Intrepid journalist, honest writer and faithful friend


His emotional connection to his birthplace/roots

He didn’t really care what other people commented on his roots; some even called him derogatory names, but he kept his house open to anyone arriving from his place of origin, Pakistan. There was that smile that kept growing on his face as he spoke with Pakistanis arriving at his doorstep. In fact, tradition has it that Pakistan’s high commissioners coming to India to visit him within the first few days of arriving in New Delhi.

Many ordinary travelers from the neighboring country made a point of meeting him. And he would be there to ask details about his ancestral village in Pakistan, as well as many of the basic questions. Yes, with them he was breaking in in Punjabi, with many English and Hindustani words added for the sake of non-Punjabis sitting around. And it was at his house that I first met Minoo Bhandara – the brother of Bapsi Sidhwa, owner of Murree Breweries and also a former member of the National Assembly of Pakistan. Minoo had visited his village Hadali (in Sargodha district in Pakistan) and clicked pictures. There were tears in Khushwant’s eyes when he asked Minoo who lived in his ancestral home and more along the stump. And for what seemed like minutes, he kept staring at his house, in these photos, saying, “The last time I visited my village was many years ago, when I was in Pakistan. It was a very moving experience with a reception organized for me and the people who came to meet me… Ours was a huge haveli and today it is occupied by three refugee families, who were It was touching to see the village gurdwara still intact…even during the chaos of the partition, no one touched the gurdwara when the village population was 90% Muslim and there was no There were only a few Sikh and Hindu families. Then this village has the distinction of having sent the largest number of men for the First World War… I have several memories of my village – how my grandmother m took to the different families she visited in the village, and how she indicated time of day; there was no clock or watch, during the day my grandmother told the time by the shadow of the sun on the wall and at night by th e stars.”

A loyal friend

There was who’s who of this town who came to him for advice. Many have confided in him and many others have sought advice. And, notice, his advice was invariably on the conservative side. It might be kind of a surprise to hear that, but that’s the way it is. I wonder then why this image of him, sitting with women in the middle of these threadbare frills?

“It’s all because I speak, speak openly, write…if I like the way a woman looks, I say so, but say so in front of her husband,” he said. The fundamental reality is, as he himself proclaimed quite loudly, that no woman, no matter how beautiful, can sit still for more than fifteen minutes, because by then she had read l impatience in his eyes. Although not a loner in the truest sense of the word, he seemed comfortable in solitude.

Once on a weekend I had visited him when he was in Kasauli. He looked so relaxed being alone that I sensed some sort of intruder. For most of the day he had been sitting in the front, reading or writing, keeping away from the only landline telephone and there seemed to be no trace of a television set. It was only in the evening that the visitors had arrived. There was something about the old world charm, as her neighbors and friends gathered, chatted and chatted over dinner. Guests included Churamanis, Prashers (if I’m not mistaken Mrs. Prasher was India’s number one badminton player), Baljeet Virk, Anil & Sharda Kaushik and the school’s then Scottish Headmaster Lawrence Sanawar. -Andrew Gray. And the next afternoon, as Khushwant and I were walking towards Kasauli market, I realized that he knew several traders. No, not mere formalized sessions, but as if he cared, asking them about their children and their work.

His thoughts on death: “I am not afraid of death, there is no fear. Death is inevitable, do not ruminate, be prepared, as Asadullah Khan Ghalib said all too well – ‘rau mein hai raksh -e -umar kahaan deykheeye thammey /nai haath baag par hai nah pa hai rakaab mein (age is galloping / who knows where it will stop / we don’t have the reins in our hands / we don’t have our feet in the stirrups.)”

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