Singh, Khushwant

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SINGH, Khushwant

Nationality: Indian. Born: Hadali, India (now Pakistan) 2 February 1915. Education: The Modern School, New Delhi; St. Stephen's College, New Delhi; Government College, Lahore, B.A. 1934; King's College, London, LL.B. 1938; called to the bar, Inner Temple, London, 1938. Family: Married Kaval Malik in 1939; one son and one daughter. Career: Practicing lawyer, High Court, Lahore, 1939-47; press attaché, Indian Foreign Service, in London and Ottawa, 1947-51; staff member, Department of Mass Communications, Unesco, Paris, 1954-56; editor, Yejna, an Indian government publication, New Delhi, 1956-58; visiting lecturer, Oxford University, 1965, University of Rochester, New York, 1965, Princeton University, New Jersey, 1967, University of Hawaii, Honolulu, 1967, and Swarthmore College, Pennsylvania, 1969; editor, Illustrated Weekly of India, Bombay, 1969-78; editor-in-chief, National Herald, New Delhi, 1978-79; chief editor, New Delhi, 1979-80; editor-in-chief, Hindustan Times and Contour, both New Delhi, 1980-83. Since 1980 member of the Indian Parliament. Head of the Indian Delegation, Manila Writers Conference, 1965. Awards: Rockefeller grant, 1966; Punjab Government grant, 1970; Mohan Singh award, Padma Bhushan, India, 1974. Address: 49-E Sujan Singh Park, New Delhi 110 003, Delhi, India.



Train to Pakistan. London, Chatto and Windus, 1956; New York, Grove Press, 1961; as Mano Majra, Grove Press, 1956.

I Shall Not Hear the Nightingale. New York, Grove Press, 1959; London, Calder, 1961.

The Company of Women. New Delhi and New York, Viking, 1999.

Short Stories

The Mark of Vishnu and Other Stories. London, Saturn Press, 1950.

The Voice of God and Other Stories. Bombay, Jaico, 1957.

A Bride for the Sahib and Other Stories. New Delhi, Hind, 1967.

Black Jasmine. Bombay, Jaico, 1971.

The Collected Stories. N.p., Ravi Dayal, 1989.


Television Documentary: Third WorldFree Press (also presenter; Third Eye series), 1982 (UK).


The Sikhs. London, Allen and Unwin, and New York, Macmillan, 1953.

The Unending Trail. New Delhi, Rajkamal, 1957.

The Sikhs Today: Their Religion, History, Culture, Customs, and Way of Life. Bombay, Orient Longman, 1959; revised edition, 1964; revised edition, New Delhi, Sangam, 1976, 1985.

Fall of the Kingdom of the Punjab. Bombay, Orient Longman, 1962.

A History of the Sikhs 1469-1964. Princeton, New Jersey, Princeton University Press, and London, Oxford University Press, 2 vols., 1963-66.

Ranjit Singh: Maharajah of the Punjab 1780-1839. London, Allen and Unwin, 1963.

Not Wanted in Pakistan. New Delhi, Rajkamal, 1965.

Ghadar, 1915: India's First Armed Revolution, with Satindra Singh. New Delhi, R and K, 1966.

Homage to Guru Gobind Singh, with Suneet Veer Singh. Bombay, Jaico, 1966.

Shri Ram: A Biography, with Arun Joshi. London, Asia Publishing, 1968.

Religion of the Sikhs (lecture). Madras, University of Madras, 1968.

Khushwant Singh's India: A Mirror for Its Monsters and Monstrosities. Bombay, India Book House, 1969.

Khushwant Singh's View of India (lectures), edited by Rahul Singh. Bombay, India Book House, 1974.

Khushwant Singh on War and Peace in India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, edited by Mala Singh. New Delhi, Hind, 1976.

Good People, Bad People, edited by Rahul Singh. New Delhi, Orient, 1977.

Khushwant Singh's India Without Humbug, edited by Rahul Singh. Bombay, India Book House, 1977.

Around the World with Khushwant Singh, edited by Rahul Singh. New Delhi, Orient, 1978.

Indira Gandhi Returns. New Delhi, Vision, 1979.

