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Muore Khushwant Singh ed è stato un peccato non conoscerlo prima

Quando ieri mattina ho visto in tutti nastri di breaking news dei siti indiani annunciare la morte del grande scrittore e giornalista Khushwant Singh, seguita da pioggia di condoglianze sui social network e tra amici esperti davvero di India, mi son reso conto di non avere la più pallida idea di chi fosse. Poi ho letto qualcosa e me ne sono pentito amaramente.

Khushwant Singh è morto ieri nella sua residenza di Delhi alla veneranda età di 99 anni. Dalle foto pareva un omone barbuto, un modello estetico perfetto per i fedeli Sikh tra i quali lo scrittore si annoverava ripulendo la definizione dall'onere religioso, dichiarandosi sì Sikh, ma agnostico.

Stamattina ho letto il leggibile tra i numerosi coccodrilli e saggi ripubblicati per l'occasione e non ho intenzione di fare finta di conoscere l'opera del grande Khushwant Singh - noto in particolare per la novella "Train to Pakistan" sulle violenze della Partition del 1947 e in generale per il suo stile dissacrante, schietto e diretto - ma preferisco segnalarvi qui sotto dei bei pezzi, in inglese, che mi hanno fatto innamorare immediatamente del personaggio.

Lo storico Ramachandra Guha, ad esempio, 14 anni fa aveva pubblicato un saggio su Singh sul domenicale del The Hindu e oggi è stato riproposto su Outlook India. Ne estrapolo qui sotto una parte che spero possa stuzzicare il vostro interesse, un episodio che vede protagonista Khushwant Singh durante la sua residenza di un mese a Villa Serbelloni, sul Lago di Como.

In the summer of 1970, Khushwant Singh took a month's leave from editing the Illustrated Weekly Of India. He had been awarded a fellowship by the Rockefeller Foundation, to be spent in the estate they own on a hill overlooking Lake Como in northern Italy. The Vila Serbelloni, as those who have been there know, is a sensuously beautiful place to live a month in. Or a week, or a day. The food is good, the wine better, the views out of this world. Between meals, one might walk through the pines, or admire the garden, or drink coffee in a cafe by the waterfront. When the Foundation invites a writer here he is not even expected to write.The one thing the estate lacks is a tennis court. For Khushwant Singh, who had played two sets in a colonial club every morning of his life, this was a real, and unanticipated, hassle. Reluctantly, he decided to make do with a daily swim instead. Clad only in the mandatory kachchha, he would, after an early breakfast, walk down the hill and breast his way across the lake. Then, his abundant hair hung out to dry, his kada glistening in the mid-morning sun, he would climb the hill on the other side. In time he would return, get into the water once more, and swim back to the Villa Serbelloni.

This daily ritual was followed, with increasingly awed fascination, by the residents of the far shore. Back in the 1970s this part of Italy had some peasants, real peasants, who cultivated fields and reared sheep on the slopes around Lake Como. Nothing in their culture or folklore had prepared them for the sight of a Sardar after his swim. The lord who once lived in the manor house had been seen, if at all, only atop a horse. Of the Americans who later patronised the place, the odd fellow might have entered the water, sometimes, but then he was coloured white, had close cropped hair and was clean shaven besides.

A week passed, and still the Sardar came, every morning. Another week and the peasants had convinced themselves that this was a saint, il santo. By the end of his stay he had been elevated further still, to the rank of "great saint", or il santo grande. So epochal was Khushwant Singh's holiday in the Como hills that to this day local history is marked by reference to it. Do you not remember the murder of that inn-keeper, an old man will say, it happened the winter following the visit of il santo grande.

Il secondo contributo interessante l'ho trovato sul New York Times, un coccodrillo completo che si chiude con un'autodefinizione di Singh in risposta alla domanda "Lei si sente indiano?":

I did not have any choice: I was born one. If the good Lord had consulted me on the subject I might have chosen a country more affluent, less crowded, less censorious in matters of food and drink, unconcerned with personal equations and free of religious bigotry.

In ultimo (ma potete e mi piacerebbe ne segnalaste altri voi qui sotto nei commenti) il tributo che lo scrittore indiano Vikram Seth ha affidato all'Hindustan Times, compresa una poesia scritta ad hoc, questa:

King of the Columnists and prince of hosts,
Hero of cats (twenty at least) who feed
Under your aegis, trencherman of toasts —
Scotch, naturally, not French — God knows we need
Humour and courage, tolerance and wit
When hope is scarce and murder's blessed by prayer,
And every bully, oaf and hypocrite
Nurtures his flock on hatred and hot air.
Threats to your life have not made you less bold.
Sexcess can't spoil you. May you scatter your words
Inimitably on for decades more —
No less amused and generous than your old
Grandmother, standing by the courtyard door,
Halting her prayers to feed and chide the birds.

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