Khushwant Singh

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Khushwant Singh
Khushwantsingh.jpg
Khushwant Singh at a reading in New Delhi
Born Khushal Singh
(1915-02-02)2 February 1915
Hadali, British India (now in Khushab District, Punjab, Pakistan)
Died 20 March 2014(2014-03-20) (aged 99)
New Delhi, India
Cause of death
Natural causes
Nationality Indian
Alma mater St. Stephen's College, Delhi
King's College London
Occupation Journalist, writer, historian
Spouse(s) Kawal Malik
Children Rahul and Mala
Signature KhushwantSinghAutograph Eng.jpg

Khushwant Singh (February 2, 1915 – March 20, 2014) was an Indian novelist, lawyer, politician and journalist. An Indo-Anglian writer, Singh was best known for his trenchant secularism,[1] his humor, and an abiding love of poetry. His comparisons of social and behavioral characteristics of Westerners and Indians are laced with acid wit. He served as the editor of several literary and news magazines, as well as two newspapers, through the 1970s and 1980s. He was the recipient of Padma Vibhushan, the second-highest civilian award in India.

Biography[edit]

Early life[edit]

Singh was born in Hadali, Khushab District, Punjab (which now lies in Pakistan), in a Sikh family. His father, Sir Sobha Singh, was a prominent builder in Lutyens' Delhi. His uncle Sardar Ujjal Singh (1895–1983) was Ex. Governor of Punjab & Tamil Nadu.

He was educated at Modern School, New Delhi, Government College, Lahore, St. Stephen's College in Delhi and King's College London, before reading for the Bar at the Inner Temple.[2][3]

Career[edit]

Singh started his professional career as a practising lawyer in 1938. He worked at Lahore Court for eight years. In 1947 he entered Indian Foreign Service for the newly independent India. He started as Information Officer of the Government of India in Toronto, Canada. He was Press Attaché and Public Officer for the Indian High Commission for four years in London and Ottawa. In 1951 he joined the All India Radio as a journalist. Between 1954 and 1956 he worked in Department of Mass Communications of UNESCO at Paris.[4][5] From 1956 he turned to editorial services. He had edited Yojana,[6] an Indian government journal; The Illustrated Weekly of India, a newsweekly; and two major Indian newspapers, The National Herald and the Hindustan Times. During his tenure, The Illustrated Weekly became India's pre-eminent newsweekly, with its circulation raising from 65,000 to 400000.[7] After working for nine years in the weekly, on 25 July 1978, a week before he was to retire, the management asked Singh to leave "with immediate effect".[7] A new editor was installed the same day.[7] After Singh's departure, the weekly suffered a huge drop in readership.[8]

Singh is said to have woken up at 4 am each day to write his columns by hand. His works ranged from political commentary and contemporary satire to outstanding translations of Sikh religious texts and Urdu poetry.[4] Despite the name, his column "With Malice Towards One and All" regularly contained secular exhortations and messages of peace. In addition, he was one of the last remaining writers to have personally known most of the stalwart writers and poets of Urdu and Punjabi languages, and profiles his recently deceased contemporaries in his column.[citation needed]

Khushwant Singh, though an agnostic himself, was also a knowledgeable man who understood the nitty-gritty of religion and the influence it exercised on the human life. He is particularly noted for his English translation of the long poem Shikwa, written in 1909 by Mohammed Iqbal, wherein the latter as a Moslem complains to Allah about how He had let the Muslims down. Similarly, Singh also translated into English Iqbal's equally famous 1913 long-poem Jawab-e-Shikwa in which Allah is supposed to have replied to all the questions the poet had raised in Shikwa about the reasons for demoralisation and intellectual derailment of the Muslim community as a whole. Singh promoted lesser known Urdu poets such as Balmukand Arsh Malsiyani (1908-1979)in his columns. At the same time Khushwant Singh favoured Devanagari or Latin script for Urdu in India[9]

Politics[edit]

From 1980 to 1986, Singh was a member of Rajya Sabha, the upper house of the Indian parliament. He was awarded the Padma Bhushan in 1974 for service to his country. In 1984, he returned the award in protest against the siege of the Golden Temple by the Indian Army.[10] In 2007, the Indian government awarded Khushwant Singh the Padma Vibhushan.

