Wednesday, December 17, 2014

#BookReview: On Women by Khushwant Singh

On the jacket: Well known for his unabashed interest in the fairer sex, Khushwant Singh revelled in the notoriety his interest evoked, almost as much as he did in the response he received from women. Indeed, this enduring obsession provided fodder for some of Singh’s best-known work, both as a journalist and as a peerless raconteur. 

On Women, a wide-ranging selection of Singh’s writings on the subject, includes Singh’s recounting of an embarrassingly drunken meeting with Begum Para, an actress of yester years; a sharp profile of Shraddha Mata, a tantric sadhvi who was alleged to have borne Jawaharlal Nehru’s illegitimate child; and a touching sketch of Singh’s grandmother in the twilight of her life. Also featured in this volume are unforgettable women characters from Khushwant Singh’s most popular works of fiction: Georgine, a clueless American teenager who is seduced by a middle-aged tour guide in Delhi; and Nooran, a young girl in pre-Partition Punjab, who discovers the sweet pleasure of first love only to be overtaken by cataclysmic events which leave her adrift.

Insightful, poignant, and occasionally wicked, the essays and extracts in On Women are testament to why Khushwant Singh remains one of the most popular writers of our times.


It's always a delight to read Khushwant Singh and to read a new collection of his short stories is even more a pleasure. Short stories spanning through his lifetime, set in different places and timezones, amidst a variety of people - these stories throw light on Singh's experiences of love and sex.

While on one end Singh talks about his wife Kaval Malik, he also talks about Phoolan Devi, a retarded beggar at Churchgate, the beautiful Ghayoorunnisa Hafeez of Hyderabad. Peppered in the book are stories about his encounters with the vivacious Sadia Dehlvi, journalist Anees Jung, his grandmother to the universal seductress Amrita Shergill, Indira Gandhi, Mother Teresa, sadhvi tantrik Shraddha Mata and even Protima Bedi. 

This book is candid and unabashedly to the point. But then what is a Khushwant Singh book, if not this! The book begins with few fictional characters taken from his other works and moves on to the various women and how they affected his life. A classy book, this is a book which needs to be read. It celebrates life and women, just like Singh himself did.

If you are the kind of feminist who hates men, you won't llike this book. What the anthology had going for it from page one is that the collection is of very well picked stories. We might not all agree to his views but Singh's interpretation of women was indeed interesting. 

Review: ****/5

[This review is for Rupa Publications. The opinions are strictly my own and not been written under any obligation.]

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