No friend of mine
Khushwant Singh

Khushwant Singh

My seven years in Lahore (1940-47) for making a living as a lawyer were a dismal failure. I continued to live on my patrimony to the last day. I philosophised that living on other peoples’ quarrels was not worthwhile. When I was driven out of Lahore and returned to Delhi, I gifted away my law books, black gown and lawyer’s collar tabs. However, I lost many Muslim friends who had no problem in my staying on.

I also met one man who looked down on me, and never lost an opportunity to belittle me. This was Veer Sawhney. Like me, he also failed to make a living as a lawyer, and lived on his patrimony. This included a spacious bungalow with a garden not far from the High Court. From the first day we met, he decided to dislike me. I returned the compliment. So it went on day after day.

He was a shameless name-dropper, and claimed to be close to VIPs, including the Prime Minister of Punjab, Sir Sikandar Hayat Khan. When he died, Veer was there for the funeral, embracing other mourners and wailing loudly. He entertained in nawabi style.

His wife returned to her parents. He stood for elections for the secretary to the High Court Bar Association. I put my name up for the only reason of giving him a drubbing. And I did. Our fortunes changed on Partition. I returned to the comforts of my father’s home. He had nowhere to go to. The last I met him was when he was wandering around Connaught Circus.

It was quite a surprise when after 70 years, I received three collections of poems with a letter from his son Ashok Sawhney. The letter claimed that the books were published in London and India. I am pretty certain they were Vanity publications, paid for by himself because there are very few takers for poetry. I refused to meet him.

A few days later another letter with two poems in English and couplets in Urdu came by post. I was in for a surprise. It was good stuff in both languages. By way for apology and appreciation, I publish one of the poems, I Dream :

I dream of ancient times, I do;

Of Greeks, Romans and Xanadu;

Of Kubla Khan and his pleasure dome;

Of coins in the fountain;

In the heart of Rome;

I dream, I do;

Vision I see of eons gone by;

Arjuna’s plea and his fervent prayer;

To the Master of the universe;

And Krishna’s response in warrior’s verse;

I dream, I do;

Of the Prophet I dream, and the holy tablet;

Of Allah and his eternal decree;

I dream of things of long ago;

Was I there, did I know?

I dream, I do;

Of the masters of the written word;

Of Shakespeare, Shelley and others I’ve heard;

I dream of Ghalib with relative ease;

I dream of philosophy and Socrates;

I dream, I do;

I dream of evolution and modern man;

Of Darwin and how his theory ran;

Of what I was to be an ape;

Because I live, I gape;

I dream, I do;

Gautam Buddha and renunciation;

Gabriel and Annunciation;

Myriad are the dreams I dream;

Divinity and sea bream;

I dream, I do;

I dream of Christ on the Cross;

Pilloried and at total loss;

To understand the likes to me;

Natural destiny?

I wonder, I do.

Bitter romance

My friend Amir C. Tuteja often sends me some interesting pieces from Washington to entertain my readers. Here are some entries to a Washington Post competition, asking for rhyming lines, with the first part romantic, and the second part least romantic:

Roses are red, violets are blue;

Sugar is sweet, and so are you.

But the roses are wilting;

The violets are dead;

The sugar bowl’s empty;

And so is your head.


I want to feel your sweet embrace;

But don’t take that paper bag off your face.

I love your smile, your face, and your eyes;

Damn, I’m good at telling lies.


My love, you take by breath away;

What have you stepped in to smell this way?

My feelings for you, no words can tell;

Except for maybe "Go to Hell."


What inspired this amorous rhyme?

Two parts Vodka, one part lime.

Khushwant Singh is indisposed. His column will not appear next week