Khushwant Singh wants out, and for good
Khushwant Singh, the grand old man of Indian journalism, wants out. At 98, it is time to hang up his boots, look back and ready for the final journey ahead, he says. But life refuses to let him off the hook.
"I have been writing them for ever 70 years without a break. The truth is that I want to die. I have lived long enough and am fed up with life. I have nothing to look forward to and whatever I want to do in life, I have done. So what is the point of hanging on to life with nothing whatsoever left to do," Khushwant Singh said Monday in his column, "With Malice Towards One and All".
"Last Independence Day, I turned 98. Being aware of my state of health, my chances of my continuing writing my bi-weekly columns appear bleak...," he mused, airing his death wish again, and stunning readers with the fatalistic note although they had heard him express the sentiment several times in the last two years.
He said the only relief he can think of is to recall memories of his past sweethearts.
Despite his frail state of health and wheelchair bound life, the witty "sardar" is as sprightly as ever two years short of a century.
He said nothing gives him greater joy than to admire a pretty face, tickle a quick intellect and enjoy a swig of leisurely whiskey in the evening.
He still responds to callers on telephone - though one has to virtually scream to make oneself audible to the writer who is hard of hearing.
Khushwant Singh relies on his typist to hammer his bi-weeklies in typed sheets and his cook for his meals. The writer is usually escorted around by his neighbour, a kindly lady, and entertained by endless friends and well-wishers across walks of life. And members of the family.
There is rarely time for solitude, he said.
He quoted from an Urdu couplet to describe his zest for life... "Tonight, your lost memory stole back in my mind/As spring sneaks into the desert waste/As softly blows gentle breeze/And hope comes to sick man/ Too sick with hope for life..."
He had gone public with his wish to end his innings both as a writer and in flesh in 2010 while releasing his novel "The Sunset Club".
"I don't know how long I can carry on. I am trying to learn to do nothing. If I make a century, I will be happy," he had said. The writer had quoted poet Hillaire Belloc saying, "I hope when I am dead, it will be said 'his sins were scarlet, but his books were read".
Since then, he has often expressed his desire to call it a day.
Khushwant Singh's column became a household during the 1980s when he become an MP and editor of The Hindustan Times. His six year in parliament coincided with the separatist movement in Punjab.
He spoke against the army action in the Golden Temple and lashed out at the government for the riots after the assassination of Indira Gandhi.
His speech ruffled feathers at high places. Subsequently, Khushwant Singh's three-year contract with The Hindustan Times was not renewed.
But the proprietor of the daily, K.K. Birla, told him to continue his weekly column, "With Malice Towards One And All".
Born in 1915, Khushwant Singh has edited the Yojana, The Illustrated Weekly and The National Herald beside The Hindustan Times. He has written nearly 50 novels and collections of short stories, including the iconic "Train to Pakistan".