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March 2002

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Autobiography out after six-year delay

 

Truth, Love and (more than) a Little Malice


By J. Chander

GlobalomNet Media Service

 

"With a court ban lifted, the autobiography of bad-boy journalist Khushwant Singh is promising to shake up the country's elite." -  SUGITA KATYAL  Reuters

The best-selling author of more than 90 books, and a popular columnist saw his long-awaited autobiography, Truth, Love and a Little Malice, available in the book stores after a delay of six years.

 

Maneka Gandhi, daughter-in-law of former prime minister Indira Gandhi, delayed the book's publication when she went to court because of a chapter on the Gandhi family. The court recently lifted a ban on its publication.

 

Maneka was upset as the book recounts her dramatic exit from the prime minister's house after her husband's death in a 1980 plane crash.

 

"She had told me several weeks ahead of the exact day in which she would be 'thrown out,' " he writes, recounting how Gandhi screamed in rage as she told Maneka, Sanjay Gandhi's widow, to leave.

 

Khushwant Singh's autobiography, an account of his life as a lawyer, bureaucrat, editor, academic, scholar and lawmaker has outraged many of the people he has written about, including a number of the high and mighty.

 

Grand old man of Indian literature or a dirty old man - take your pick! As for the 87-year-old Khushwant, one of India's best-known columnists, he doesn't care. He says, " 'Grand old man' sounds too grand. And 'dirty old man' is too much of a cliché... I just speak my mind. And I like teasing people."

 

Described by the leading news magazine India Today as "King Leer", Khushwant is no stranger to controversy.

 

As editor of The Illustrated Weekly of India, he published photos of bare-breasted tribal girls and hippies on Goan beaches as well as serious articles on such issues as the caste system.

 

In 1975, when the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi imposed emergency rule, suspended democratic rights, jailed leaders and journalists, Khushwant caused an uproar in the media world.  by defending her.

 

Indira's son, Sanjay, launched an unpopular forced sterilization and slum-clearance drive during the emergency. Defending that, he said, "She had no choice. Family planning is important in India and slum clearance is also a must. The trouble was that Sanjay was too impatient." 

 

Protesting the decision of Indira's government to send army into the Golden Temple, the most sacred place of worship for the Sikhs, to flush out armed guerrillas when Sikh militancy was at its peak in 1984, he returned one of the highest civilian honours awarded by the government in protest.

 

"Despite my indifference and even hostility to religion, I had no doubt in my mind that I should reaffirm my identity with my community," he says in his autobiography. "It was a well-calculated slap on the face of an entire community."

 

Just a few months after India and Pakistan clashed in Kargil, Khushwant gave the Pakistani high commissioner's daughter a kiss on the cheek at a party. The outraged Pakistani newspapers said the kiss was a "highly objectionable" action that had embarrassed Pakistan and "lowered Pakistan's head in shame."

 

In Truth, Love and a Little Malice, Khushwant reveals salacious tidbits about many Indian icons, including the country's first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, who was long rumoured to have had a romance with Mountbatten, the wife of the British viceroy to India.

 

Known for his columns titled such as In the Company of Women, Sex, Scotch and Scholarship and Women and Men in my Life, or his column With Malice Towards One and All, which shows a turbaned Sikh inside a light bulb, he has also written a definitive history of the Sikhs, a poignant love story set during the traumatic partition of the subcontinent, Train to Pakistan, and a book on trees.

 

Khushwant Singh's wife was a strong support to him. She died in December last year. He has a son and a daughter.