Khushwant Singh, former editor of Hindustan Times, passed away at 99.
A file photo of writer Khushwant Singh. (Kaushik Ramaswamy/HT photo)
Author of a number of books including Train To Pakistan and History of the Sikhs, and the widely read column 'With Malice Towards One and All', Singh's Editor's Page in The Illustrated Weekly of India appeared with a caricature by the late Mario Miranda that pictured him in a light bulb surrounded by books, girlie magazines and a bottle of liquor.
Though he professed an interest in 'sex, scotch and scholarship', Singh belonged to a generation of enormously influential print journalists.
His political leanings – he was an admirer of Sanjay Gandhi and the Emergency – made him unpopular for a time but his boundless energy (he sent in his column to the Hindustan Times every week without fail until two years ago) and the relationships he nurtured ensured that he stayed in the news well after the rest of his generation had gone gently into the good night.
Here are some of the best articles from his column:
'Gursharan, now you go — toon hun ja'
"The audience had a hearty laugh when Gursharan Kaur said something about my boorish manner. She had come to visit me and apparently after 15 minutes or so, I told her, “Gursharan, now you go — toon hun ja.” I said so because I felt a Prime Minister’s wife had more important things to do than to waste time making polite conversation with an old man. Gursharan Kaur is the first woman who has performed the duties expected of the wife of the prime minister of India."
'Bastard Khush-want Singh, India'
"I also got a lot of hate mail. It did not upset me. However, one letter from Canada became a memento. It had the foulest Punjabi abuse accusing me of all manners of incestuous relationships. They were in Gurmukhi. Only the address was in English and very brief: "Bastard Khush-want Singh, India"."
"I was most impressed by the efficiency of the Indian Postal Service in locating the address of the one and only bastard in the country."
Reservations about women’s reservation
I too have my reservations. I have no gender bias. If I have any, it is in favour of the female gender. I worked under a female boss (Mehra Masani) for two years and learnt to respect her ability and competence in running the Overseas Services of the A.I.Radio. She deserved to be made director general but was superseded and the job given to a man. I thought it was unfair.
Stamp out the fundamentalists, gently
My heart goes out to Sheetal Mafatlal who has been arrested by Mumbai customs for trying to smuggle in gold and jewellery worth several lakhs without paying customs duty on them. I am on her side as I too have tried to do so in the past because I think that once you have paid the full price for an article, it is unfair to make you pay more when you bring it home.
An impressive collection of new rulers
Karunanidhi’s bullying Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh to accommodating his progeny through three wives is baffling. It stinks of medieval nepotism and may be exploited for personal profit. The Prime Minister will have to keep a hawk’s eye on their performance and accountability. What I found most heartening about our new government is Rahul Gandhi’s decision to keep out of it.
My top priorities
Everyone of us has ideas on how we can liberate ourselves from the grinding poverty that has been the bane of our country. Over the years I have evolved a list of priorities which I would like to address to two groups of people because I believe that if they take them up seriously, we can change the face of India in the future.
Morality, power and a discovery
I am not a learned man; I am as removed from being a scholar a anyone could be. I was a poor
student, a briefless barrister, a tactless diplomat and ended up as an ill-informed journalist. So I was amazed when some pressmen in Bangalore once pronounced me as the Dronacharya of Indian journalism.
It’s alright to be a drinker
Drinking is not a vice, drunkenness is. All over the world adults are allowed to drink when and what they like. It is only when they get drunk and misbehave that they are arrested. Read more...
Do you want India to be a Hindu rashtra?
“The choice is between an India of the dreams of Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru on the one side (secular), and those of Vir Savarkar and Guru Golwalkar on the other (Hindutva). By no stretch of the imagination can it be called secular. We have to choose between remaining what we are or opt to become a Hindu Rashtra,” writes Khushwant Singh.
Modi on the mat
“No one expects the BJP to take a moral stand on the issue. Its leaders LK Advani and Narendra Modi have a symbiotic relationship — you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours. Modi sees that Advani gets elected to the Lok Sabha from Gandhinagar; Advani comes to Modi’s rescue whenever he is in trouble.”
Read: With Malice Toward One and All – Khushwant Singh's column for HT