death Posts

“The Line Tender” by Kate Allen

This is an extraordinary novel. Beautifully told by debut writer Kate Allen. It is about a young girl Lucy whose mother was a marine scientist specialising in the study of the Great White Shark. They live in Cape Cod where sightings of the sharks have been spotted and Helen had anticipated their arrival in a few years time as the local seal population grew. Unfortunately Lucy’s mum, Helen, passed away unexpectedly when Lucy was a seven years old. Her father, a rescue diver for the police, brought up Lucy with the support of his kind and warmhearted neighbours. Lucy is particularly close to her neighbour Maggie’s son, Fred. The youngsters did everything together including spending every moment of their waking hour in each other’s company. They also worked on a school projects together like the field guide on sharks that involved Lucy drawing and Fred providing the scientific explanations. Sadly, tragedy strikes. It devastates Lucy for whom it is a double blow. “The Line Tender” is an extraordinary glimpse into the world of adolescents as well as how adults around them help form a community and provide support whether in times of sadness, learning or navigating their way through the beauty this world can provide. It is not an us vs them kind of yalit but calm look at how everyone is managing their griefs too and they can reach out to each other for support. It is a way of looking outwards and the manner in which it helps heal Lucy. Read it.

29 October 2019

Tackling grief with a munchkin and related literature!

A longer version of this article called “What I learned about grieving and how to explain sad rituals to children” was published on my TOI blog called Bibliobibuli .    

 

A few weeks ago my maternal grandmother, my Nani, passed away. She was the last of my four grandparents and the great-grandmother with whom I grew up. My grandparents and great grandmother were a part of my life. They were also for me examples of living history, my very real connection with the past, to a period of history that stretched as far back to the nineteenth century. Now all of a sudden with Nani’s passing it is gone. All our lives Nani had been an anchor for my brother and me. She was always there for us when we were children and later for our children, her great-grandchildren. If I am feeling bereft you can imagine how the great-granddaughters are feeling.

They have been trying to come to terms with their grief, not quite aware that they are also mourning their Badi Nani. Whether it is their physical reaction or the conversations with the children, both experiences have been spectacular. In terms of the physical absence of their great-grandmother the children are trying to relate it to the recent past. Upon being told that Badi Nani had gone to another place, the youngest child wanted to know why she went when she — this grandchild–had quite regularly given Badi Nani juice. It is incomprehensible for little children that one moment a person exists and next moment vanishes. My eight-year-old daughter Sarah cannot understand why Badi Nani’s bedroom is being cleaned pretty thoroughly. She does not realise tthat it is not only a practical way of disinfecting the room but it is also a ritual that helps the grieving adults to come to terms with the devastating loss. All that my child is concerned about is “but Badi Nani’s special smell will go away from the clothes in her cupboard!” (How do children figure these things out beats me?!)

When we got home after cremating my Nani, my eight-year-old daughter Sarah was curious about what happened to Badi Nani. She is still too young to process the passing away of an individual or even internalise the philosophical concept of mortality and death. Oddly enough the child was restless for most of the night. Early in the morning, around 1am, I had to take her to the swings in the playground. While swinging she suddenly remarked pointing to the night sky shining with stars, “There is Badi Nani. She is the brightest star shining golden in the sky.” Then she was ready for bed and slept deeply till late morning. It was as if she had completed a circle with her great-grandmother.

The following day was the burial of the ashes. Sarah decided to make a card to bury along with the ashes. The card was in shades of bright yellow as Sarah knew that yellow was Badi Nani’s favourite colour. Then of her own accord she added her postal address on it “in case Badi Nani wanted to visit her” and signed it “your loving great-granddaughter”. The reality of the ashes and visiting great-granddaughter later in life was one big mush in my daughter’s head but this slice of magic realism gave the child peace. Astonishing how children negotiate reality!

