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Post Cards from “Uncle KS”


I have some pretentions to being a story-teller. But when I look at my writings and compare them with the works of legends like Khushwant Singh, I find that I am not even a midget. In age, he was almost as old as my respected father. It would, therefore, be sacrilege to refer to him by his name. In our part of the world, it was customary to refer to our esteemed elders by abbreviating their names and adding ‘chacha’ or ‘ mama’ to it. Consequently, I propose to call him ‘Uncle KS’ in this piece.


The Old-world Charm of Receiving and Writing Letters

Recently, when I was going through a bunch of old letters, I discovered of two post cards, and they opened up the flood gates of some very pleasant memories. Given below is a scanned copy of the first one:

Khushwant postcard to surjit

Those days, Uncle KS used to publish a syndicated weekly column in some newspapers, and at the end of each post, he used to insert a joke or an anecdote sent in by amateurs like me. I was delighted to learn that my pieces had been found worthy of publication.

Permit me to say a few things about my personal background, at this stage. As I said, spinning yarns and telling tales was, and still is, my first love. I started composing poems and writing short stories when I entered my teens. But early in life, I discovered that even the most famous writers had to struggle hard for a decent shelter over their heads and food on the table. I met several famous authors and saw their economic plight for myself. I learnt that the publishers and  booksellers cornered most of the money in the business. In 1957, when I was in High School, a Hindi film, “Pyasa” said it all. It left a very profound influence on me. On the rebound, I joined an engineering branch of the Army.

 I was good at studies, especially physics and mathematics. In due course of time, I earned a Post Graduate degree in Electronics, from IIT, Delhi. Later, in 1996, I was admitted into the Indian National Academy of Engineering. This brought me in contact with the likes of Dr APJ Abdul Kalam, Prof PV Indiresan and Dr Anil Kakodkar. During the next few years, I spent, (or squandered) a lot of time and energy in writing technical papers on a variety of subjects. I now find that most of those papers became obsolete even before the ink had dried on them . Technology has been moving so fast that it is a challenge to keep pace with it. They say that in the field of information technology, ‘you have to keep running, even to stay in the same place!’

In July 1997, when I retired from the Army, I got a job with Ashok Leyland. One part of my responsibilities was to run a computer centre, to hasten the pace of automation in the company. I was awe-struck by the pace at which ‘IT’ was developing in India, and since we were located close to the electronic city in Bangalore, we were always aware of the latest developments. I got involved in conducting some seminars on cyber security and the ‘IT Act’. I felt that the mainstream press could help us in the process of spreading computer awareness. And that is what motivated me to reach out to the person whose post card you see.

Internet had just about arrived in India, and I registered my first e-mail ID in 1998. Soon, I was receiving electronic messages from scores of friends located all over the world. It occurred to me that if I could persuade Uncle KS to see the prowess of Internet, and write about it in his columns, we could hasten the pace of change over to digital communication in India.

Ashok Leyland is an Automobile company. I was a part of the team which was looking for solution to transportation problems. Road safety was an area of concern. Here again, we needed to attract the attention of the people in power. I flooded uncle KS with research papers on this topic, and besought him to write about the enormous loss of life and property on our roads, in his column. Simultaneously, I pleaded with him to take to computers, so that our messages could reach faster.

In response to the spate of my meticulously typed letters, I received another post card. Here it is:

 Khushwant postcard

His concern for road safety is apparent from what he wrote. But I suspect that he did not believe that he could do much to improve the state of affairs. I then inundated his desk with more material on the prowess of computers. After a few months, he wrote in his column that he had been persuaded by friends to acquire a PC and he had also hired a man to teach him how to use it. But after hitting at the keyboard for three whole weeks, he had come to the conclusion that he was too old to learn this ‘darned contraption’. I think he said something to the effect that ‘while the spirit is willing, the flesh is weak’

In a brief but polite note, he put an end to our correspondence. My friends, who knew him personally, told me that unlike some of his contemporaries like Manohar Malgonkar and Raj Chatterjee, who used portable typewriters, he did all his writings in long hand. He spent long hours on his desk, all by himself; and never used an assistant. I am told that he was firmly of the view that the presence of another person in the room caused distraction. In fact, he even wrote the address on the post cards in his own hand! Have a look at a post card which he sent to me:

 Khushwant postcard address


In an idle reverie, I went over all that I gained from this inimitable and redoubtable writer. In 1999, when I got in touch with him, he was eighty-four years old. His achievements are the envy of millions of admirers. He published more than fifty books and countless number of pieces for newspapers and periodicals. He had inherited a considerable fortune from his ancestors, and therefore, he did not need money. And yet, he found time to write ‘forewords’ for books which younger authors sent to him, and also wrote letters to non-descript persons like me!

