Thursday, April 30, 2009

Sardar Kushwant Singh

Sardar Kushwanth Singh turned 93 few weeks ago. I am one of his unashamed admirers and have been so for many years. What endeared me to him was the celebrated spat he had with that egocentric, difficult to suffer Krishna Menon who was the Indian high commissioner in the UK some 50 years ago. I had then and now a gut dislike for Krishna Menon and his acerbic ways of speech and behaviour. To our naïve prime minister then, Jawaharlal Nehru, Krishna Menon could no wrong. History now reveals that Krishna Menon was an unmitigated disaster as far as this country is concerned. His tenure as defense minister saw us suffer humiliation at the hands of the Chinese in the 1962 war. He like Nehru had a coterie of sycophants and one of them was general Kaul who had no idea of what was happening to our soldiers who were facing the Chinese. Krishna Menon gave the order to throw the Chinese out which ended utter tout of our ill prepared and equipped army.

Some old timers will remember his tenure as our representative in the UN and his marathon verbal battles with Sir Zafarulla Khan and later with Zulfikar Ali Bhutto of Pakistan on the question of Kashmir. He would put the most admirers of his debating skills to sleep and when they are not his admirers, like the other members of the UN one can imagine how effective he must have been in putting our case across.

Very few had the guts to take on this powerful man and Kushwanth Singh was one of them. He held the important post of press attaché[?] and had to deal with this man day in and day out and on one such frustrating occasion [I have read the juicy details in some book] he seems to have thrown the papers at him and told Mr. Menon to stuff them up his----.and quit the post!
For many years he was the editor of the Illustrated weekly of India. During this period, he saw the weekly’s circulation soar by adopting methods which annoyed many purists but delighted the readers. Gossip with rancour, interspersed with a liberal dose of exposed female sex was his recipe for success. Even now he makes no bones as to his liking for wine and women and bemoans his old age because he no longer can enjoy these. In his long carrier as a newspaper man he hobnobbed with the rich, influential and famous but never became anyone’s laky. One can with some justification accuse him, in hindsight, of being close to becoming one of late Sanjay Gandhi. I remember a picture showing him at the wheels of the prototype of Maruti car which was Sanjay’s brain child. Sanjay Gandhi had clear ideas which appealed to lot of us. He was no taken in by the then popular ideology socialistic secularism. He believed that the country’s escape from poverty depended upon compulsory family planning, aforestation, slum removal and beatification and private enterprise. This has been proved right but the way he want about doing it was draconian and large sections of the population went against him and his mother as the elections results then showed. But Sardar Kushwanth defended Sanjay even when it was not the in thing to do so.

One would, by reading the above lines, say that he is a crass person. Far from it. He is well red, learned person who has delved deeply into the history of Sikh religion and written books. Though steeped in religion, he has been an agnostic and doesn’t believe in the existence of a formed god. His newspaper columns frequently lampoon god men and women.

Lastly his humour. In addition to being a ready wit, he is also a collector of fun and has published these in a book form a one of these I have given below.

Santa Singh and Banta Singh ran an engineering contracting company. When the British and the French floated tenders for the construction of the under the British channel tunnel, the lowest quotation was from this Santa and Banta firm located in Jallandar. It was so ridiculously low that they were about to dismiss it altogether as impossible. But the tender rules did not permit this and the brothers were duly called to appear before the committee. The brothers appeared dressed in their new suits. They were asked, ‘how can you do it this cheap?’ Simple, they said. ‘I Santa will dig from this end and he Banta will dig from the other end, we meet at the centre and there you have your tunnel’. Taken aback by this simple logic they were queried further, ‘Mr. Santa, it needs great engineering skill and very expensive equipment to meet at the exact place, what will happen if you both miss?’ Santa laughed and said,’ why you worry, you get two tunnels at the cost of one’.

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