While pondering over these sad days I thought of the books that have stayed with me regarding grief upon losing a dear one or even how to broach the subject of death. Of course this year’s absolutely marvellous publication is Dr Kathryn Mannix’s We Lost the Art of Talking of Death. In it she shares case studies from her many decades of experience in palliative care. It is a stunning book that everyone should read even if it gets a little difficult to do so at times, but it is very sensitively told. From this attitude towards death as well as nuggets of information can be gleaned to share with the younger children in the family immediately after a bereavement. In children’s literature, some equally memorable fiction are Patrick Ness’s dark but very moving Monster Calls about a boy who is trying come to terms with his dying mother and is kept company by a monster who tells him stories. Sahitya Akademi award winner Paro Anand’s short story “grief (is a beast)” in her latest anthology of short stories for young adults called The Other: Stories of Difference is about the young narrator coming to terms with grief at losing a parent and realising “Grief is a beast which feeds off silence. The more you keep inside, the more you feed the beast.” Haitian-American novelist Edwidge Danticat’s young adult novel Untwine is about Giselle who has to learn to untwine herself from sharing her life with her identical twin Isabelle after the latter’s death in an accident. British poet and storyteller Michael Rosen’s moving picture book written upon the death of his son —  Sad Book. More recently Indian publisher and writer Richa Jha’s sensitively told picture book Boo! When My Sister Died is about a sibling and her family coming to terms with the loss of the sister. Australian children’s writer Ken Spillman’s is an exquisite picture book The Great Storyteller about the grief at the passing of a wise and great storyteller, the elephant, which leaves his friends in the forest devastated. For a while they are incapable of doing anything except to mourn his passing by sharing memories and participating in what can be considered one long wake.

‘When we lost The Great Storyteller, we lost his stories. Every story gives us a new beginning. Each story took us on a fantastic journey. Our imagination made them real.’ 

Slowly they realise that the pain at losing a friend will always exist but with time it will dull. More importantly they can make their own stories and “imagine colourful worlds”. Laughter and cheer returns to the forest being aware that the treasured memory of a beloved companion will never fade even though there is a physical absence of the individual. It is a beautiful book in introducing the concept of death, the accompanying grief and the healing process to children.

In many cultures there are distinct rituals for death which usually help the grieving family come to terms with the loss. More often than not children are shielded from the event by being whisked away during the funeral. Later by way of an explanation for the physical absence of the individual, a simple story is trotted out for the children. The beauty is that the story usually works effectively! So I am curious to know about more the stories, whether folktales, poetry or books, that deal with explaining death to the young.

Do write and share your stories!

25 August 2018 

“With the End in Mind: Dying, Death and Wisdom in an Age of Denial” by Kathryn Mannix

Bereaved people, even those who have witnessed the apparently peaceful death of a loved one, ofen need to tell their story repeatedly, and that is an important part of transfering the experience they endured into a memory, instead of reliving it like a parallel reality every time they think about it. 

And those of us who look after very sick people sometimes need to debrief too. It keeps us well, and able to go back to the workplace to be reqounded in the line of duty. 

….

Cognitive therapist and palliative medicine pioneer Kathryn Mannix’s With the End In Mind is a collection of medico-narrative stories which focus on the stages of dying. Usually the stories focus on terminally ill patients as it is in such scenarios the patients and their families are anxious and fearful of impending death. The stories are based on decades of her experience with the NHS in UK. They are stories which work equally well as case studies and for the benefit of getting the point across well at times Dr Mannix has clubbed together experiences of more than one patient in one narrative. These are grouped in sections such as “Patterns”, “My Way”, “Naming Death”, “Looking Beyond the Now”, “Legacy” and “Transcendance”.

