Summary (from Rupa Publications):
Well known for his unabashed interest in the fairer sex, Khushwant Singh revelled in the notoriety
his interest evoked, almost as much as he did in the response he received from women. Indeed, this
enduring obsession provided fodder for some of Singh’s best-known work, both as a journalist and as
a peerless raconteur.
On Women, a wide-ranging selection of Singh’s writings on the subject, includes Singh’s recounting
of an embarrassingly drunken meeting with Begum Para, an actress of yesteryears; a sharp profile of
Shraddha Mata, a tantric sadhvi who was alleged to have borne Jawaharlal Nehru’s illegitimate child;
and a touching sketch of Singh’s grandmother in the twilight of her life. Also featured in this volume
are unforgettable women characters from Khushwant Singh’s most popular works of fiction: Georgine,
a clueless American teenager who is seduced by a middle-aged tour guide in Delhi; and Nooran, a
young girl in pre-Partition Punjab, who discovers the sweet pleasure of first love only to be overtaken
by cataclysmic events which leave her adrift.
Insightful, poignant, and occasionally wicked, the essays and extracts in On Women are testament to
why Khushwant Singh remains one of the most popular writers of our times.
*NOTE: We (The Readdicts) received a copy of On Women by Khushwant Singh from Rupa Publications in exchange for an honest review. We thank the publishing house for the book.
I was looking forward to reading Khushwant Singh's On Women. As I've been working on feminism and women representation for my research, I thought the book would help me in some way or the other. Turns out, I was completely wrong. It's not that I didn't learn anything. It's just that I didn't come across anything that would help me as such. Don't get me wrong. That in no way means I didn't like the book. I started off not liking it as I thought it was sexually exploitative, but as I moved ahead, I realised there was more to the retellings than just female bodies and sex.
On Women tells the readers short tales of women in Khushwant Singh's life- either in fiction or in reality. Some of the women are characters taken from his works, while others are women he has come across, met and been with in his life. The latter goes from his grandmother, his mother to his wife, his classmates from various academic institutions, the foreign tourists that he received to a beggar on the street to famous personalities like Phoolan Devi, Indira Gandhi and Mother Teresa.
As far as the book is concerned, I thought the stories were very well picked and put together. There was something interesting in Khushwant Singh's way of depicting women. Even when there were times when things got physical and it seemed like the whole purpose of the story, there would be something that brought up intelligence and integrity in a woman which made the stories really satisfactory and strong. I especially liked how women were portrayed as well-developed personalities and they stood their own alongside the presence of one of India's most renowned and powerful writer.
I have previously read Khushwant Singh's Train to Pakistan and for the life of me, I never understood that novel but it still left a mark on me. I was pretty glad when I read and understood On Women. Overall, while I did start off not liking On Women, I ended up liking it more than I have possibly been able to say. It was a really nice and short read that could have been more interesting, but even in the absence of that, it was a great read.