Malicious Gossip by an Indian author, lawyer, diplomat, journalist and politician Khushwant Singh is a collection of columns and solitary thoughts mostly on the India-Pakistan relationship. His experience on the Partition and diplomatic influence on the neighbouring nations had privileged him to see national, political, economic and human affairs from very close range.
His outspoken stance with Pakistan and India’s powerful political figures reveals more than what we usually know, along with his passion for discovering the natural and incredible beauty of India. And Around the World diary make Malicious Gossip one of the enticing books written by any Indian.
Khushwant Singh was so eager to dissolve India-Pakistan enmity that he says Indians even started considering him a Pakistani agent. He writes in ‘To Pakistan With Love’, “I go to Pakistan as a Hindu goes to Varanasi, a Muslim to Mecca. It is my teerthasthan where I perform my haj and my Umra. This is where my roots are. I have nourished them with tears of nostalgia and sheltered them from venomous winds of hate with my bare hands.”
‘From the Death Sentence to the Gallows’ is the second longest and heart-breaking chapter of Malicious Gossip. Mr. Singh describes the first-hand experience of the execution of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, the former president of Pakistan. “The curtain rose for the final act in the drama of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s life at 8:30 am on March 18, 1978”, writes Mr Singh.
He describes the final hour of Bhutto’s life: “ At the time of his death, Mr Bhutto was dressed in salwar-kameez which he had elevated to the status of an Awami suit. He had a gold Zenith watch on his wrist and a gold ring with three diamonds on his finger. After Hayat Mohammed, a humble servitor in a Pindi mosque had bathed his corpse and draped it in a shroud, somebody noticed that the diamond-studded ring was missing.
“The superintendent immediately arrested Tara Masih and Hayat Mohammed and ordered them to be searched. The ring was found in the pocket of the hangman, Tara Masih. Both the watch and the ring were handed over to Benazir Bhutto the next morning”.
Merciless Bhutto was met with merciless fate in his life in execution for trying to assassin Ahmed Reza Kasuri– a failed attempt that killed his father instead– and perhaps for worker uprising against Istisal, exploitation by landlords and common soldiers.
He scores Pakistan in different ways of living. He says, “Pakistan dislike liquor than Indian, Pakistan does not like entertainment, Pakistan has Arabic newspapers to please Arabs, Pakistan people try to get away from Pakistan and Pakistan has a low level of humour”.
Malicious Gossip criticises Rajiv Gandhi’s recklessness, political partiality, that Rajiv Gandhi’s sufbjntawala attitude destroyed the image of a young modest man eager lot learn”. He talks about Sanjoy Gandhi’s growing of a cult on Indian politics, a cult which is similar to the cult of Che Guevara based on the worship of a man who loved dangerously. He wanted to be a leader who is feared than a leader who is loved.
I liked the chapter that deals with India’s 8th prime minister V.P Singh. It reasons the rise, fall, integrity of V. P. Singh and his political ideology. On concurrent communalism V.P. Sign’s philosophy rings quite appropriate: “Communalism? We have communalised politics; politicians rouse communal passions to retain power. If instead of being organised on religious lines we were to reorganise our society on the basis of common economic interests– farmers, weavers, factory workers, etc.– we would with one stroke kill the canker communalism and bring the fruits development to the people”.
Moreover, anyone who, he quotes V.P. Singh, “harbours communal prejudices has no right to call himself civilised”.
In ‘Discovering India’ Mr Singh describes the beauty of the Snake River (Nagahole), Himachal, the people of Ludhiana who go to the rail track in the morning and evening to relieve themselves in the full view of passing bay trains. In the section ‘Around the World’ of Malicious Gossip, the author writes about Indonesian’s consideration of their country as ‘paradise’, Indonesian women’s fecund characteristics who could produce more mouths than the earth could feed.
However, he mentions six negatives against the people of Indonesia: obsession with sex, hypocrisy, feudal mentality, superstition, indecisiveness and aping others”. The obsession with sex is seen to have a healthier effect in Indonesia where molestation of women or eve-teasing hardly exists, the men and women mix as freely as they do in the western world.
Khushwant Singh described the deplorable service of Bangladesh Biman during his visit to Dhaka in the year of late 80s. He frankly says that he fell in love with a flight attendant, Suheli Hasnat Khan. But he mentions the Indian government’s lopsided trade policy to supply shoddy goods to Bangladesh.
In ‘Gaddafi’s Land’, he penned Gaddafi’s zeal to propagate the eternal value of Islam by generously giving money and arms to the oppressed people of the world including terrorist organisations. Gaddafi outbid Israel and brought Idi Amin for the Muslim world and gave large sums of money to the Black dictators in the hope of converting them to Islam. He sent arms and money to Pakistan for use against India in the Bangladesh War Independence and know to be the chief financier of Islamic bomb”.
Why I like Malicious Gossip
To conclude, I must say that Malicious Gossip is not solely a collection of gossip that the name might suggest. It reveals the author’s personal but influential opinions regarding the nature of the Indo-Pak relationship, international and diplomatic concerns.
Part of the Malicious Gossip can be treated as a travelogue, as it narrates numerous culturally diversified personal encounters. His journey to different countries is portrayed in Malicious Gossip in a very observing and yet insightful manner. This is one of my other book reviews.