The stories included in the volume are extraordinary. It is not only the magical quality to the storytelling of experiences while sitting by a patient’s deathbed but it is the calm sense of peace and kindness that pervades every single story. Undoubtedly the crippling anxiety that grips every patient and their families as death approaches has its impact on the families. Every one has a different response mechanism in managing the situation. These may be defined by an individual’s choice of the cultural codes of behaviour they have learned to adopt while processing the dastardly news. The stories are about the experiences of all ages of patients including those who have died in hospitals or those who have died at home surrounded by family. It is always the conversations about dying with every person and their caregivers that may never be easy but has to be conducted.

Notice how often you hear euphemisms like ‘passed’, ‘passed away’, ‘lost’, in conversations and in the media. How can we talk about dying, plan our care or support those we love during dying, theirs or ours, if we are not prepared to name death?

There are many conversations recounted that are memorable for demonstrating to a lay person and the medical professional that certain bedside manners with a large dose of humility, patience, honesty, level headedness, cultural sensitivity, and empathy are required when on a death watch whether offering solace to keening mothers who have lost their babies or even the elderly.  There is one particularly straightforward conversation the “leader” ( head of the hospice where Dr Mannix worked as a young physician) had with a WWII French resistance woman called Sabine who wears her Resistance Medal and who withstood the terror of war and yet was afraid of death. She was an elegant eighty-year-old inmate who was always well mannered and well turned out. Kathryn Mannix was a young trainee in the new speciality of palliative medicine. Her trainer was the consultant in charge of the hospice who had a good rapport with Sabine as he was bilingual and would at times converse with her in French. So when he decided to have the conversation about dying with her in the presence of the nurse to whom she had confided her fears and the young physician Kathryn Mannix, no one was prepared for how the conversation would develop. For the young Kathryn Mannix this particular episode was transformative and has lived with her throughout her career as if on a cinema reel. It formed the basis of her future practice, teaching her to be calm in the face of other people’s storms of fear and “to be confident that the more we understand about the way dying proceeds, the better we will manage it”. She realised over decades of clinical practice that:

The process of dying is recognisable. There are clear stages, a predictable sequence of events. In the generations of humanity before dying was hijacked into hospitals, the process was common knowledge and had been seen many times by anyone who lived into their thirties or forties. Most communities relied on local wise women to support patient and family during and after a death, much as they did ( and still do) during and after a birth. The art of dying has become a forgotten wisdom, but every deathbed is an opportunity to restore that wisdom to those who will live, to benefit from it as they face other deaths in the future, including their own. 

It is curious that Dr Mannix refers to the “art of dying being a forgotten wisdom” as coincidentally historian and chronicler of Delhi and accomplished Urdu translator Rana Safvi mentioned that she has read an account of daily life within the Red Fort during Mughal times where existed a category of women called khair salla waaliyan. They were employed in the Red Fort presumably by the noble families. Their job was to look after well being of the family. They weren’t necessarily nurses or care givers but who could make people feel good.  She thinks their job was to look after the emotional well being of the people being left behind the dying person. None exist now. It is only the professional mourners like the rudalis who continue to exist in Indian society.

[bwwpp_book sku=’97815011732400000000′]

Preparation for death is culturally specific too as with the Swedish ‘Döstädning’, or ‘death cleaning’ which is the focus of Margareta Magnusson’s The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning discussed beautifully in Christina Patterson’s essay “The ‘new hygge’: downshifting for death“. Journalist Arifa Akbar in her interview with Dr Mannix asked a pertinent question noticeable by its absence in the book itself:

AA: The people whose stories you tell in the book do not ever talk about God or an afterlife. Did you edit out these discussions? (You have said that you didn’t want to discuss religion in the context of end-of-life as it can be polarising and unhelpful.) Could you say if some patients do talk about this aspect and if it is helpful to them?

KM: People’s spirituality manifests in different ways. Where this is a religious faith, then people do discuss God and their hopes, anxieties and desires for an afterlife, as well as measuring their personal worth against the constructs of their faith. I’ve met people hopeful for heaven, fearful of hell, anticipating reincarnation, angry with God, or leaving their fate entirely in Divine hands; I’ve met people with no belief and at peace with the idea of oblivion, and others feeling sad at the ending of self-awareness; I’ve met people who have lost their longstanding faith in the face of the perceived injustice of illness; I’ve met people who discover a faith amidst the emotional storms of terminal decline.

