Khushwant Singh: The man who could laugh at himself

By Aparna Mudi | Updated: Mar 20, 2014, 18:30 PM IST

by Aparna Mudi

“For death is no more than a turning of us over from time to eternity.” - William Penn

Writing about a man, who is a literary icon, someone whose work you have read from childhood can be daunting. From satire to commentary on politics, Khushwant Singh has written about everything.

Khushwant Singh was born in Hadali (Pakistan), Punjab to Sir Sobha Singh who was a prominent builder in Lutyens` Delhi. He was educated in Delhi and Lahore. He was married to Kawal Malik and had two children named Rahul Singh and Mala.

Singh was the founder-editor of Yojana and editor of The Illustrated Weekly of India, National Herald and the Hindustan Times.

During his career as an editor, he started a revolution of sorts in journalism. He changed the way media took stories, and started dealing with the controversial subjects and focussing on world news, politics, art and entertainment as well. The readership of his newspaper increased several folds under his umbrella and also changed the general outlook of English newspapers in India.

He was an illustrious advocate of secularism, openly agnostic and well known for his crude humour. Possibly this was one of the reasons why he was criticised. Despite all the disapproval from within his own community, `History of the Sikhs` is still a reference point as a modern written introduction to the Sikh tradition.

However, the criticism never touched his zeal to write and his love for poetry. His last book, `The Good, the Bad and the Ridiculous` , was published as recently as October, 2013.

`Train To Pakistan`, published in 1956, is perhaps Singh`s most popular novel. It was humane and not just a political look at the carnage that took place during the partition of India after Independence.

He has even written an autobiography. The title, `Truth, Love and a Little Malice` which was published in 2002, was taken from his popular column called "With malice towards one and all."

He was awarded the Padma Bhushan in 1974 which he returned in protest against the siege of the Golden Temple in 1984. In 2007, the Government of India awarded him the Padma Vibhushan, the second highest civilian award in the Republic of India.

Perhaps there is no better way to say goodbye to the prolific sardar than an epitaph he had written for himself in `Death At My Doorstep` -

"Here lies one who spared neither man nor God;Waste not your tears on him, he was a sod;Writing nasty things he regarded as great fun; Thank the Lord he is dead, this son of a gun."