Writer, journalist, one of India’s best known satirists and former editor of Hindustan Times, Khushwant Singh, died on Thursday. Singh, known for his witty, fearless and acerbic writings, was 99.
The man who spared none and spread ribald cheer with his celebrated column — With Malice towards One and All — was Hindustan Times editor between 1980-1983. He died quietly at home at his leafy Sujan Singh Park apartment, a landmark for oldtimers of the capital, in whose construction his grandfather, Sir Sujan Singh, had a big hand.
He was born in Hadali (now in Pakistan) on February 2, 1915.
His son and journalist Rahul Singh said he passed away very peacefully at his residence in Sujan Singh Park in Delhi. “He led a very full life. He had some breathing problems,” said Rahul Singh.
The man who made a place in the heart of millions of Indians with his irreverence and love of poetry will be laid to rest at the Lodhi Road crematorium.
He shrugged off intellectual trappings and promoted jokes in a way that no other writer had ever done before him, or since. He ruled the literary pages with his satirical take on contemporary issues but attracted controversy over what his critics called his obsession with writing on sex.
Khushwant Singh’s father, Sir Sobha Singh, was a civil contractor and a prominent builder of Lutyens’ Delhi. The internationally acclaimed author was nominated to the Rajya Sabha by the government under late Indira Gandhi. He was a Member of Parliament from 1980 to 1986.
He was awarded the Padma Bhushan in 1974 but returned the decoration in 1984 in protest against the storming of the Golden Temple in Amritsar by the army.
He began his dealings with media as information officer of the government of India in Toronto and Canada and was Press attache and public officer for the high commission in the United Kingdom and the embassy in Ireland in 1948-50. Khushwant Singh started his writing career with Yojana, the planning commission’s journal which he founded and edited.
In 2007, he was awarded the Padma Vibhushan.
Khushwant Singh authored some internationally renowned books like “Train to Pakistan”, “I Shall Not Hear the Nightingale”, “A History of the Sikhs”, “The Company of Women” and “Delhi”, and has written over 30 novels, many short stories, essays and countless commentaries.
He was close to former prime minister Indira Gandhi but then fell out with her over her imposition of press censorship during her emergency rule 1975-77. The relationship further soured after he became close to estranged daughter-in-law Maneka Gandhi, whom he mentored for some time.
In 2002, the author candidly wrote about his life, family history and his relationship with politicians in the autobiography “Truth, Love and a Little Malice”.
Rahul Singh said the author had stopped writing a few weeks back, but he was reading papers every morning. “He was alert mentally till the very end,” Rahul said.
Speaking at an event in February, Rahul Singh had said his father was politically naive and foolish and someone who spoke from the heart.
“He became close to Indira Gandhi but championed the cause of Maneka Gandhi after the death of Sanjay Gandhi. Later, he fell out with the same Maneka.”
Vice-president M Hamid Ansari, in a tribute on Thursday, said: “Khushwant Singh had a long, prolific and illustrious literary career spanning several decades during which he wrote on subjects varying from politics to poetry to issues of social concern. He was particularly admired for being fearless in expressing his views in his writing and speech.”
Leading Indian journalist and author, MJ Akbar said the noted author was an admirable man.
"I have this unreserved gratitude for him. I was a kid, 20-year-old in a newspaper, and he really picked us up from nothing. He gave us opportunities which were undreamt of for any young person wanting to do anything," he said.
Calling him a remarkable man and a great writer, veteran journalist Mark Tully said Kushwant Singh had a great sense of humour.
“He never minced his words and was a courageous person. I remember once having dinner with him when he showed up his tremendous knowledge about Urdu poetry. What a lovable man he was!” said Tully.