Dr Mannix offers some thought provoking options to initiate conversations about dying as well as a way for the mourners to come to terms with their grief such as death cafes where people in similar situations could gather and share their experiences. She also provides template of a letter with possible points to consider for having a conversation about dying. She shares a list of resources that can be considered to prepare for this ultimate stage of life and recommends watching Australian intensive care specialist Dr Peter Saul’s TED Talk “Let’s Talk about Dying” ( Nov 2011). She also acknowledges Dr Atul Gawande’s books too.

With the End in Mind is a devastatingly powerful book of which extracts must be made available freely. It is certainly a book to be read cover to cover and take its learnings to heart, make them your own.  Persuade those who are anxious about the deteriorating health of their loved ones to read it. It is going to be a near-impossible task, but try nevertheless.  It is unsurprising that this book is on the Wellcome Book Prize 2018 longlist. Well deserved recognition!

Kathryn Mannix With the End in Mind: Dying, Death and Wisdom in an Age of Denial ( William Collins, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, London, 2017. Pb. pp.340 Rs 599 

12 March 2018 

 

On “Dying” and “In Gratitude”

jenni-diski51hmou4betl-_sx311_bo1204203200_I’m writing a memoir, a form that in my mind plays hide-and-seek with the truth. It contains what I imagine and what I remember being told. Absolute veracity is what I am after. 

Jenni Diski In Gratitude 

Two women writers, Jenni Diski and Cory Taylor, are diagnosed with cancer and its inoperable. Trying to come to terms with the doctor’s grim prognosis is not easy. Suddenly time takes on a different meaning. Jenni Diski began a column for the London Review of Books once her cancer was diagnosed. It was a series a essays that were published reflecting on her life, her birth family, her writing, her school and most significantly her complicated relationship with the Nobel Prize winner, Doris Lessing, who took fifteen-year-old Jennifer Simmonds under her wing. The Australian writer Cory Taylor too spends a while in her memoir, Dying, remembering her mother and the choices she made. In both the memoirs what comes across clearly is that the two dying writers are reflecting upon their past but are also hugely influenced by and acknowledge the presence of the women who made the writers what they are. Jenni Diski had always nursed a desire to be a writer but had not been very focused about it till she met Doris Lessing and was introduced to her world of writers and other creative minds who always made interesting conversation and had ideas to offer. Cory Taylor discovered that her mother had had a dream to be a writer but never achieved it. She writes in Dying : “Writing, even if most of the time you are only doing it in your head, shapes the world, and makes it bearable. …I’m never happier than when I’m writing, or thinking about writing, or watching the world as a writer, and it has been this way from the start.” Three Australian writers including Benjamin Law wrote a beautiful obituary for Cory Taylor in the Guardian terming Dying as a “remarkable gift” for providing a vocabulary and invitation to speak about that “unmentionable thing”, a “monstrous silence” — death. ( 6 July 2016, http://bit.ly/2dPq0Mx ) These sentiments on writing and the gift of the memoir can probably be extended to Jenni Diski and In Gratitude too.

Apart from Jenni Diski’s and Cory Taylor’s preoccupation with writing and their evolution as writers what comes 41vdphgesjlthrough strongly in both memoirs is the tussle between secular and religious modes of coping with death and its rituals. Also how ill-prepared a secular upbringing makes an individual in understanding burial rites or managing one’s grief once a loved one departs. How does one mourn? The structures of religious rituals seem to take care of the moments of sorrow. There is much to do. Yet the challenge of speaking of death and the process of dying is not easy. Cory Taylor had even contemplated euthanasia and ultimately passed away in hospice care.

