NEW YORK: Author, columnist and TV host Khushwant Singh’s new biography ‘Captain Amarinder Singh: The People’s Maharaja – An Authorized Biography’, on the life and times of the veteran politician hailing from the Patiala royal family, and the present chief minister of Punjab, is a best-seller in India and qualified for the Amazon Best Reads. It’s gone into reprint. The book released to critical acclaim days before Amarinder Singh swept to power in Punjab in the Assembly elections last month.
The no-holds barred biography of Amarinder Singh gives insight into the historical background of how the Patiala kingdom came to be established and ruled over the centuries, portrays the Indo‒Pak war zone of 1965, and focuses on the combative arenas of Punjab politics. It also reveals behind‐the‐scenes intrigues, plots and counter‐plots even as Punjab was in the vice‐like grip of terrorism in the late twentieth century. Operation Bluestar and its consequences have been objectively recorded.
Khushwant Singh, 44, is also the author of the best-selling ‘Sikhs Unlimited’, a travelogue from UK to USA featuring extraordinary Sikhs, ‘Turbaned Tornado’, a biography of Fauja Singh, the world’s oldest marathon runner; and best-selling novel Maharaja in Denims, a story set in Chandigarh.
His Sunday column, ‘Punjabi by Nature’ in The Hindustan Times on the passions, problems and idiosyncracies of the region, is widely read. An alumnus of St. John’s High School, Chandigarh and Department of Mass Communication, Panjab University, Khushwant Singh stays in Chandigarh with his wife Harmala and son Adiraj.
In an e-mail interview to News India Times, Khushwant Singh discusses what it was like to work on Capt. Amarinder’s Singh’s biography. Excerpts from the interview:
Which biography did you enjoy writing more: ‘Turbaned Tornado: The Oldest Marathon Runner Fauja Singh” or ‘The People’s Maharaja’ on Capt. Amarinder Singh?
Both the biographies were unique in their own way, but Captain Amarinder Singh’s biography was a more exciting journey simply because it was a book beyond the contours of just a life. It had ancestry, history, politics, and moreover the subject wore many hats.
You started writing ‘The People’s Maharaja’ more than four years ago. Was the timing of the release of the book coincidental or intentional?
Absolutely coincidental. You can’t plan such things, because the creative process has its own journey.
What was life like for you in these last four years? Give us a brief insight to your life as a biographer?
Biography, Biography, Biography.
Capt. Amarinder Singh comes across as an unpretentious, frank, bold man. What were some of the challenges for you writing his biography?
Frankly, there was no challenge as far as cracking through him was concerned. It was collecting such a vast repertoire of information, corroborating it, chaffing fiction from fact, which was more challenging.
The biography also deals with the break-up of Capt. Amarinder Singh’s marriage with Preneet Kaur, the former Indian union minister of state for external affairs, and his relationship with Pakistani journalist Aroosa Alam. Did Capt. Amarinder Singh’s royal heritage and lineage overawe you from asking any personal questions?
No, I was not overawed at all. However, it will be unfair on my part to talk about his private life on a public platform. Whatever I had to say is mentioned in the book.
‘The People’s Maharaja’ describes several political upheavals of Capt. Amarinder Singh, his ups and downs in the Congress Party, including quitting the Congress in 1984 over ‘Operation Bluestar’ ordered by the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, and difference of opinion with Rahul Gandhi. What made Capt. Amarinder Singh stick with the Congress Party through all this?
Stability. After trying all parties, including floating his own (Akali Dal Panthik in 1991), he felt that the Congress was the one that could fulfill his political and personal ambitions as well as responsibilities towards his people the best.
And finally the mystery of the famous ‘Patiala Peg’ has been revealed! The term was actually used to attack Capt. Amarinder Singh politically in the 2012 Punjab assembly elections. Did Capt. Amarinder Singh remember all the facts around the ‘Patiala Peg’, or did you have to dig deep to unmask its history and coinage?
He is very good with facts and has a very sharp memory.
Punjab faces several challenges, including widespread substance abuse, unemployment and illiteracy. It’s also known more as an agrarian and manufacturing state rather than as a tech hub. What are some of the changes that Capt. Amarinder Singh is likely to bring to the state?
I will be not be able to comment on policy because I am not part of the government, but what I can tell you is that he means business. His body language is very positive.
Your writings have centered on Sikhs and Punjab. You are fast becoming known as ‘India’s People’s Writer’. Do you feel the need to look outside of Punjab for your fiction and non-fiction?
Since you mention that I’m a ‘People’s Writer’ I must use this skill to take forward the cause of the people of my region. It is not a parochial approach, because if I wrote about say India; the question would be why not the world. It is best to write about a space which you understand the best, because then you can reflect the best.
What are you working on now or plan to in the near future?
What books are you reading now? Who are some of your literary influences and favorite writers?
Just relaxing. Fortunately, I have no influencer. I have a mind of my own.
What’s your hope for India?
As long as religion is not the leading force in governance, the idea of India will survive. I hope the present trend is just a passing phase and the Constitution will emerge as the guiding force for political narrative.