Editor's Page, edited by Rahul Singh. Bombay, India Book House, 1981.

We Indians. New Delhi, Orient, 1982.

Delhi: A Portrait. New Delhi and Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1983.

The Sikhs, photographs by Raghu Rai. Benares, Lustre Press, 1984.

Tragedy of the Punjab: Operation Bluestar and After, with Kuldip Nayar. New Delhi, Vision, 1984.

Many Faces of Communalism. Chandigarh, Centre for Research in Rural and Urban Development, 1985.

My Bleeding Punjab. New Delhi and London, UBSPD, 1992.

Women and Men in My Life. New Delhi, UBS Publishers' Distributors, 1995.

How the Sikhs Lost Their Kingdom. New Delhi, UBS Publishers' Distributors, 1996.

Editor, with Peter Russell, A Note on G.V. Desani's "All about H. Hatterr" and "Hali. " London and Amsterdam, Szeben, 1952.

Editor, with Jaya Thadani, Land of the Five Rivers: Stories of the Punjab. Bombay, Jaico, 1965.

Editor, Sunset of the Sikh Empire, by Sita Ram Kohli. Bombay, Orient Longman, 1967.

Editor, I Believe. New Delhi, Hind, 1971.

Editor, Love and Friendship. New Delhi, Sterling, 1974.

Editor, with Qurratulain Hyder, Stories from India. New Delhi, Sterling, 1974.

Editor, Gurus, Godmen, and Good People. Bombay, Orient Longman, 1975.

Editor, with Shobha Dé, Uncertain Liaisons: Sex, Strife and Togetherness in Urban India, New Delhi and London, Viking, 1993.

Editor, with Syeda Saiyidain Hameed, A Dream Turns Seventy-Five: The Modern School, 1920-1995. New Delhi, Allied Publishers, 1995.

Editor, A Brush with Life: An Autobiography, by Satish Gujral. New Delhi, India, Penguin Books India, 1997.

Translator, Jupji: The Sikh Morning Prayer. London, Probsthain, 1959.

Translator, with M.A. Husain, Umrao Jan Ada: Courtesan of Lucknow, by Mohammed Ruswa. Bombay, Orient Longman, 1961.

Translator, The Skeleton and Other Writings, by Amrita Pritam. Bombay, Jaico, 1964.

Translator, I Take This Woman, by Rajinder Singh Bedi. New Delhi, Hind, 1967.

Translator, Hymns of Guru Nanak. Bombay, Orient Longman, 1969.

Translator, Dreams in Debris: A Collection of Punjabi Short Stories, by Satindra Singh. Bombay, Jaico, 1972.

Translator, with others, Sacred Writings of the Sikhs. London, Allen and Unwin, 1974.

Translator, with others, Come Back, My Master, and Other Stories, by K.S. Duggal. New Delhi, Bell, 1978.

Translator, Shikwa and Jawab-i-Shikwa/Complaint and Answer: Iqbal's Dialogue with Allah. New Delhi and Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1981.

Translator, Amrita Pritam: Selected Poems. New Delhi, Bharatiya Jnanpith, 1982.

Translator, The Skeleton and That Man, by Amrita Pritam. London, Oriental University Press, 1987.


Critical Studies:

Khushwant Singh by V.A. Shahane, New York, Twayne, 1972; Three Contemporary Novelists: Khushwant Singh, Chaman Nahal, and Salman Rushdie by R.K. Dhawan, New Delhi, Classical, 1985; A Man Called Khushwant Singh, edited by Rohini Singh, New Delhi, UBS Publishers, 1996.

* * *

Although Khushwant Singh is a distinguished Sikh historian, his reputation as a fiction writer rests solely upon Train to Pakistan, a harrowing tale of events along the borders of the newly divided nations of India and Pakistan in the summer of 1947.

The atrocities that accompanied the division of these nations had an enormously depressing effect on a world that had just fought a long, bitter war to defeat practitioners of genocide. The somewhat artificial division of the subcontinent (the boundaries remain in dispute) had been strictly along religious lines: Pakistan was to be a nation of Moslems; India, of Hindus, Sikhs, and what Singh calls "pseudo Christians." There were, however, colonies of noncoreligionists left within each nation. Rather than settle down to peaceful coexistence or permit a passive exchange of populations, partisans on both sides set out on a violent campaign of annihilating the communities that were trapped on their ancestral lands beyond friendly borders.