Networked computers have revolutionized information interchange. We do not receive letters any more. In fact, I have not seen a postman for several months (or even years) now. The Internet and the e-mails have replaced them. We first had ‘Facebook’ messages, and now, we have ‘WhatsApp’. It is becoming increasingly difficult to keep up with the pace of events. I am only seventy-seven, and therefore, much younger than the age of uncle KS when he chose to cast-off computers. No one knows whether we are proceeding in the right direction. Call me a cynic, if you like, but I think that the post cards sent by Uncle KS delivered a more profound message than the video clips on WhatsApp and the tweets being dished out by our celebrities at regular intervals. His post cards contained much more information than the e-mails which I receive from my erudite and computer-savvy friends. For one thing, these handwritten letters were written exclusively for me, while in the e-mails, I am just one of the many addressees. Hence, when I had his post card in my hand, I received undivided attention of the man whom I adored.

During that period, I read some of his books, especially the ones related with history. I am impelled to summarize what I learnt from his style of writing. Let me put it in point form:

  • His works are eminently readable. Each sentence leads to the next one in a sequence so well designed that the reader is kept glued to the book. The serious portions are intercepted with light anecdotes and parables, which make reading a pleasure.

  • He sticks to the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth; no matter how bitter or unpalatable it is. His credibility has been created by enormous hard work and sincerity. And that makes his work cogent. He gave an impression of being an easy-going writer, but in effect he worked very hard to ensure that his facts were meticulously correct, and the language was flawless.

  • Uncle KS stuck to his core-competency. Even though he covered many topics, he kept off technology and economics. And that is why he chose to say ‘No’ to my request for a foreword or message for my seminars.

  • He was aware of his writing abilities, but he also knew his limits. When he found that computers were beyond his reach, he gave it up, without wasting time and sinew. 


A Memorial for Uncle KS

Uncle KS did not believe in God. He was a professed agnostic. But he had a universal message to give to all mankind. It may seem that he had a ‘dirty’ mind, obsessed with sex and single malt Scotch whisky. But look deeper into his works and you will discover profundity. He did not have the benefit of the wealth of information which we can now obtain with a click on the keyboard, or a touch on the screen. And yet, if you check out the facts and historic dates given in his books, you will find that they are amazingly accurate.

People erect statues in the memory of people whom they admire. For Uncle KS, the KSLF which is held in Kasauli every year is a much more appropriate ‘monument’. It attracts eminent persons from all over the world, and the credit for organizing this annual event goes to his son, Rahul Singh, who is ably assisted by Ms Niloufer Billimoria. May the Lord give more strength to their elbow. Uncle KS could not have asked for a more worthy scion.

If I am allowed to make one suggestion, I would like to ask them to reach out all the writers who have gained from the works of this genius and compile all such pieces. I think we need to gather all the letters written by him to individuals and publish them in the form of a book. I have seen one such collection of letters written by Mirza Asadullah Beg Khan Ghalib, whom he adored.


 rahul and niloufer


Post Script

I am tempted to share four of the pieces chosen by Uncle KS, which were sent by me, in 1999.

No. 1 Talking about generals, admirals and air marshals:

Question: “Why do the private cars and wives of senior military officers look so good?”

Answer : “Because they are well maintained …and sparingly used!”

No.2 Kings and Prime Ministers

Question : “What is the difference between a king and a prime minister?”

Answer “The King is his father’s son. The prime minister is not…and you must also remember that while maternity is a fact, paternity is only an opinion!”

No.3 DNA of a new-born

When a child is born, it is natural for the elders to compare his looks with his parents. You find people saying, “This kid looks just like his father…” and you hear someone say, “Ah! The eyes of this child are just like those of her mother!”

