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Khushwant Singh Literary Festival comes to London

TRIBUTE: Khushwant Singh with
Professor Sir Rick Trainor; and (inset)
Divya Dutta, Shobaa De and Vikram Seth
TRIBUTE: Khushwant Singh with Professor Sir Rick Trainor; and (inset) Divya Dutta, Shobaa De and Vikram Seth


A LITERARY festival celebrating the life and times of Khushwant Singh, who was one of India’s most popular authors and irreverent columnists, is to be held in Lon­don on May 17.

The theme of the event will be “Indo-Anglian” and “showcase writings on the mutual influences and conflu­ences of the Eastern culture of India and the western nu­ances of the UK”.

The festival will begin with KS: Not a Nice Man to Know and reflect Khushwant’s close connections with Britain. He read law at King’s College London, and later served as press officer when VK Krishna Menon was independent India’s first high commissioner in London.

“My father was always something of an Anglophile and loved English writers and poetry,” his journalist son Rahul Singh told Eastern Eye. “He regarded England as his second home.” Rahul started the Khushwant Singh Literary Festival following his father’s death, aged 98 in 2014.

This year’s festival, the seventh, will be held as usual in Kasauli, a small cantonment town in the Himalayas, but in addition it will come to London for the first time.

Khushwant has left behind a rich literary legacy of both fiction and non-fiction. His best known novel, on the con­sequences of partition, is Train to Pakistan, which was turned into a film. In non-fiction, he is highly respected for his scholarly two volume A History of the Sikhs.

Khushwant, who was born in Hadali in what is now Paki­stan and retained an abiding love for Lahore, pushed for better Indo-Pakistan relations throughout his life. After his death, part of his ashes was taken to Pakistan by his son.

Khushwant’s distinctive humour is summed up in the epitaph he prepared for himself: “Here lies one who spared neither man nor God/Waste not your tears on him, he was a sod/Writing nasty things he regarded as great fun/Thank the Lord he is dead, this son of a gun.”

When he died, his large collection of old copies of the Brit­ish satirical magazine, Private Eye, was bagged by one of his greater admirers, Vikram Seth, author of A Suitable Boy.

Among those invited to the event in London is the foreign secretary Boris Johnson, to whom Rahul is related by mar­riage: “Boris’s mother-in-law (Dip Singh), a Sikh, was mar­ried to my father’s youngest brother, Daljit Singh, a national junior tennis champion. They got divorced and she then mar­ried Sir Charles Wheeler, the BBC correspondent in Delhi.”

Their barrister daughter, Marina Wheeler, is Boris’s wife and mother of their four children.

Explaining how the idea of bringing the festival to Lon­don arose, Rahul said: “The idea germinated first with Navtej Sarna, who was then Indian high commissioner in London – he is now the ambassador in Washington. We then chanced to meet the deputy high commissioner, Dinesh Patnaik, who encouraged us to go ahead with the project.

“Actually, the current high commissioner, Yash Sinha, also has a connection with Kasauli. His wife’s parents, the Chura­manis, had a home in Kasauli and became close friends of my parents. Kasauli is where my dad did much of his writing.

“Six years ago, with the encouragement of the brigadier in charge of Kasauli, Anant Narayan, we started the Khushwant Singh Literary Festival in a small way.

“But it has grown bigger every year and we have been able to attract big names such as Sir Mark Tully, Vikram Seth, Rajmohan Gandhi, Mani Shankar Aiyar, Shatrughan Sinha, Anupam Kher, Asha Parekh, Milkha Singh, Captain Ama­rinder Singh, Farooq Abdullah, Omar Abdullah, Nidhi Razdan, Meher Tarar, Fakir Aijazuddin, Salima Hasmi, Aitzaz Ahsan and Jugnu Mohsin as speakers – the last five from Pakistan.”

  • The Khushwant Singh Literary Festival will be held at the Nehru Centre on May 17 from 2pm-6.30pm.