Home >mint-lounge >features >A lot of people were using my father: Mala Dayal

Ahead of the release of Khushwant Singh’s book, Portrait Of A Serial Killer. Uncollected Writings, his daughter Mala Dayal, who has edited it, is brutally frank about her father’s famous soirées. She believes that in later years in particular, her father, who died last year at the age of 99, was easily exploited by people currying favour.

Dayal, 70, has been in the field of publishing for more than 40 years. Living in one of central Delhi’s elegant Sujan Singh Park apartments, right opposite her father’s residence, she is currently sorting boxes of his papers. In the introduction to the book, which is being launched on Saturday, she gives a compelling insight into the author’s life and work. Edited excerpts:

To be seen in Khushwant Singh’s drawing room in the evening was a badge of honour for Delhi’s who’s who.

He was very sociable. He often liked people (who), I’m afraid, I was not very friendly with. I was convinced that a lot of people were using my father.

In what way?

He was worth cultivating. They wanted him to put forward their names for a national honour, or write about them in his columns. He was very easily bullied by attractive women... by all kinds of people. I have seen them doing that…he would be sitting on a chair, they would stand in front of him in a slightly aggressive way and say, “Now, Khushwant, you haven’t written about me for a long time. Accha, yeh meri tasveer hai (this is my photograph) and this is my write-up…. This must be there in the next column." And he would do it.

Can you name some of these people?

It won’t do them any good…. It will also not be kind to my father’s memory because he wouldn’t have liked it. There were a fairly large number of people who exploited him. They happened to be, by and large, women.

Would you ever confront those women?

We tried to the extent that we would tell the servant not to open the door if such-and-such person rings the bell. But they were aggressive. They knew their way around so they would go in from the back…you see, my father’s apartment had the front door and the back door for the servants that was kept open…so those women would enter from the back (starts to laugh)…

Did you ask these ladies to leave him alone?

My daughter, Naina, was much tougher. She would say to these visitors—“He’s now tired. Please go." And he wouldn’t contradict her. Naina was also strict about what he drank and ate. She was very irritated with his frequent cravings for Pepsi in his last years. (Laughs) He would say, “Paani nahi peena, Pepsi lao (I don’t want water, bring Pepsi)". She would say, “No, nana, no more Pepsi for you!"

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