In Gratitude and Dying: A memoir put the spotlight on the magnificent leaps medicine and technology have made, in many cases it has prolonged life but with it is the baggage of ethics — whether it is possible to go through the agony of pain while dying a slow death or to end it all swiftly by assisted suicide or euthanasia. These are critical issues not necessarily the focus areas of both books although Cory Taylor confesses in having contemplated euthanasia. While reading the memoirs innumerable questions inevitably arise in a reader’s mind.

Some of the literature  published recently has been seminal in contributing to the growing awareness and need to discuss death increasingly in modern times when advancement in medical technology seems to prolong human suffering. Also in an increasingly polarised world between the secular and religious domains bring to the fore the disturbed confusion that reigns in every individual on how to deal with the dying, the finality of death, disposal of the mortal remains and the despair it leaves the distraught survivors in. Some links are:

  1. “Daughters of Australian scientists who took their own lives reflect on their parents’ plan” http://bit.ly/2dDfvc8 ( Jan 2016)
  2. Amitava Kumar’s essay “Pyre” published in Granta ( https://granta.com/pyre/ ) and recently republished in Best American Essays 2016, edited by Jonathan Franzen.
  3. Atul Gawande’s Being Mortal ( 2015)
  4. Paul Kalanithi’s When Breath Becomes Air ( 2016)
  5. Aleksander Hemon’s moving essay on his infant daughter’s brain cancer ( “The Aquarium: A Child’s Isolating Illness” JUNE 13 & 20, 2011 ISSUE http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2011/06/13/the-aquarium )
  6. Randy Pausch’s The Last Lecture  ( 2008, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ji5_MqicxSo )
  7. Andrew Solomon’s essay on his mother’s decision to opt for euthanasia ( “A  Death of One’s Own” 22 May 1995 http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/1995/05/22/a-death-of-ones-own )

In Gratitude and Dying are strangely comforting while being thought provoking in raising uncomfortable questions about mortality, importance of time, maintenance of familial ties and doing that which pleases or gives the individual peace. Both the memoirs have a confident writing style as if by capturing memories in words the writers are involved a therapeutic process of facing their mortality while the urgency to their writing has an unmistakable strength to its tenor as if no one will have the time to dispute their published words.

Read these books.

Jenni Diski In Gratitude Bloomsbury, London, 2016. Pb. pp. 250 £12.99 

Cory Taylor Dying: A Memoir Canongate, London, 2016. Pb. pp. £12.99 

24 Oct 2016 

 

 

RIP Urs Widmer

RIP Urs Widmer

Urs Widmer, (C) Bishan SamaddarFor there are a few stories that have been told for ever and — hardly altered at all — have been passed on through the millennia because something about them — something beyond all trends — gets to people so powerfully, they cannot get them out of their heads, and so the stories have to be told, over and over. These stories are called myths, they are something approximating cultrual fossils, whose roots are not known, even if it can be assumed that they represent memory traces of something that happened — not in this way, of course, but not completely differently either — in a concrete place at a concrete point in time. 

“On Oedipus the King and Sophocles”, Lecture 6, On Life, Death, and This and That of the Rest

Urs Widmer (May 21, 1938 – April 2, 2014) was a Swiss novelist, playwright, an essayist and a short story writer.  In 2007 he delivered the Lectures on Poetics Series at the University of Franklin VI. ( Previous speakers have included Ingeborg Bachmann, Theodor Adorno and Heinrich Boll.) On Life, Death, and This and That of the Rest: The Frankfurt Lectures on Poetics consists of six lectures translated by Donal McLaughlin. It is a slim book but these lectures are meant to be read over and over again. It is incredibly packed with insights that make you pause and reflect. At a time when publishing is rapidly becoming a writer’s space and there is an information load with articles readily available on the Internet pontificating about the craft of writing, it is important to hear, read and listen to thinkers like Urs Widmer. Here is another extract ( p.29) from his second lecture, “On the suffering of writers”:

