Thursday, 20 March 2014

The Emperor of Wit, Humour and Laughter is Dead. Long Live the Emperor!

I had the opportunity of meeting Khushwant Singh, the Emperor of Wit, Humour and Laughter at the "Leslie Sawhney Programme of Training in Democracy" at Hotel Clarks Shiraz, Agra in the late '70s. The meeting, though brief, remains deeply entrenched in my memory. 

I have been a great admirer of Khushwant ever since I read his Train to Pakistan in my undergraduate years. The novel, in my opinion, is one of the best to emerge from the sub-continent's traumatic experience of the Partition. Despite the virtual deluge of literary works available on the theme of Partition today, reading Train to Pakistan continues to remain an unforgettable experience. Above all, it brings to the fore Khushwant's masterly art of story-telling. 

I have been an avid reader of his regular weekly column "With Malice towards One and All" as much as I loved his uncharacteristic flamboyant style that set at naught all hypocritical traditions and limitations to create a canon which only he was capable of creating. It was a pleasure to introduce him to my M.A. English students just the other day through the Sahitya Akademi documentary on the life and work of the legend. I narrated a few jokes from his joke books which the students thoroughly enjoyed. Perhaps, somewhere deep down, I had the premonition that the Emperor was getting ready for his final journey. The laughter that we shared still rings loud and clear amid the surrounding gloom of the vacuum created by his departure for the abode of the immortals, as a befitting tribute to the legend who, until his very last, continued to entertain and enlighten one and all with his writings. May his soul rest in peace that passeth understanding. --Nibir K. Ghosh, March 21, 2014.

Khushwant Singh: in his own words...

“In a humourless nation like ours it doesn’t take much wit to be regarded as a humorist. It came as a very pleasant surprise to me to discover that the first item most of my readers read in my columns is the last one which I usually reserve for a humorous anecdote. The conclusion is clear we may not have much humour in ourselves but we enjoy it coming from others. A god joke is a tonic for appetites jaded by an unending and unsavoury diet of politics, corruption, religious and social problems…

We Indians are singularly humourless people who find it difficult to laugh unless it is prescribed by a doctor and administered as a dose good for our health. Go to any park in any city and you will see middle-aged men and women with long, sad faces looking as if they had just broken away from a funeral procession for a few minutes to rest their feet before rejoining it.

They line up on a lawn like soldiers on drill and await their leader’s command to begin their exercise. He raises one arm; they fall silent. He brings it down with a jerk, they start laughing – hee, hee, hee – haw, haw, haw – and bray like donkeys for full fifteen minutes. Their leader raises his hand again. They fall silent. Put back their long, sad faces, break lines and rejoin the funeral procession.

I am not sure there will be yet another compilation of my jokes. I hope others will take it up after I have been summoned by the Lord to regale Him with the latest jokes doing the rounds in the world He created.” – Khushwant Singh

1 comment:

  1. Khushwant was a prolific writer whose range spanned from erotica to agnosticism punctuated with boisterous humour, scalding satire and a liberal dose of metaphysical musings. He wore his agnosticism on his sleeves but was ever ready to quote mystics like Rumi, Kabir and Nanak with great relish.
    "Iqbal echoed my sentiments:
    Dhoondhta phirta hoon main, ai Iqbal, apney aap ko
    Aap hi goya musafir, aap hi manzil hoon main," he quotes in the introduction of The Freethinker's Prayer Book.