Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Burial At Sea - Khushwant Singh (based on Nehru's life)

If the book were just fiction, I would dismiss it as cheap dirty titillation, with some mention of Gandhi and freedom thrust in to hide the obviousness of the cheap matter and to make it seem worthwhile, but since it is based on the lives Nehru and Indira Gandhi, may be Motilal Nehru too, it attains significance as it tells you the inside stories of these people worshipped by our countrymen and the skeletons in their cupboard.

Kishan Lal Mattoo, a Kashmiri Brahmin (a character based on Motilal Nehru) wanted to bring up his only son, Jai Bhagwan (a character based on Nehru) as an English aristocrat. He employs an English Governess Valerie Bottomley to groom his son and his daughters.
In addition to her duties as a governess to the children, she comes to offer her services to Kishan Lal too, who, having become lonely in life, solicits her to ‘save’ him and seduces her savagely.

While this may not be factual representation of Motilal’s life, he was surely known for his sexual perversions.

Kishan Lal Mattoo was closely associated with Gandhi who would visit the house of Kishan Lal at times.

Victor Jai Bhagwan (the name Victor was given him by Valerie Bottomley) went to England to study. There he lost his virginity at the age of 14 to a wayside prostitute and later on had liaisons with many prostitutes. He also made friends with a Madhavan Nair, a member of labour party's left wing socialist group in London, who was to become his adversary later in life.

Upon his return to India, he married a woman of his mother’s choice. She died after giving birth to their daughter Bharati who fell into the care of his mother.

Disagreeing with Gandhi's vision of future of India (who was for people spinning their own Khadi), he opened textile mills.
…Gandhi is quoted as saying 'I became a barrister but gave up legal practice after a few years. I felt there were more important things to do than earn a living off other peoples' quarrels.'…
He then diversified into other businesses as well (the English made sugar out of beetroot, he made it out of sugar cane) and made Bombay his head quarters.

He appointed the prickly Nair GM of his shipping company and bought a yacht.

India got freedom from the British meanwhile.
He acquired a house on the banks of the Ganges near Hardwar after his father’s death.
He visited Hardwar, saw Ma Durgeshwari, bathing naked in the Ganges along with Sheroo, her pet vegetarian tiger.
Durgeshwari, a tantric woman, introduces him to the pleasures of unbridled sexuality and upon his request, moves to Delhi with Sheroo.

Along with her came the yoga teacher Swami Dhananjay Maharaj, member of Durgeshwari's ashram.
He is teaches Victor how to get rid of gas in the stomach (Khushwant Singh’s favourite subject, one he cannot omit in his writings). He was appointed to teach yoga to family and servants.

Victor’s daughter Bharati (Indira Gandhi) – headstrong, self willed and sharp tongued, studied in Switzerland, grudging her time spent in that place she did not like.
She returned to India and took over her father's business gradually and tours England with Nair.
In England she is seduced by Nair on the same sofa cum bed on which her father had lost his virginity to a prostitute 30 years ago.

In the course of her yoga lessons from Dhananjay Maharaj, she commands him to seduce her and he obeys.
“She suffered from an acute father fixation and found no man good enough to be her husband.”

You may want to note that Nehru too was known for his sexual perversions. He died of Syphilis, a sexually transmitted disease. His affair with Edwina Mountbatten (Viceroy Mountbatten’s wife!) is well known.
He also had a clandestine affair with some Sadhu woman in orange robes who gave birth to his child and disappeared.
Indira Gandhi was also known to be a notorious woman who had many men in her life. The allusion to acute father fixation seems so true in her case.

Madhavan was detested by all workers in the mill for his prickliness. Victor ignored the complaints against him.
Madhavan disapproved of the presence of the tantric woman and that yoga teacher who seemed to have taken control over Bharati who used to be in his custody before.
Swamiji treated Nair with a condescension usually reserved for a defeated rival.
During a confrontation between him and Victor, Victor suggests that Madhavan should follow his political career, indirectly telling him he was no longer needed.

Madhavan Nair for his part provokes the trade unions to revolt against Victor, gets an editor friend to write ill of Bharati and Victor. In the war between the two, Victor and his family gain an upper hand and thwart Madhavan.
Further, Madhavan champions the case of communist China and after Chinese attack, became a laughing stock.
‘…those who spit at the sky have the same spit fall on their face…’

In a gathering of factory workers following a fire incident in the mills, Victor slaps a union leader who made crude remarks about Durgeshwari and questioned Victor’s relationship with her. That incident led to Victor’s downfall. The angered union leader swears revenge.

Nair misbehaved in the parliament and was criticized in his excitement to get even with Victor when the agitation over Victor's slapping the union leader presented him an opportunity, and had the papers write about it.
But though he loses his battles, he wins the war.

Durgeshwari who had stated clearly when she moved to Delhi that there would be ‘sambandh’ between her and Victor but no ‘Bandhan’ (relationship but no bonding) wishes to return to her ashram after the slapping incident for it shows that Victor was behaving like her husband.
But before leaving, she tells him she is pregnant with Victor’s child. She reveals it to Bharati who exacts a promise from her that no one except herself (the mother) will know where the baby is when it will be born.

Victor spends a lot of his time in his yacht, away from the buzz of the city, after Durgeshwari leaves him.

...the best way of doing things for his country and its people was to maintain a respectable distance from both. Distance lent objectivity and a clearer perspective; closeness made you aware of warts and blemishes - there were far too many of those...

One day as he is walking towards his yacht he is shot dead, probably by goons hired by the insulted union leader, though the author does not say it explicitly.

The title of the book ‘Burial At Sea’ is because Victor is buried in the sea.


Rishi said...


I think you are still searching what you like in Kushwant Singh's writings.

I have read only "Train to Pakistan" and of all reviews of yours I figured that being the best book.


Anonymous said...

Have you even fallen in love for real? Such a love, that when the loved-one leaves you feel a hollow emptiness in your chest forever? You live-on in the memory of your love like a machine, waiting for the touch of life to be human again? Living life like a drifting ship in the middle of sea looking for shore, and meanwhile taking pride in the drifting?
Have you seen love? Have you ever reached lovers arm, like a river meet sea after going through all ordeal, only to lose its own self? Will you let yourself go?