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By: Neelima Dalmia Adhar
His mockery of death and devil-may-care handling of matters of life and god warrant only celebration.
It’s a large room filled with hundreds of books and artifacts, a pile of the day’s newspapers is stacked in a corner, a few scattered chairs, an old coffee table, a weathered recliner, a rocking chair, a red-brick fireplace with a crackling logwood fire and a man sitting beside it, sipping scotch and soda in a tall ice-filled glass. There’s a large oil canvas of a bare-breasted woman on the wall facing him.
She has spent many winters looking upon the man who watches and admires her.
And that is the last memory I have of Khushwant Singh, that larger-than-life man, who worshipped female beauty, who was an ardent devotee of the sensuousness of the female body form, and who never shied away from proclaiming that life was meaningless unless you lived it with love and passion.
Singh was erudite, accomplished and perhaps the most read author India has known. Passionate about his work to a level of challenging perfection, he broke every rule in the book and lived up to his metaphor, unmindful of social mores, for he was a man who feared none. A staunch agnostic, he wrote his mind and spoke with a rare candour that defined his very being. Loved and abhorred with equal passion, his life reads like an open, racy novel that needs no elucidation.
Of the many evenings I spent in his living room at Sujan Singh Park while he nursed his scotch and soda, jibing me for being a useless teetotaler, I remember absorbing a wealth of knowledge merely by being there.
Singh and I had a peculiar connect. He had been the editor of The Illustrated Weekly of India, the much-read magazine of my growing-up days when he had had many hilarious encounters with my father, R.K. Dalmia, the then owner of The Times of India.
Singh knew my father well. He often joked about his crazy encounters with “Sethji”, sprawled on a mattress on the floor in one of his three-acre mansions in Lutyens’ Delhi, engrossed in his hour-long oil massage by two skilled masseurs, holding meetings with his officers and visitors, dismissive about protocol. He regaled me with tales, not least of which was the story of my eldest stepbrother wooing his daughter with truckloads of roses and biscuits manufactured by a biscuit company owned by my father, and how chillingly close he came to becoming his samdhee before good sense prevailed and the romance, albeit one-sided, extinguished.
The first time I went to meet Singh continued…