Me, The Jokerman — By Khushwant Singh

A writer never retires. Eternity is a writer’s curse.

There is no end to the good fight; neither is there to the bad ones too. It seems that the bad fights around inspires Khushwant Singh to write, as an act of retaliation.

Khushwant Singh lives on. With his relentless humour and keen observations on society, he creates a world of commentaries that in itself is an artistic achievement. Me, The Jokerman is a nonfiction, a collection of essays by the renowned columnist and novelist published posthumously, and edited by Mala Dayal. The collection is subtitled ‘Enthusiasms, Rants, and Obsessions’ and delves lovingly into those charming follies of life of which Khushwant had talked to us many times, exploring the remaining unexplored edges of the same. Most of the essays that appear in this volume are unpublished before. Some of them had appeared in newspapers and journals. In Me, The Jokerman, we could see the same charming Khushwant that we all cherish as an author discussing religion, nature, sex, and autobiographical sketches.

Me, The Jokerman has five parts: Personal History, God and his Messengers, The Natural World, Sex Matters, and Me, The Jokerman. As the titles suggest, each of these parts contain several short pieces of reflections and articles. Aleph Book Company, an independent publishing company has produced a book that could be positioned as a standalone masterpiece of Khushwant Singh in the nonfiction genre.

The first short article itself was about two dogs. Both die. At first, I considered it a bad beginning for a beautiful book, death and all. But later, in the process of contemplating the theme of life and death, I realised that perhaps, this is the best way to start off Me, The Jokerman with Khushwant residing in the other part of the life/death dimension. ‘1984: A Dark Year’ is one of my favourite pieces in the book. This piece is composed on Khushwant’s journal entries from the period, which discusses the disturbing events of the Sikh massacre of 1984. ‘In India, life is cheap,’ (12) he suggests.

There are instances in which Me, The Jokerman becomes a critique of the polity of India. For example, the second article in the first part Personal History is titled, ‘Seculiar’ State’. The article deals with a Punjabi, ‘a dedicated Marxist’ who invited Khushwant for a religious ceremony. Khushwant unwraps the folds of hypocrisy that is embedded in thought as well as in action in the so-called ‘Hindu-Marxists’. This is the reason Khushwant names India as a ‘seculiar’ state rather than a secular state. Khushwant does not always use humour to capture the political reality. His criticism is sharp and it progressively cuts down to bones. For instance, in his article ‘An Unfulfilled Dream’, which is the last in the first section named Personal History Khushwant rips the masks off those who exploit the name of Gandhi for their political gains. ‘I take a look at my own country. Our new rulers tell us that we are going back to Gandhi—whatever that means. In effect all they are doing is to use Gandhi as a broom to sweep away Nehru’ (54).

Khushwant uses laughter as a political tool, an apparatus of subversion. But his most important strategy is to be unashamedly direct in his reflections.

About the Author:

Born in Punjab’s Hadali village (now in Pakistan) in 1915, Khushwant Singh was among India’s best known and most widely read authors and journalists. He was founder-editor of Yojana and editor of the Illustrated Weekly of India, National Herald and Hindustan Times. He published six novels—Train to Pakistan, I Shall Not Hear the Nightingale, Delhi: A Novel, The Company of Women, Burial at Sea and The Sunset Club—as well as several books of short stories which were published together as The Portrait of a Lady. Among his other books are 99: Unforgettable Fiction, Non-fiction, Poetry and Humour, The Freethinker’s Prayerbook, A History of the Sikhs; an autobiography, Truth, Love and a Little Malice; a biography, Ranjit Singh: Maharaja of the Punjab; and a book of non-fiction, The Return of Indira Gandhi. In addition, he published translations of Hindi and Urdu novels, short stories and poetry, notably Umrao Jan Ada by Mirza Mohammad Hadi Ruswa, Rajinder Singh Bedi’s I Take This Woman and Iqbal’s ‘Shikwa’ and ‘Jawab-i-Shikwa’.

Khushwant Singh was a member of the Rajya Sabha from 1980 to 1986. He was awarded the Padma Bhushan in 1974; he returned the award in 1984 to protest the siege of the Golden Temple by the Indian Army. In 2007, he was awarded India’s second highest civilian honour, the Padma Vibhushan. Khushwant died in 2014.

Author: Khushwant Singh
Publisher: Aleph Book Company
Release: August 2016
Genre: Non Fiction / Journalism
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Anu Lal is an Indo-Anglian-Southern author. Many of his short fiction, poetry, and essays are published in national and international journals. He is also a research scholar, educator, book reviewer, and a blogger.

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