Published by: Rupa Publications
Price: 195 INR
This book would have made me highly popular in the 8th grade; I feel I simply cannot attempt this review without mentioning that fact first. When a fool passed along frayed pages of his book ‘The company of women’, he was heralded to the top of the class as a sexual pioneer (the boy, not Singh).
The late Khushwant Singh was a man of many talents, and among them was his well- known ability to be frank about sexuality. Amongst smoky passages of Mills and Boons, and western erotica (of cheerleaders, and stable boys), Khushwant Singh seemed to usher in a much needed Indian context for sexual probes.
Published posthumously by Rupa, ‘On love and sex’, is an (unfairly?) summarized collection of many of his adventures. Words like adventure seem to be the only ones befitting the dart board; I find it cumbersome to find definitive words for having sex on the rooftop or wondering about syphilis on a boat.
Despite the title, the book isn’t all erotically charged; you may still read it on a bus without troubling your neighbors. It includes, among other things, his previously published pieces on the Jeffery Archer sex scandal, on Osho, his views on prostitution, and the short stores – ‘A mixed marriage’, and ‘To the victor go the spoils’ . The book starts with his England days, and talks about his discovery of India (while in England, strangely). It’s hard to imagine that Khushwant Singh wasn’t familiar with the contour of the country. The first few chapters – excerpts from his biography- are littered with names of people- all of whom go on be the who’s who of significance, who help derive his very first understanding of India.
Page 33 (I find it hard not to quote pages here, a habit reminiscent of school days and erotic books) talks about him losing his virginity. ‘This dark, fat woman, who lay before me with her knees touching her chin, had shaved herself. I was not sure where to enter her,’ he writes of the prostitute who beds him.
Similarly, his descriptions are brash through-out, and from theirin emanate a curious sense of humor. Another instance that captures his frankness and ease: ‘I heard a muffled cry of Hai-Ram escape her lips, and realized that the marriage had been consummated’, Khushwant Singh writes in ‘A memorable train journey’- about newlyweds having sex on the lower birth. He then goes in to elucidate the functionality of a sari.
It may be relevant here to mention that the book ends with a chapter titled ‘Buggered’, in he which talks about his worries of death ,realized by a lump which turns out to be piles. In it, after contemplating the possibility of death, the Dirty Old Man writes: ‘I spent the rest of the day drafting in my mind farewell letters to my near and dear ones. Nothing mawkish or sentimental, but in the tone of one who couldn’t care less about his fate, something they can quote in my obituaries: he went like a man, with a smile on his face etc etc’. Speculative death is a fitting end to the book. The obituary he actually wrote for himself is similar. It is also similar to the his literary body of work, which at the end of the day stressed on casual bravery, more than anything else.
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