And then once in a while, the situation becomes thorny, when an indiscreet person comes out with a naughty observation and tweets, “I think this child looks like your neighbour!”





  1. Prakash Bambawale says:

    A wonderful article about my favourite author, Sir. Thanks !


  2. Niloufer Bilimoria says:

    So glad you dıd Gen Surjıt.

    I must also thank you for all the efforts you made on my behalf. I now have a canteen card wıth a servıce number they seemed to have pulled out from earlıer. They also tell me I am elıgıble for an army pensıon. Whıch I dont thınk my father or mother got. Once I am back ın Bombay, I shall check on ıt. However small the amount, I wıll donate ıt back to an army cause. Maybe war wıdows.

    And do try and come to KSLF thıs year. Oct 12-14.



  3. Maj Gen Prabal Sen says:

    Sir, a nice post, thanks. I read the seminar papers you have mentioned ( with your written contributions therein) , when I was in MDC, Ashok Leyland. Lot of efforts were taken to prepare those papers. the volumes are now in the MDC Library. I have been reading Uncle KS for almost fifty years. He was a great short story writer and an authority on Sikh History. but he would often mask his erudition and mastery over such subjects in (apparent) frivolity, especially his comments about wine and women. There was always that mischievous little village prankster in him ( part of his childhood was in Hissar/Bhatinda, if I recall correctly). Illustrated Weekly touched Zenith during his stewardship, but folded up later. Sorely miss that sort of an English magazine in India. I am also impressed by Mr. Prem Batra’s comments ( I am afraid I do not know his rank, my apologies), especially the bit about his reading 1893 census report in the National archives and the bond of brotherhood that existed among Sikhs, Hindus and Muslim Punjabis. Hs first marriage proposal from Lahore came after partition? Not clear ‘though, but it could be assumed perhaps? On the Eastern side of India , many Bengali Hindus were married to Hindus across the border, even after partition.

  4. Harmeet says:

    Really enjoyed reading this piece. Thanks for sharing Uncle. Regards.

  5. colls says:

    QUOTE……maternity is a fact,
    paternity is
    Until came in DNA….

    I Recall a joke about an astrologer.A guy asked him when will his child be delivered he was anxious …as he had to go back after short leave..
    That I can’t say—– said the Astro
    but when the child is born the father will have great stomach pains ..
    the next day the dhobi was incidentally crying in acute pain
    and ”she” just delivered——- LOL

    …and as per my interactions with Khushwant Singh ji ..when I requested him to write a Review of my book..”TIME IS GOD .. .” I learned he did not know his DOB…
    but was sure it was in 1914 and just for Records recorded 14 August…
    Well 1914 cannot be disputed because :::::
    he was Like a Tiger and tigers live long..He lived 94 years so did SAM Bahadur 1914 and in my family the only one yet who crossed 81+years was my eldest brother born in the year of Tiger 1926… our family does not have longevity genes… most died around 72 years+ – at all levels

    Only FIRE SIGNS LIVE LONG MY SISTER just touched 80 plus AUGUST FIRE SIGN my brother is Fire sign also 80+ plus now.. I have a long way to go..yet….to reach the limit
    HRH QUEEN is also 1926 born—- Margaret Thatcher was 1926…rest look up in your DYNASTIES and prove me incorrect
    APPLY PARETO’S LAW. (80 IS TO 20 Theory) All Astro is STATISTICAL

    KS JI NEVER BELIEVED IN GOD… NOR DOES UR TRULY .He did not believe in ASTROLOGY either ..but did post some weekly forecasts in ILLUSTRATED WEEKLY when the actual guy was absent .This ED can verify…

    GOOGLE ”COLLS AND KHUSWANT SINGH Ji”for more information if you may.
    Regards and thanks

    only an opinion!”

  6. Lt Gen YK Mehta says:

    Thanks for sharing!

  7. Capt Sabi Ahluwalia says:

    Very nice! I adore and he is noble award winner
    Capt sarbjit ahluwalia

  8. Brig Anil Adlakha says:

    Very nice!

  9. Brig KN Harikumar says:

    Dear Sir
    This is great news to me.KS was an ” institution ” with indomitable energy, wit and a pungent for raising a few feathers in whatever he wrote. I for one, enjoyed his humour, and his zest for life.

