose of the meeting, he retorted “Be reasonable, how can I go through these voluminous documents at this ripe ole age of 86? Nevertheless, do convey my thank to your CM for remembering me”. When he asked for my name, I disclosed. His immediate reaction was, “So you are a Kayashtha. We have a Kayashtha Damad, married to my grand daughter”. Before I could venture to introduce my small and beautiful State, he recalled fondly his only visit to the then Himalayan Kingdom in May 1975 prior to its joining the main stream of the Nation. He was very nostalgic about Mrs. Dorjee, wife of late Kazi Lendup Dorji, the first CM of Sikkim. It transpired that this famous historical lady belonging to Belgium was a school teacher in Delhi and that she had successfully taught one or two foreign languages to his kith and kin.
He remembered the narrow, serpentine but clean roads leading to Gangtok, the Ridge Park adjacent to the Royal Palace, simple people, bright flowers, exotic handicrafts and a very very soothing view of the Mount Khanchendzonga. He did recall his interaction with Palden Thondup Namgyal, the XIIth and the last Chogyal. Subsequent to patient hearing of his anecdotes ably supported by his elephantine memory, I ventured down the memory lane and was aptly reminded of the brilliant cover story penned by him as the editor of now defunct, The Illustrated Weekly of India in June 1975. I did recall my mother showing me the copy in question in November 1984 when I was allotted the cadre of Sikkim. Needless to say, it turned out to be my first introduction to the State, wherein I was to spend my lifetime. Hats-off to my mother, the issue of the ‘Weekly’ was preserved neatly in her tin cash box, presented to her by my late father in the early sixties.
Contrary to initial impressions, the element of hesitation gradually paved the way for a very enlightening face-to-face communication. The World famous Sardarji sporting a casual and unimpressive ‘Patka’, no wonder heads a flourishing writing ‘industry’ with a wide readership in not less than seventeen languages. Though only half of his works are considered scholarly, he evokes indelible mark on the mindset of the readers by what he calls – ‘provoking, amusing and informing’.
His insistence on punctuality prevented me from getting more insight into the mysteries of his writing world. After half an hour or so, it was the time to leave the famous address of Delhi- 49 E, Sujan Singh Park. Even though my hunger to acquire more knowledge from my idol could not be fully satiated, I was victorious in ways, more than one. I said goodbye to him by gently folding my hands. He did not show any change in his posture but his eyes and facial expression conveyed what I had aspired for. While getting into my car, I remembered his famous words uttered at the time of launch of one of his numerous books: “even if I write trash, not only I get published but I also get undue publicity”. His another famous statement speaks high of his candid and fearless mind: “no power on earth can ever invent a condom aimed to impede the flow of my pen”.