The writer who suffers creates his works because without these confessions he’d implode — the gods have shown him mercy in permitting him this possibility; and also because a positive reception helps to integrate him into the community. Suffering, famously, isolates people and the — perhaps even enthusiastic — acceptance of his black confessions allows the writer to see that these black confessions cannot be entirely foreign to the readers. For the writer arrives every day anew at the banal insight that being wounded really does hurt. In order not to be swamped by the pain, he is forced to create distance, distance between himself and the material, and distance between himself and the reader. No writing — I know this experience is my equivalent of ceterum censeo —ever just suddenly emerges, straight out of seething emotions — of necessity — transform into a concentrated observation of the material and, in the end, can barely be felt by the writer. As if a sheet of glass were between them and him. The writing even of the most terrible thing, especially of the most terrible thing, happens in an oddly cold fashion. Were we to feel exactly what we write or want to write, we wouldn’t be able to do it. The pain would tear us apart and we wouldn’t write another word. Yes, it is even the case that the feeling experienced while writing is often the diametrical opposite of that in the text. I describe a painful death and the feeling while writing is not of mourning but joy. Triumph. In Walter Muschg’s words: “The most wonderful sheen on a masterpiece is the pain that no longer pains the author. A perfect piece of work must no longer bear a single trace of the suffering.” 

It was very sad that Urs Widmer passed away on 2 April 2014. RIP.

Urs Widmer On Life, Death, and This and That of the Rest: The Frankfurt Lectures on Poetics English translation by Seagull Books, Calcutta, 2013. Hb. pp. 120 $21 / £ 13.50 / Rs 425

Gouri Dange “More ABCs of Parenting”

Gouri Dange “More ABCs of Parenting”

Gouri Dange

There is a poem that I have pinned on my refrigerator. “Children Learn what they Live” by Dorothy Law Nolte. Here it is, copied from this link: http://www.blinn.edu/socialscience/LDThomas/Feldman/Handouts/0801hand.htm

If a child lives with criticism,
he learns to condemn.
If a child lives with hostility,
he learns to fight.
If a child lives with fear,
he learns to be apprehensive.
If a child lives with pity,
he learns to feel sorry for himself.
If a child lives with ridicule,
he learns to be shy.
If a child lives with jealousy,
he learns what envy is.
If a child lives with shame,
he learns to feel guilty.
If a child lives with encouragement,
he learns to be confident.
If a child lives with tolerance,
he learns to be patient.
If a child lives with praise,
he learns to be appreciative.
If a child lives with acceptance,
he learns to love.
If a child lives with approval,
he learns to like himself.
If a child lives with recognition,
he learns that it is good to have a goal.
If a child lives with sharing,
he learns about generosity.
If a child lives with honesty and fairness,
he learns what truth and justice are.
If a child lives with security,
he learns to have faith in himself and in those about him.
If a child lives with friendliness,
he learns that the world is a nice place in which to live.
If you live with serenity,
your child will live with peace of mind.

I was reminded of this poem while reading Gauri Dange’s More ABCs of Parenting. I liked reading it. There is sound advice, based on plenty of experience. Her book is like a handy Dr. Spock, but for an older age group of children. She discusses issues and challenges of child-rearing without ever talking down to the parent or making them feel guilty. She presents a reality and suggests ways in which the situation at home can be managed. It is a patient and sincere voice that comes through. But at times her exasperation with modern day parenting is expressed sharply as in her chapter on parents multi-tasking. For instance parents checking their emails, talking on the phone etc. Basically doing everything else while physically being around their children but ostensibly absent. Gauri Dange refers to it as “hollow communication”. A lovely phrase!

Gouri Dange is a writer and practising family counsellor based in Pune and Mumbai, India. She is a columnist and contributes regularly to articles in the papers and social media sites. Her blog is http://gouridange.blogspot.in/ and her email id is write2gourie@gmail.com .