Train to Pakistan is set against a background of this ruthless and senseless mass destruction. This powerful novel derives its title from a squalid border town, where a rail line crosses from India to Pakistan. At first this mixed community of Sikhs and Moslems is undisturbed by the violence that is breaking out elsewhere on the frontier, but inevitably it, too, is caught up in the mass hysteria as ominous "ghost trains" of slain Sikhs begin to arrive in town from across the border. Agitation for reprisals follows when the Moslems of the town are at last rounded up and fanatics urge the Sikhs of the community to kill their former neighbors as the train carrying them to Pakistan passes through town.

Singh's story contrasts the ineffectualness of the educated and ruling classes with the power of the violent and irrational peasants. Early in the story the town's only educated citizen, a Hindu money-lender, is gruesomely murdered by a band of Dacoity (professional bandits). Juggut Singh, a passionate Sikh farmer with a bad record, is suspected of the crimethough he played no part in itand imprisoned; at the same time, an educated young former Sikh, Iqbal, comes to the community to agitate for a radical cause and is also imprisoned on suspicion of being a Moslem League agent. While these two are off the scene, the unlighted trains with their cargoes of dead begin to roll into town, and the agitation for reprisals begins. Both the young radical and a government commissioner, Hukum Chand, are unable to prevent the vicious plot against the fleeing Moslems from being carried out, and collapse emotionally; but in an extraordinary gesture of self-sacrifice, Juggut Singhwho had been in love with a Moslem girlfoils the plotters and allows the train to roll over his body "on to Pakistan."

Singh's terse fable suggests a profound disillusionment with the power of law, reason, and intellect in the face of elemental human passions. The philosophy that sparked his tale seems to be expressed through the thoughts of Iqbal, the young radical, as he realizes his helplessness and drifts off into a drugged sleep the night of the climactic incident of the train's passing: "If you look at things as they are there does not seem to be a code either of man or God on which one can pattern one's conduct. In such circumstances what can you do but cultivate an utter indifference to all values? Nothing matters." The same disillusioned tone characterizes Singh's second novel, I Shall Not Hear the Nightingale, but the rather wooden tale is almost overwhelmed by heavy-handed ironies. The action occurs about five years before that of the earlier novel, at a time when the British are expressing a willingness to get out of India once the Axis nations have been defeated in World War II. Sher Singh, the ambitious but lazy son of a Sikh senior magistrate, cannot decide between two worlds, "the one of security provided by his father and the other full of applause that would come to him as the heroic leader of a band of terrorists." His dabblings in terrorismactually abetted by a cynical young British civil servantend in the pointless killing of a village leader, who has also been a political spy. Sher is suspected of the murder and imprisoned, but on the advice of his mother (when his father will not speak to him) he refuses to betray his companions. The British release him for lack of evidence, and he is honored as a kind of local heroseemingly his political future is assured. His father is even honored by the British.

The novel takes a much dimmer view of the human capacity for compassion and self-sacrifice than Train to Pakistan (at one point Sher Singh reflects that "for him loyalties were not as important as the ability to get away with the impression of having them"), so that the novel ends not with the kind of thrilling gesture that its predecessor did, but with the obsequious magistrate, Sher Singh's father, sitting in the Britisher's garden observing, "As a famous English poet has said, 'All's well that ends well."' The title of the book comes from Sher Singh's reply to his mother when she asks, "What will you get if the English leave this country?" He replies lyrically, "Spring will come to our barren land once more once more the nightingales will sing." Khushwant Singh evidently thinks not, if the land is to fall into such self-serving hands as Sher Singh's.

His ironic short stories resemble Angus Wilson's and express a similar disillusionment about man's rationality. Singh is a brilliant, sardonic observer of a world undergoing convulsive changes; and his novels provide a unique insight into one of the major political catastrophes of this century. His difficulties in fusing his editorial comments with the action in his stories, however, cause his novels to remain principally dramatized essays.

Warren French