Khushwant Singh K. R. Srinivasa Iyengar - Essay

K. R. Srinivasa Iyengar

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Khushwant Singh's most enduring work has been done in the field of Sikh history and biography, and his full-length portrait of Ranjit Singh vividly brings out the leader, the ruler and the man…. [His first novel] Train to Pakistan projects with pitiless precision a picture of bestial horrors enacted on the Indo-Pakistan border region during the terror-haunted days of August 1947. (p. 498)

As a piece of fiction, Train to Pakistan is cleverly contrived, and the interior stitching and general colouring is beyond cavil…. It could not have been an easy novel to write. The events, so recent, so terrible in their utter savagery and meaninglessness, must have defied assimilation in terms of art. Khushwant Singh, however, has succeeded through resolved limitation and rigorous selection in communicating to his readers a hint of the grossness, ghastliness and total insanity of the two-nation theory and the Partition tragedy…. [The] novel adequately conveys them both. (pp. 501-02)

[In I Shall Not Hear the Nightingale] Khushwant Singh osbserves as with a microscope, and records his findings without any squeamishess; and his analysis of the complex of relationships within the family and in the wider world, and his unravelling of the tangle of conflicting loyalties, show both understanding and skill. Humour is blended with brutality, mere sentiment is eschewed, and the picture that emerges is arresting as well as amusing…. Although not as tightly constructed as Train to Pakistan and although lacking its consistency of tone and power of articulation, I Shall Not Hear the Nightingale has a vivid sense of time, place and the social milieu; and the figure of Sabhrai wholly redeems the dimness and murkiness of the general atmosphere. The fever of sensuality is easier to describe than the radiance of Faith, and this is the reason why Sabhrai almost 'steals' the novel. (pp. 502, 504)

K. R. Srinivasa Iyengar, in his Indian Writing in English (© 1962, 1973, K. R. Srinivasa Iyengar). Asia Publishing House, 1973.