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Monday, 28 August 2017

Extraordinary Indians - Book Review

Extraordinary Indians is a collection of Khuswant Singh’s earlier published pieces. They have been culled out from his estate, after his death. So this book comes with a disclaimer that it is difficult to accurately source the name of the publication in which the pieces first appeared. That doesn’t make the book any less interesting.

The personalities in this book range from Gurunanak to Indira Gandhi and from Kabir to Protima Bedi. The book is divided into six sections – Politicians, Spiritual Leaders, Writers/Artists, Family and Friends and Others. Lal Krishna Advani and Sanjay Gandhi are listed under the section And Two Who Flattered To Deceive. Whether this heading is the handiwork of the author or the editor, we will perhaps never know.

The old Sardar was a living storm and even after his death he continues to ruffle a few feathers. The same is evident from the way he describes the cold, dry and detached attitude of Mother Teresa while tending to the sick. Speaking of Abdul Kalam he says, ‘However one hopes that like Atal Behari Vajpayee Kalam too will stop his little attempts at versification after he takes over as President of India.

Figures of history like Gurunanak, Kabir appear an oddity in this collection. But yet Khuswant Singh enlightens us on little known faucets of these gems. Speaking of fasting Roza he tells us that Ghalib wrote ‘I observe fasts, but keep my fasts well-humoured with occasional sips of water, and a few puffs of the hookah. Now and then I eat a few morsels of bread also. People here have a strange sense of things and a strange disposition. I am just whiling away the fast, but they accuse me of non-observance of this holy ritual. They should understand that skipping the fasts is one thing, and whiling them away is quite another.’ In the post on Mir Taqi Mir he tells us that at one time Urdu novelists and chroniclers used to have appendices to their works in which they included their favourite jokes which had nothing whatsoever to do with the themes of their books.

Speaking of Maulana Azad he says that about Samad he said, ‘He stood on the minaret of love from which the walls of kaba and the temple appeared of equal height.’ He tells how Mr. Azad was against the partition of the country. Rather he had sensed it was of the opinion that Muslims should never be at the forefront of the freedom movement. He tells us that though there were translations of the Holy Quran in numerous languages, Mr. Azad felt that it had complicated the otherwise simple word of the God and hence undertook the task of translation.

Khuswant’s Singh writing as usual is piquant and engaging. Whether you are fan of Khuswant Singh or not, you will immensely enjoy this book.

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