A Tribute: Khushwant Singh’s connection to Canada and his literary contributions

Khushwant SinghKHUSHWANT Singh (February 2, 1915-March 20, 2014), famous writer and journalist, started his career in Canada as information officer at the Government of India office in Toronto, and later served as press attaché and public relation officer for the Indian High Commission in London and Ottawa for four years. For his outstanding literary contributions, he was honoured with many medals and awards, including the Rockefeller Grant, Padma Bhushan, Honest Man of the Year, Punjab Rattan Award, Padma Vibhushan, Sahitya Academy Fellowship Award, All-India Minorities Forum Annual Fellowship Award, Lifetime Achievement Award by Tata Literature Live, and Fellow of King’s College London. Though he wrote a number of articles, editorials, book reviews and newspaper columns, he became very popular through his books.

Khushwant Singh was a learned man of such stature that in 2007, A P J Abdul Kalam, then-president of India, broke protocol to call on him at his residence in New Delhi to wish him a belated happy birthday. This was a great tribute to Singh from the highest office of the world’s largest democracy. The meeting lasted for half an hour with Khushwant taking his legendary chair by the fireplace and the president, the chair meant for the guests. The president also discussed his book, “A History of the Sikhs,” in two volumes during this meeting.

Panjab University, Chandigarh, conferred the Degree of Doctor of Literature to Khushwant Singh in 2011, for his outstanding contribution to literature and journalism. Some research scholars in many universities have worked for their Ph.D degree on the contributions of Khushwant Singh. Many other scholars wrote about his works.

I was fortunate to see my book “ Dictionary of Sikh Names” published in 2001 reviewed by him in the magazine Outlook India. (http://www.outlookindia.com/article.aspx?210867)

Here are some extracts:
“Most of [Sikh names] are of Hindu origin with the appendage Singh (lion) or in the case of females Kaur (lioness or princess). A few like Nawab, Iqbal, Mubarak, Gulzar are Muslim. They also borrowed some from the British: Angrez (English), Jarnail (General), Kaptaan (Captain) and Major. Sikh aristocracy, which employed English nannies, accepted nicknames given by them: boys got names like Cecil, Robin, Dicky, Richard and the like. Girls were named Jewel, Ruby, Diamond, Dolly, etc. About the oddest Sikh name I have come across is But Shikan (Idol-breaker) Singh. He is a member of the Foreign Service. Another combination of the first name, the surname and assumed pseudonym which sounded strange was that of the eminent scholar, Rajya Sabha member and Governor of Goa, Dr Gopal Singh Dardi, which meant Protector of Cows and Lion Who Feels Others’ Pain.”

“Sikhs claim they abolished caste distinctions and use a single surname, Singh. Now that caste has raised its ugly head, so many have re-attached caste names like Randhawa, Brar, Gill, Sandhu, Sidhu (all Jat agriculturist tribes), Ahluwalia, Sethi, Narula, Chhatwal, Malhotra, Joshi, Raina (all Khatri Arora or Brahmin). Some have got around the problem by attaching names of their villages or towns: Longowal, Badal, Barnala, Ramoowaliah.”

“Rajwant and Parmit Chilana’s compilation of Sikh names is not designed for amusement but information. Both are academics settled in Canada. They have made a comprehensive list of men’s and women’s names which Sikh parents looking for appropriate names for their newborn children will find useful.”

Director of Publishing
India Bookworld