Dr. Manohar Prabhakar
The very name of Khushwant Singh conjures up the image of a legendary man of letters whose sad demise a few months ago at the age of 99 made the world of words poorer and smaller. Illustrious son of the great builder of New Delhi, Sir Shoba Singh, Khushwant had a multi-faceted personality. After a brief stint as a diplomat he embarked upon his formidable career as a writer. He was a great novelist, a short story writer, a towering journalist, a great editor and a popular columnist par excellence. Having completed his education in India and abroad, he appeared at the ICS examination along with his friend Chetan Anand but destiny had carved out different careers for both of them. The former became famous as a writer and a journalist while the latter rose to become a cine-celebrity.
Khushwant started his career as Information Officer at the Indian High Commission in the UK, enjoying diplomatic status. But the environs at the High Commission did not suit him. Soon appeared his first novel ‘Train to Pakistan’ portraying the agony of the partition that skyrocketed him to fame. Another novel of his ‘Delhi’ added yet another feather to his cap. In all, Khushwant wrote over 100 books covering a wide range of creative genres and scholastic words. He confessed on several occasions that he was an atheist. He wrote the monumental ‘History of Sikhs’ on Rockefeller Foundation Fellowship. This project was sponsored by Aligarh Muslim University.
Khushwant was an outstanding editor. He served as editor of many newspapers and periodicals including National Herald, Hindustan Times, Illustrated Weekly of India etc. He was the founder editor of ‘Yojana’. Khushwant was a very sentimental person. When Krishna Kumar Birla, proprietor of the Hindustan Times passed away, he despite his very advance age went to the Birla House to pay his condolences.
Thousands of readers who read his popular column ‘With Malice Towards None’ carried the impression that Khushwant Singh drank like a fish and ate like a glutton and was greatly fond of late-night parties. But this was an absolutely baseless impression. In one of the articles under the series ‘Secrets of Longevity’ appearing in the magazine ‘Health and Hygiene’, the contributor had written with great emphasis that Khushwant was a highly disciplined man. He woke up early in the morning at 4.00 am, took a cup of Korean Ginsang and sat on his writing table. After many hours of hard work he went to sleep at 9.00 pm. He was virtually a writing machine. When Amrita Pritam, the well-known Punjabi woman writer, left for her heavenly abode, Khushwant wrote an obituary in which he stated that he translated Amrita’s popular novel ‘Pinjar’ within just ten days as he sailed for England on a pleasure trip. Khushwant Singh’s father left enormous immovable property for him. The specious bungalow at No.1, Janpath which houses the office of the Hungarian Ambassador and also the Culture Centre of the Embassy is estimated to be worth Rs. 500 crores. His residence at Sujan Singh Park and Summer Cottage at Kasauli are proverbially known for their excellent architecture and natural surroundings. His son Rahul Singh who is also a well-known writer and journalist had started a literary festival in honour of his father at Kasauli. I recollect with great joy my brief meeting with Khushwant Singh when he visited Jaipur to participate in a seminar on ‘Language of English Newspapers’ organized by the Department of English, University of Rajasthan. Words fall short to describe the colourful personality of Khushwant Singh. His disappearance from the literary and journalistic scene of India will always be felt with a sense of sorrow by his millions of readers and fans. We pay our humble homage to this great man.