There are many facets to Dr. Karan Singh,

At Mansarovar, a sprawling mansion on Nyaya Marg in Chanakyapuri, with a pleasant swimming pool overlooking an image of Nataraja, lives a diehard romantic who loves old classic songs, ghazals and qawwalis.

A mere mention of the qawwali “Aahain na bhari shikwe na kiye” sung by Noorjahan in the film Zeenat (1945) brings a glint to his eyes. Engrossed, he adds the next line, “kuch bhi na zuban se kaam liya”. With the same ease he shifts to “Na to caravan ki talash hai” from Barsat ki Raat and hums it. He sways, remembering the melodious music composed by Roshan Lal and Hafiz Khan. As he opens his eyes to the reality of his study, he smiles. Meet Dr. Karan Singh. A philosopher, educationist, visionary, politician and, of course, president of the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR).

“I was a timid child, not naughty at all,” he goes down memory lane. “I was rather shy and very sensitive. For five years I lived with my mother and used to see my father only thrice a week. In 1942, I joined Doon School at the age of 11. I used to meet my parents only during vacations. I lived in a disciplined, feudal atmosphere. I was very studious. So, I was admitted to a class two years senior to where I was supposed to be admitted, and yet I got first position. But there too, it felt strange, because I became two classes senior to my age group and, age-wise, two years juniors to my class fellows!”

Born to Maharaja Hari Singh and Maharani Tara Devi, Singh, a former Chancellor of Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) and Banaras Hindu University (BHU) among others, says he was different from other children. “I don't know how I developed an interest in subjects like Sanskrit, philosophy, spirituality, and music. No one in the family had such leanings. I think it has to do with my company and travelling.”

Singh has also penned numerous books on political science, philosophical essays, travelogues and poems in English, and his next book will span 5,000 years of history. An excellent speaker who always laces his speech with Sanskrit shlokas and Urdu couplets, Singh attributes his public speaking skills to Dr. S. Radhakrishnan and Jawaharlal Nehru.

Apart from his eclectic education, his life experiences have contributed to his extraordinary personality. Take his sojourn in the U.S. in 1946, when he underwent treatment for a hip ailment. “I used to be surrounded by newspapers, a game of chess, books and several channels on televisions. I used to carefully observe, see people of different kinds with an immensely independent nature.”

At 18, he was crowned Sadr-e-Riyasat and at 19 he was married to the 13-year-old princess, Yasho Rajya Lakshmi, who died just before the couple's 60th wedding anniversary. He smiles, “Yes, we virtually grew up together. We would fight like kids. But my process of growth began by reading books, meeting people, while travelling extensively at a young age and, of course, music.”

His political career too has had its ups and downs. He admits, “After 36 years of political activity, now, I feel relieved. Pachas saal ke baad ab aazadi mili hai. Earlier my birthdays used to be very ‘charged' affairs. Only at 50, I could celebrate it cosily with family members.”

For Singh, Delhi holds a special place, mainly because of the house he has been living in, ever since he came here in 1967, after resigning as Governor of J&K. He recalls, “I never lived in the houses given to me by the government. I didn't like to live under the fear of leaving it when the ministry would be gone. When I bought this house, people used to ask, ‘Why are we going to live in a jungle?' as those days Chanakyapuri was like one. But I always liked to live in my own space.”

{+t}{+h} wedding anniversary in 2009, “I never entered kitchen, Yasho (wife) spoiled me with all sorts of good Dogri and Pahari food. She was my major support system. But I took her death positively thinking she was relieved of her pain (at 71, she was in and out of hospitals frequently).

Music addict

As one looks around his study/office adorned with Pahari and mandala paintings, Singh springs another surprise. “From Elvis Presley to Billy Joel to Bill Hailey to Britney Spears, I love them all. I don't like western classical and Hindi pop though,” he notes, adding, “Did you know Malika Pukhraj used to work in the J&K Government during my father's time? She used to get Rs.300 as salary. When she came to visit me in this house 20 years ago, she presented me with a nazrana of Rs.100 and said with moist eyes, ‘aapke ghar ka bahut bohot namak khaya hai'. I was captivated, speechless, kya qadra theeqadrain theen…” As Singh gets ready to move, he hums Pukhraj's famous ghazal, “Bezubani zuban na ho jaye, raz-e-ulfat bayan na ho jaye…”, smiles and happily poses for pictures.