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An Interview with Khushwant Singh

Khushwant Answers Back


I have read your beautiful works, like Delhi, Sex Scotch...and Men and Women in My Life. Do you have the prior permission of people you discuss nastily in your books, and do you think you are morally bound to do so? Secondly, is there historical evidence that substantiate the incidents in Delhi?
Kashif Bukhari
I do not seek permission from the people I write about. I do my best to write the truth as known to me. I am often in trouble, but have escaped unscathed. All the historical incidents in my novel Delhi are taken from contemporary writers, e.g. Nadir Shah from his memoirs, Meer Taqi Meer from his writings and poems, Zafar from his trial. I have done my best to recreate them using my own imagination. I can give chapter and line to substantiate what I have written.


What is function of religion?
You are asking the wrong person. I am not a man of religion, but an agnostic. The purpose of religion should be to bring people together, and teach them to live in peace and harmony. In actual practice, they do exactly the opposite. They divide people, and propagate conflicts between them.


I enjoy reading your opinion on various subjects. If you are traveling in a train, it is common to see small children begging. I personally feel that we should discourage children from begging. What do you say?
I am strongly against begging as a profession. I never give money to beggars, be they children or grown ups. Whatever I give of my earnings is to schools and hospitals.


If there were to be a war, would it be positive in anyway for India and the subcontinent?
B N Varade
War can never be positive. Be it dharmayudh, jihad or crusade, it will be destructive. No one really wins a war, everyone loses. That is why I dread war breaking out between India and Pakistan. We have fought three wars. In the last one, in 1971, our army inflicted a humiliating defeat on the Pakistanis. What did we get out of the victory? A hostile Bangladesh, and a vengeful Pakistan waiting to even scores with us.


I have two questions to ask of you:
1. Our soldiers manage to chase Pakistani soldiers out of Kargil, but cannot arrest forest brigand Veerappan even with the most modern equipments. They even know where exactly he is located, but cannot capture him. But an ordinary journalist like Gopalan, the editor of Nakeeran, manages to meet him. Does Veerappan use magic to vanish suddenly?
2. How is the US' reaction to the September 11 attacks justified, when it has been involved in a number of terrorist activities that have resulted in mass destruction in countries like Japan, Vietnam, Cuba and Iraq. Why is there no one to question America?
Verappan roams free in the jungles because he has powerful allies, who get their cut out of his sandalwood and ivory. Besides, the state police make no earnest effort to grab him, because many of its cadres are in cahoots with him.

True, America's credentials are not very good. The US, along with Pakistan, created the Taliban and Osama bin Laden. But right or wrong, it has become the world's policeman, and is doing its best to preserve law and order. The bombing of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon woke it up to its responsibilities. I support its action in Afghanistan.


Do you believe that the many Sikhs and Hindus, who fled Pakistan during partition, bear enmity towards Muslims? I have experienced this to a limited extent. Please comment.
A certain amount of enmity against Pakistan, and Muslims in general, remains in the minds of Hindu and Sikh refugees. As does anti Indian feelings in the minds of Muslims who had to flee from India. I am a refugee from Pakistan, but I do not have the slightest ill will against Pakistan or the Muslims. I love them both.


I find it hard to believe that I am in the civilised era 2001, when I hear and see the inhuman practices performed in the name of religion, race etc. How come we haven't realised that all human beings have the same blood running in their veins? Are human beings, who evolved from monkeys, changing to something else again?
Abid Ahamed
I share your disenchantment with human beings. We have not really evolved into evolved persons. However, I do believe that the number of people who have freed themselves of hate and prejudice has gone up significantly, and will keep increasing steadily, while the number of hate-mongers is, and will be, on the decline.


If you had an opportunity to create a new world order, what would you base it on? Among the older efforts - religion, ideology, economic policy and military might - what would you keep, and what would you reject?
Jay Sokhi
This is a very tall order, which would take ages to answer. I suggest you take a look at my article "Need for a new religion for India" in a book with the same title. There I have discarded the notion of god and places of worships. The only critical principle I believe in is ahimsa - hurt no me. I would abolish all places of public worship, and convert them into schools, hospitals, museums etc. I would also abolish the concept of nation, states, passports, visas etc. The world belongs to all creatures born on it. I would ban killing of animals for sport, and only allow the police to carry firearms. I would ban the felling of trees and the fouling of our rivers, lakes and seas. The list would be long and tedious. You spell out your own priorities and let me know.


Did India do right in its all-out support of the US against Afghanistan? Is it going to haunt her down the road, like it has many other countries in the past?
We have to put down terrorist activities in many parts of our country, particularly in Kashmir. There is reliable evidence of Pakistan abetting it. We cannot, and must not, go to war against Pakistan. The US attack on Afghanistan has diverted terrorists coming to India to go to the assistance of their Taliban friends. I am sure it is America who is taking chestnuts out of the fire, with indirect benefits to us. We have not sold our souls to the Americans, nor ever will.


I have admired you for a long time, and have read almost all of your works. I have been a great fan of yours since the times you were editing The Illustrated Weekly of India. Sir V S Naipaul is a Nobel Laureate now. I went to the library and picked up many of his books. Upon reading them, I was unimpressed. If his work deserved the prize, your works surely qualify you anyday! I would like to know what you think of Naipaul's work. His slanted and often derogatory views of India and other British colonies do leave a rather unpleasant taste in the mouth.
May God bless you, sir.
Kshitish Bhachech
Naipaul is a great writer, I am not. He is not Indian, only of Indian descent. He has every right to say what he likes about India as had writers like Nirad C Chaudhary. In judging a writer, the only criterion should be whether or not he or she writes well. Naipaul does