As a public figure, Singh was accused of favoring the ruling Congress party, especially during the reign of Indira Gandhi. He was derisively called an 'establishment liberal'. Singh's faith in the Indian political system was shaken by the anti-Sikh riots that followed Indira Gandhi's assassination, in which major Congress politicians are alleged to be involved; but he remained resolutely positive on the promise of Indian democracy[11] and worked via Citizen's Justice Committee floated by H. S. Phoolka who is a senior advocate of Delhi High Court.

Khushwant Singh's Classification of Israel's Jewish Population in 1970s

Singh was a votary of greater diplomatic relations with Israel at a time when India did not want to displease Arab nations where thousands of Indians found employment. He visited Israel in the 1970s and was marveled by the progress. He made his owns analysis of the Israeli Jewish population: On top were Ashkenazis from Russia, Poland, Germany, France, England and America. They hold top positions in the government, civil service and the army. Next came Sephardis or Spanish Jews who were somewhat browner; at the bottom were Yeminis, Baghdadis, and Africans. Indian Jews were just above Yeminis; they are sargeants in the police, clerks and minor officials. Singh noted that even in the 1970s, though officially India kept its distance from Israel, he saw evidence of Indian defence personnel periodically visiting Israel on secret missions.[12]

Personal life[edit]

Singh was married to Kawal Malik and had a son, named Rahul Singh, and a daughter, named Mala. Actress Amrita Singh is the daughter of his brother Daljit Singh and Rukhsana Sultana. He stayed in "Sujan Singh Park", near Khan Market New Delhi, Delhi's first apartment complex, built by his father in 1945, and named after his grandfather.[13] His grandniece Tisca Chopra is a noted TV and Film Actress.[14]

Religious belief[edit]

Singh was a self-proclaimed agnostic, as the title of his 2011 book Agnostic Khushwant: There is no God explicitly revealed. He was particularly against organised religion. He was evidently inclined towards atheism, as he said, "One can be a saintly person without believing in God and a detestable villain believing in him. In my personalised religion, There Is No God!"[15] He also once said, "I don’t believe in rebirth or in reincarnation, in the day of judgement or in heaven or hell. I accept the finality of death."[16] His last book The Good, The Bad and The Ridiculous was published in October 2013, following which he retired from writing.[17] The book was his continued critique of religion and especially its practice in India, including the critique of the clergy and priests. It earned a lot of acclaim in India, where such debates are rare.[18]

Death[edit]

Singh died due to natural causes on 20 March 2014 at his Delhi-based residence, at the age of 99. His death was mourned by many including the President, Vice President and Prime Minister of India.[19] He was survived by his son and daughter. He was cremated at Lodhi Crematorium in Delhi at 4 in the afternoon of the same day.[1] During his lifetime, Khushwant Singh was keen on burial because he believed that with a burial you give back to the earth what you have taken. He had requested the management of the Bahai faith if he could be buried in their cemetery. After initial agreement, they had proposed some conditions which were unacceptable to Singh, and hence the idea was later abandoned.[20] He was born in Hadali, Khushab District in the Punjab Province of modern Pakistan, in 1915. According to his wishes, some of his ashes will be brought and scattered in Hadali.[21]

Honors and awards[edit]

Works[edit]

Books[edit]

Short story collections[edit]

  • The Mark of Vishnu and Other Stories. London, Saturn Press, 1950.
  • The Voice of God and Other Stories. Bombay, Jaico, 1957.
  • A Bride for the Sahib and Other Stories. New Delhi, Hind, 1967.
  • Black Jasmine. Bombay, Jaico, 1971
  • The Collected Stories. N.p., Ravi Dayal, 1989.
  • The Portrait of a Lady
  • The Strain
  • Success Mantra
  • A Love Affair In London
  • ना काहू से दोस्‍ती ना काहू से बैर

Play[edit]

Television Documentary: Third World—Free Press (also presenter; Third Eye series), 1983 (UK).[31]

See also[edit]

