Kushwant Singh is one of the most interesting Indian personalities of the 20th century. Particularly impressive was his integrity and his fearlessness to represent his strongly polarizing opinions, even if they were unpopular and brought him influential enemies. Kushwant Singh was a liberal in the best sense of the word who never allowed himself to be coerced by politics or religion.
Singh was born in 1915 in today's Pakistani part of Punjab into a wealthy Sikh family. This enabled him to study law in Lahore and later in Cambridge and London. He then worked as an attorney in Lahore for eight years. He then accepted a position in the Indian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which never fulfilled him and disappointed him so much that he turned away from law and journalism. He quickly made a name for himself and eventually rose to the editor of three magazines / newspapers: the Times of India Illustrated Weekly of India , The National Herald and The Hindustan Times .
His trademark, however, were his sharp-tongued essays and columns. At times he wrote three columns a week. For him, taboos were there to break them, but he provoked not for the sake of provocation, but to put his finger in the open wounds of Indian society. Above all hypocrisy, exaggerated piety and hypocrisy were a thorn in his side throughout his life. For narrow-mindedness he had only ridicule.
He was a multi-layered and sometimes contradictory character, an all-rounder who published short stories, spontaneous prose, essays, short stories, novels and joke books. Kushwant Singh was an obsessed workaholic who wrote over 80 books.
His most famous work appeared in 1954. In Train to Pakistan he described the brutal expulsion and the pogroms that followed the "division" in India and Pakistan. A great book that portrays the cruelties credibly.
In 1963 he wrote in two volumes the History of the Sikhs . In 1974 he was awarded the literary prize Padma Bushan . In 1984, however, he returned it in protest against the military action "Blue Star", during which the Golden Temple in Amritsar was stormed bloody after Sikh nationalists had occupied him. From 1980 to 1986 he was a member of the House of Lords in Parliament. In 1989, he wrote Delhi - the city was to remain his home until his death.
He was a bold, argumentative and unadapted man who knew how to play perfectly with humor, irony and sarcasm, both disreputable and tender, razor-sharp in his analysis and barely vain. The personality cult that surrounded him was more embarrassing. He loved the subversive provocation and hated thinking prohibitions. This was once again evident in his 2003 book, The End of India , in which he openly and sharply criticized the Hindu fanatics.
Many also took offense at how openly he wrote about sexuality. Although one can describe his texts in comparison at most as "soft porn", but that is enough today to shock the frozen in prudery Indians. Nevertheless, for example, a Charles Bukowski with his "Gossen literature" is a completely different caliber. Singh was also very vulnerable to his critics because he openly called himself an agnostic or atheist.
In 2013, he published with his book The Good, the Bad and the Ridiculous a sharp criticism of religious practice, priests and the credulity of the new Indian middle class and their willingness to unreflectively indulge in Hindu nationalism. Great is also his book Absolute Kushwant - Between Life and Death , in which the grand master of the column a few years before his death, once again unvarnished and full of mischief and without bitterness on his eventful life looks back.
Kushwant Singh turned 99 and remains for me an important voice of a liberal, cosmopolitan India that does not impose taboos and understands religion as a private matter rather than a political issue. Some say that towards the end of his life he once more turned to the faith. Of course, always with his own sense of humor and his ease. As he himself wrote, "Thank the Lord is dead, this son of a gun."
A personality like Kushwant Singh is very lacking in India! I hope that in his footsteps new literary men will have the courage to write what moves them, and not allow themselves to be restricted by hardliners in their freedom of expression.
In my book, I introduce other Indian personalities. Here is a selection:
- Because Rabindranath Tagore could express the Indian soul
- Because Mahatma Gandhi kindled the peaceful resistance
- Because Ashoka transformed from the cruel general to the peaceful king
- Because Salman Rushdie created the "Midnight Children"
- Because Vandana Shiva is fighting for farmers' rights and against seed companies
- Because Arundhati Roy works for the rights of minorities
- Because Jiddu Krishnamurti did not let himself be transfigured into a "world teacher"
"111 reasons to love India" has been published by Schwarzkopf Schwarzkopf Verlag in Berlin and comprises 336 pages. Premium paperback with two colored parts
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