The chapters in the book are short, precise and quick to read, but packed with information and insights. It helps to have an anecdote associated with every word discussed. May it be bullies, death, older parents, studying abroad etc. Each chapter is bracketed with a headnote about what to expect in the chapter, followed by a boxed note on do’s and dont’s. Very useful!

Dr Barnali Bhattacharya says it well in her foreword to the book, “Parenting is an art!” How true!

Gouri Dange More ABCs of Parenting Random House India, New Delhi, 2013. Pb. pp. 268 Rs. 199.

Khushwant Singh. Two books. Two publishing houses – Penguin and Aleph

Khushwant Singh. Two books. Two publishing houses – Penguin and Aleph


Khushwant Singh. Two books published in quick succession by two publishing houses. Both books have been written when, “according to traditional Hindu belief, in the fourth and final stage of life, sanyaas. …At ninety-eight, I count myself lucky that I still enjoy my single malt whiskey at seven every evening. I relish tasty food, and look forward to hearing the latest gossip and scandal. I tell people who drop in to see me, ‘If you have nothing nice to say about anyone, come and sit beside me.’ I retain my curiosity about the world around me; I enjoy the company of beautiful women; I take joy in poetry and literature, and in watching nature… I have slowed down considerably in the past year. I tire more easily, and have grown quite deaf. These days I often remove my hearing aid…and I find myself relishing the silence that deafness brings. As I sit enveloped in silence, I often look on my life, thinking about what has enriched it…My life has had its ups and downs, but I’ve lived it fully, and I think I have learnt its lessons.”

Khushwantnama is a collection of reflections. Honest, Straightforward. Crisp. Acerbic. Tongue-in-cheek. Ruthless. The essays range from being a “Dilliwala”, the importance of Gandhi, what religion means to Khushwant Singh ( ” It is not God who created us, but we who created God. I am an agnostic. However, one does not have to believe in God to concede that prayer has power.”), on writing, on watching nature, on poetry especially Urdu poetry and Ghalib. The essays I have read over and over again have to be on the business of writing, what it takes to be a writer and dealing with death.

In his reflections upon writing and dealing with publishers, Khushwant Singh does not mince any words. Having written many books, his experience was that he never had any trouble finding a good publisher. But now “the whole business resembles a whorehouse. Publishers can be compared to brothel keepers; literary agents to bharooahs (pimps) who find eligible girls and fix rates of payment; writers can be likened to women in the profession. Newcomers are naya maal ( virgins) who draw the biggest fees for being deflowered. Advance royalties being these days run up to Rs 50 lakh, sometimes even before a word of the projected work has been written. Advances offered to authors in India are often higher than those offered in America or England or in any other European country. But they are offered only for works in English, not for works in our regional languages.”

And his advice on what it takes to be a writer. “Along with hard work, read whatever you can– whether it’s the classics or fairy tales or even nonsense verse. Reading will make you capable of distinguishing between bad and good writing. There is no substitute for reading. This is also the only thing that expands your vocabulary.”

This has to be read along with The Freethinker’s Prayer Book a collection of quotes that he gathered from his reading and many visitors. He maintained many notebooks. The best of these have been published in this beautiful volume. Quite literally from the cover onwards with its Sanjhi artwork of the tree of life to the text within. It is a book that you will want to dip in often.

In Swahili there is a saying that when a person dies it is equivalent to the loss of a library. These books exemplify that it certainly holds true for Khushwant Singh. I have enjoyed reading these books and keep them on my writing desk. Buy these books as companion volumes.

Khushwant Singh Khushwantnama: The Lessons of my Life Viking, Penguin, New Delhi, 2013. Hb. pp. 190 Rs. 399

Khushwant Singh The Freethinker’s Prayer Book and some words to live by Aleph, New Delhi, 2013. Hb. pp. 190. Rs. 495