  • Karma, a short story by Khushwant Singh

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ a b TNN (20 March 2014). "Khushwant Singh, journalist and writer, dies at 99". The Times of India. Retrieved 21 March 2014. 
  2. ^ Khushwant Singh, Forward, in Aditya Bhattacharjea and Lola Chatterjee (eds), The Fiction of St Stephen's
  3. ^ Vinita Rani, “Style and Structure in the Short Stories of Khushwant Singh. A Critical Study.”, PhD Thesis
  4. ^ a b Press Trust of India (20 March 2014). "Khushwant Singh could easily switch roles from author to commentator and journalist". The Indian Express. Retrieved 21 March 2014. 
  5. ^ a b c d e "Life and times of Khushwant Singh l". India Today. Retrieved 21 March 2014. 
  6. ^ "Yojana". Retrieved 18 September 2013. 
  7. ^ a b c Khushwant Singh (1993). "Farewell to the Illustrated Weekly". In Nandini Mehta. Not a Nice Man To Know. Penguin Books. p. 8. "On 25 July 1978, one week before he was to retire, he was abruptly asked to leave with immediate effect. Khushwant quietly got up, collected his umbrella, and without a word to his staff, left the office where he had worked for nine years, raising the Illustrated Weekly's circulation from 65,000 to 400000. The new editor was installed the same day, and ordered by the Weekly's management to kill the "Farewell" column." 
  8. ^ "Khushwant Singh's Journalism: The Illustrated Weekly of India". Sepiamutiny.com. Retrieved 9 August 2009. 
  9. ^ Ashraf, Syed Firdaus. "Thank you, Mr Khushwant Singh, for changing my life". Rediff.com. Retrieved 23 March 2014. 
  10. ^ "Those who said no to top awards". The Times of India. 20 January 2008. Retrieved 5 November 2008. 
  11. ^ Singh, Khushwant, "Oh, That Other Hindu Riot Of Passage," Outlook Magazine, November, 07, 2004 , available at [1]
  12. ^ Singh, Khushwant (October 18, 2003). "THIS ABOVE ALL : When Israel was a distant dream". The Tribune. Retrieved 27 March 2014. 
  13. ^ "Making history with brick and mortar". Hindustan Times. 15 September 2011. 
  14. ^ "Grandniece Tisca Chopra remembers granduncle Khushwant Singh". IANS. news.biharprabha.com. Retrieved 20 March 2014. 
  15. ^ Nayar, Aruti. "Staring Into The Abyss: Khushwant Singh's Personal Struggles With Organized Religion". sikhchic.com. Retrieved 21 March 2014. 
  16. ^ Khuswant, Singh (16 August 2010). "How To Live & Die". Outlook. 
  17. ^ "Veteran Writer and Novelist Khushwant Singh passes away at 99". news.biharprabha.com. Retrieved 20 March 2014. 
  18. ^ Tiwary, Akash (21 March 2014). "Khushwant Singh’s demise bereaves India of its most articulate agnostic". The Avenue Mail. Retrieved 21 March 2014. 
  19. ^ "President, Prime Minister of India condole Khushwant Singh’s Demise". IANS. news.biharprabha.com. Retrieved 20 March 2014. 
  20. ^ "Excerpt: How To Live & Die". Outlook India. Retrieved 23 March 2014. 
  21. ^ Fistful of Khushwant’s ashes saved for Pakistan
  22. ^ a b "Khushwant Singh awarded Fellowship". King's College London. Retrieved 21 March 2014. 
  23. ^ "Khushwant Singh, 1915–". Library of Congress, New Delhi. Retrieved 21 March 2014. 
  24. ^ Mukherjee, Abishek. "Khushwant Singh and the cricket connection". The Cricket Country. Retrieved 21 March 2014. 
  25. ^ "Akhilesh honours Khushwant-Singh". The Times of India. Retrieved 21 March 2014. 
  26. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w "Khushwant Singh". Open University. Retrieved 21 March 2014. 
  27. ^ Singh, Khushwant (1963). A History of the Sikhs. Princeton University Press. 
  28. ^ Singh, Khushwant (1966). A History of the Sikhs (2 ed.). Princeton University Press. 
  29. ^ Singh, Khushwant (2004). A History of the Sikhs: 1469–1838 (2, illustrated ed.). Oxford University Press. p. 434. ISBN 9780195673081. Retrieved July 2009. 
  30. ^ Singh, Khushwant (2005). A History of the Sikhs: 1839–2004 (2, illustrated ed.). Oxford University Press. p. 547. ISBN 9780195673098. Retrieved July 2009. 
  31. ^ "Third Eye: Third World – Free Press?". BFI. Retrieved 21 March 2014. 

References[edit]

External links[edit]