    The postcards are priceless tresures to cherish.

    Warm regards


  10. Zal Kabraji says:

    My dear General,

    Thanks for this interesting piece on the great & famous Khushwant Singh !

    Never had the oppertunity to bump into him in person but I have read a lot about him & always appreciated his wonderful writings & humour—-this I think, must have already been well documented in our history–bless his soul.

    Warm regards,

    Zal Kabraji.

  11. Maj Gen Manmohan Singh says:

    Very nice!

  12. Prem Batra says:

    Dear Sir,

    Sardar Khushwant Singh, I never understood him in his later years. Some times I liked his humour. And his Quotes of GHALIB and some of his SHAIRY

    His Family relaions with Nehru Family is well known. As an Editor of Illustrated Weekly, he came into prominence. He then became Editor of Hindustan Times. Then he used to write weekly Column for HT. Since he was privy to many things, being one of the leading figures of Delhi’s Lutyen Cocktail Circuit, he used that to good effect.

    All I saw was his sarcasm, and his loyalty to Nehrus. His hatred for HINDUS. His patronising of Muslims. About his knowledge of women was not in the open like Panditji. I think, he wrote about SIKHS and SIKHISM in the same vein as Pakistan equates one Pakistani Soldier equal to 20 Indian Soldiers.

    Two people, who could tell me something about KS was my own Father. Being in IB, perhaps, he had better idea. Only once he mentioned about his Father, Sardar SHOBA Singh. I think, the name plate on the Wall of South Block is there as one enters the South & North Block. Can you research who composed that what is written entrance Arches of North Bloc on the Riasina Hill.

    Sardar Shobha Singh was the one who is said to have spoken as Prosecution Witness against Bhagat Singh. I also know one person was in the same place. Both are dead. I canot ask.

    What intrigues me is that where as Dr Man Mohan Singh’s Surname was KOHLI, a Punjabi KHATRI, whose Village GHE was just 15 Miles away from my Maternal Parents Village in West Punjab. Just 3/4 years before 1947, the Family had shifted to PESHAWAR. The Family was in Fruit Business. The night KATLEY AAM happened in GHE, my Eldest MAMA was outside GHE with his Muslim Illegitimate Brother, as he was being tracked by Bloody Mob from his own Village.

    SARDAR KHUSHWANT Singh is a KHURRANA. They are Aroras like me. I have researched Tribes of Punjab and 1893 Census Report in original in National Archives. Order protection from Muslims in predominantly Muslim Areas in West Punjab, an Arora/Khatri Family had to make Eldest Son a SIKH.

    Before Insurgency in East Punjab, we intermarried routinely. Now BHAI BHAI BAAT NAHIN KARTE. My MAMA saved his Cousin SIKH in 1984, across JUMNA. My Son saved two of his SIKH fellow Students travelling in the Train to MESRA RANCH after some Break. Boy’s Father, a Brigadier came to thank us with his Son. Last I was told was that Boy is VP in MICROSOFT.

    First Offer of marriage came for me from a SIKH Girl in Lahore. As per Rules, I would have to leave Service. Some times, I feel, this perhaps as one of the reasons, so many Sikh and Hindu Girls marrying Muslim Boys in West Punjab.

    I liked your 3 POST SCRIPTS.

    Thank you, Sir.
    Prem Batra

  13. Raj says:

    While posted at HQ Central Command, the Army Cdr Gen Surjit Sangra had desired that we get eminent personalities to come and speak to all officers and families in Lucknow. As a follow up to this I had come to Delhi and met Uncle KS in his residence
    at Sujan Singh Park.He was ready and was waiting for me at the appointed time.Uncle KS was very relaxed, we had a drink together while he shared his experiences of his association with the Army. His views were interlaced with wit and humour and sometimes sarcasm when it came to politics. I spent a great evening with him but was unhappy that I could not convince him to come to Lucknow. Uncle KS said that he is no longer moving out of Delhi due to age related problems.
    Uncle KS was truly one of the very eminent personalities of our country.

  14. Brig Surinder Singh says:

    Heartiest congrats on crossing the 2 million mark!


  15. Joseph Thomas says:

    And you have crossed two million views. Congratulations !

  16. Joseph Thomas says:

    A post worthy of Uncle KS.

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