THIS ABOVE ALL
A fearless, devout
A friend rang me
up in the afternoon to tell me that Patwant Singh had died that
morning and his cremation was fixed for later that evening. I
switched on my TV set to hear what different channels had to say
about him. Perhaps they could include tributes from the Prime
Minister, the Chief Minister of Punjab, Sikh leaders and
literary personalities. I went from one channel to another. Not
one had anything to say about him. I switched off the TV in
morning papers would make up for the omission. Of the six I get,
only two paid him tributes. That is the way of the world — no
sooner dead than forgotten. Patwant was a man of substance and
had many achievements to his credit. Though almost 10 years
younger to me, we had many things in common. Our fathers were
builders of New Delhi. Both of us were brought up and educated
in Delhi. He tried his hand at building, gave it up and turned
to writing on design and architecture.
Patwant Singh was a man of substance and had many achievements to his credit
Then he turned to
Sikh themes — eminent personalities like Bhagat Puran Singh,
biography of Maharaja Ranjit Singh and much else. A sort of
sibling rivalry grew between us. The similarity of our names and
themes we wrote on added fuel to the rivalry. But neither of us
ever criticised the other. He was a devout Sikh. I a dheela
dhaala non-believer. When I rang him up, he did not answer
with a "hello," as most people do, but with a full
blast of the Khalsa greeting — Sri Waheguru ji ka Khalsa,
Sri Waheguru ji ki Fateh. It made me feel a second class
He was very
fastidious about his dress and style of living.
He was always
smartly turned out with moustaches twirled up. In earlier
times he could be seen walking briskly like a soldier in Lodhi
Park. He wore gloves in winter and had a pedigreed dog
alongside. People said he was the Hollywood version of a sardar.
He lived in a double-storey bungalow on Amrita Shergil Marg
abutting Lodhi Gardens. His sister Raseel Basu lived on the
ground floor, he on the upper floor redesigned by himself.
He had a cosy
study lined with books all round where he served his guests
pre-dinner drinks. There was a large sitting-cum-dining room
with a huge fireplace in the centre covered by an umbrella-like
chimney. Guests sat around it and were served with the most
gourmet continental style food by gloved waiters. I have never
been at a dinner as classy as Patwant’s. There was a lot more
to him than erudition and good living.
He built a
hospital for poor peasants near the sulphur hot springs at Sohna
in Haryana. He spoke out boldly on issues concerning the Sikhs.
He never forgave Giani Zail Singh for not preventing Operation
Bluestar, and the negative role he and Narasimha Rao played in
the massacre of Sikhs in 1984. Nothing daunted him, because he
never asked for favours or honours from anyone. I lost track of
Patwant and saw nothing of him for the last 20 years.
I heard that late
in life he married a Parsi lady friend, Meher Dilshaw, who was
devoted to him. Earlier this year I heard from my friend Jaya
Thadani, who lives part of the year in London, that Patwant and
Meher had lunch with her and he looked very ill. Then on
Saturday, August 8, he called it a day. He was 84.
Once again I
missed out one amusing item in The Telegraph of Kolkata,
which appeared a couple of years ago, and has been spotted by an
Englishman Beeve Gourd and reproduced in a recent issue of Private
Eye in its column Funny Old World. It reads: "The idea
of using condoms in the manufacture of sticks came to me five
years ago", Sanjay Kohli of R.K. Sports told a press
conference, "after a large number of sticks began to get
damaged. The hook is the most important part of the stick,
because it is used to strike the ball, but it is also the most
vulnerable part because it is made from seven pieces of mulberry
wood that are bound and glued together.
"We used to
paste a plastic net onto the hook to prevent it from splitting,
but once the net perished, the stick could not be repaired. It
was causing me nightmares. One day I bought a box of condoms,
and slipped one over the hook. The results were tremendous.
After I had heated it, the condom gripped the wood much better
than the nets ever did, and was much longer lasting. It sounds
absurd and embarrassing to be using condoms in the manufacture
of sports goods, but it has been a wise decision because a lot
of expensive mulberry wood was going waste.
problem I had was with the local condom supplier, because we
were buying so many that he thought we must have opened a
brothel in the neighbourhood. He refused to keep selling us box
after box until I invited him to the factory to show him how it
is done. He has promised to keep the technique a secret until I
have obtained a patent."