I am not qualified enough to write an obituary to a person who had the guts to write his own epitaph quite a few years before his death. And I am not scholarly enough to comment on how he has enriched literature and journalism during his prolific active years. Many learned writers, journalists and artistes have written apt obituaries for this man of letters, who is no more now and who would no more write another book.
I can only make a couple of confessions. One, that I have always tried to copy the simplicity of his language and I have always failed in doing so. I really would love the day I would learn to write like him, or to speak like him. Without any convolution in language. Without any break in the flow of ideas. And without any sense of self-importance. His view that ‘self-praise is the utmost form of vulgarity’ inspires me and always keeps me down.
There are many reasons to remember Khushwant Singh. But, for me, the foremost is the honesty with which he wrote. It was as if he had taken an oath not to be dishonest whenever he was writing. He would write as he thought. He would not hide anything. Not even when he was writing something about his own life, or his own wife.
The second most important reason to remember Khushwant Singh for is the extensive study and scholarly world-view he displayed. His command over Urdu and English poetry and deep knowledge of the philosophies of Hinduism, Sikhism, Islam and Sufism, as well as Indian literature, made him a rare scholar. When he wrote on these subjects, you could feel the authority of his extensive study.
However, there may have been quite a few such scholars in our country. Those who have had such extensive study too. But, then Khushwant Singh also had that rare clarity of thought, which very few others have displayed. It takes some guts and some wisdom to have read all the scriptures and then to declare, “The genesis of religion lies in the fear of the unknown.” Or to say: “Instead of entering into a pointless debate on whether or not God exists, it is more important to bear in mind that belief in the existence of God has little bearing on making a person a good or a bad citizen. One can be a saintly person without believing in God and a detestable villain believing in Him. In my personalized religion, there is no God.”
I confess that Khushwant Singh is one of those writers and thinkers who have helped me reach the conclusion that there is no god whatsoever and that there has never been and there will never be a god anytime. Others have done that through methods of science. He did this by way of simple logic and through his clarity of thoughts.
Undoubtedly, Khushwant Singh has been the most famous contemporary agnostic in our country. He was not an atheist in the true sense. He was basically a man of literature and did not delve into science too much. However, even a man of literature can reach sane conclusions, if he has innate deductive reasoning and the courage to accept what he deduces. Khushwant Singh had this courage and this shows in his writings.
To pay my respects to Khushwant Singh, I have picked up “Agnostic Khushwant: There is no God” and intend to finish it within the next couple of days. In his death, we have lost the most articulate agnostic of contemporary India. A sad day for all those who believe in reason, science and humanity.
I only wish we got more of such writers and thinkers in our country. We really need them badly. And we will need them in future too. For us the only consolation is that his books and his writings would remain with us and would continue to inspire others for a long time.