THIS ABOVE ALL: Khushwant Singh
K.L. Saigal: complicated soul
Pran Nevile has documented this in his K.L. Saigal: The Definitive Biography. He starts from Saigal’s birth in Jammu on April 11, 1904, and ends with his death in Jalandhar at the age of only 42. Saigal was a diabetic and an alcoholic.

Nevile has done painstaking research, listing all the films in which Saigal played the star role, the songs he sang in Roman Urdu, the women who appeared with him, and the lyricists who set the chosen songs to music. The one thing missing in the book is Saigal’s family life and the kind of person he was. There are a couple of photographs of his wife and children but nothing about what they felt about him. I could have filled the gap because I got to know his daughter, Neena Merchant, who lived next door to me while I was living in Bombay. She had married a Muslim tailor master and bore him two sons. The marriage broke down and her husband and sons migrated to Hyderabad. She made a living by boarding Iranian students studying at Bombay University. She often dropped in on me at drink time. She told me a lot about her father. Most of it is unprintable.

The last time I met Neena was in Delhi, when she came to see me. She had married one of her Iranian boarders much younger than her. She looked younger than I saw her in Bombay. And cheerful. “I know it will not last very long, but I don’t care. I say: have a good time as long as you can.”
A guest in one’s own home

Nanak Kohli asked me if he could invite his friends for dinner in my flat. “I will get all the drinks and food.” I assumed that since his house was at a distance, and my flat more accessible, he wanted to make sure that all his invitees would come. “Okay,” I replied, “if you stick to my time schedule. Drinks: 7.00 pm to 8.00 pm. Dinner: 8.00 pm to 8.30 pm. Then all out.”

And so it was. His guests started streaming in at 7.00 pm. I knew most of them. A few were strangers to me — among them, Vikramjit Singh Sahney, whose photographs have appeared periodically in the papers. He is a Padma Shri. He runs an orphanage. He has a thriving import and export business and is a rich man.

Nanak does everything in lavish style. Chilled French champagne to start with. All kinds of Chinese food, two kinds of dessert. There was enough time for everyone to meet everyone else. Sahney came and sat beside me. He told me, “People know me as a successful businessman. Not many know that I also have a good voice and can sing. One evening, I’ll sing Bulley Shah for you.”

“Why not here and now?” I said and called for silence.

Vikramjit has a melodious voice. All of Nanak’s guests, including myself, heard him in enthralled silence as he sang the song, “Bulley main Kee Janna main kawn.”

I enjoyed being a guest in my own home. There was enough of Chinese gourmet food to last me another two days.

Danger man

By going on a hunger strike or what

is called an anshan

Anna Hazare has wasted the time

of the nation

Because in this country, there

neither was nor is any corruption

He should be hauled up for casting


On the lily-white integrity of our


The work ethics of the bureaucracy,

The high moral standards of the

business class

And the Ganga-jal-like purity of our

political fraternity

So the government has committed a


By giving into Hazare’s thunder

Because by rousing the masses

against corruption

He has woken up a sleeping ocean

And has set a dangerous trend

Which might in something like Quit

India Movement end,

Might like a tsunami erupt

And swallow up the scamsters and

the corrupt.