On India

by Khushwant Singh

Read this in about 4 minutes

I had known Khushwant Singh largely for his work ‘A Train to Pakistan’. This work of essays came as a wonderful surprise to me. Therefore, when the publishers offered to send me the book I grabbed the opportunity immediately. This is my first book by Singh and I am definitely inclined to pick more from him.

Cover: On India

Cover page

On the cover, we see the author himself and the title. There is nothing magical about the cover. Just the title and an image. Typical of a book of non-fiction. However, I would have liked to see something better. This one does not really appeal to me.

Content

The author begins with a short introduction on why she runs.

The book is a collection of essays Singh has written on India, as the name suggests. The book is strategically divided into six parts. Singh begins with ‘We Indians’ where he talks about why he is an Indian. Often Singh is called ‘not so national’—to avoid getting into a conflict. He describes how he may have chosen to live in “a country more affluent, less crowded, less censorious in matters of food and drink, unconcerned with personal equations and free of religious bigotry”. He goes ahead and talks about the divisions we all have created. We talk about being Punjabi, Gujarati, Delhiite etc., but we never say we are Indians. He finishes with the essence of being Indian that most of us lack.

The second part talks about different cities in India. He gives reasons to love and hate Delhi. Bombay is our own New York, a little stinkier though. An undated essay in this section talks about Madras. It is the most film-struck city. “Even more than Mumbai.” Another undated essay talks about Calcutta as one being the center of intellect, which is now just claustrophobic.

In the third section, the author talks about the pieces of insanity that govern us. Partition of India, Victory over Pakistan, Yoga and Indians abroad! The fourth section is about seasons in India. Although I loved his descriptions, I did not read the entire section. I felt saturated.

The fifth and the last sections talk about India in general. The importance of being important is a hilarious essay written on the class obsessed Indians. He also talks about erotica in India. Holy men and holy cows talks about the holiness and its different forms in India. The last piece is a couple of jokes by the author that are grouped under In a lighter vein. He is, as usual, hilarious!

I absolutely loved the way the essays are collected and segregated. The book says a lot about the author that Singh was. Khushwant Singh has always seen as a blasphemer but this particular collection brings one way closer to him. One will find his own thoughts resonating with the ones with the author.

Language

Singh is a people’s author. His language is a simple and accessible. His instrument is great to engage people. Singh talks about crucial issues in a lighter sense that touches every reader.

Good points

The best part of the book is the content itself. I was not aware that Singh had written these many essays. They were fun and enlightening to read. So much is talked about India, as we know it. I absolutely loved his style of writing. He makes nonfiction easy to glide through.

Bad points

I did not like the cover page particularly. In addition, a couple of essays felt draggy.

Overall

I enjoyed the collection overall. It was a good insight into Singh’s writing. I plan to pick up more of his work further.

Whom do I recommend this to

This particular book is for those who are looking to read a light non-fiction book. Those who want to learn more about India in an intimate faction are going to love this one too.

Quotable Quotes

From We Indians:

Racial, linguistic and religious divisions are older and, therefore, more deeply embedded in the Indian mind than the sense of Indian-ness, which is less than 150 years old.

Even in a large city like Delhi, I have never heard anyone describe himself as an Indian.

From A festival for everyone:

Where do you think this semi-religious creature came from? It was made in communist China. They also manufacture Ganpatis for India. Truly had Karl Marx said, the rest of the world takes it.

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Veena Choudhary

An avid reader and history fanatic.

Mumbai, MH merakipost.com