Khushwant Singh : Indian English Writer

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Khushwant Singh is a prominent Indian novelist and journalist. Singh's weekly column, "With Malice towards One and All", carried by several Indian newspapers, is among the most widely-read columns in the country.

Khushwant Singh is many things to many people. More you read about him, hungrier you get. He is the high priest of journalism and can be said to be India's best.
Khushwant Singh

An important Indo-Anglian novelist, Singh is best known for his trenchant secularism, his humour, and an abiding love of poetry. His comparisons of social and behavioural characteristics of Westerners and Indians are laced with acid wit. He served as editor of several well- known literary and news magazines, as well as two major broadsheet newspapers, through the 1970s and 1980s.

He was born in Hadali, Punjab in a Sikh family. His father, Sir Sobha Singh, was a prominent builder in Lutyens Delhi. He was educated at Government College, Lahore, St. Stephen's College in Delhi and King's College, London, Detore reading for the Bar at the Inner Temple.

In August 1947, days before the partition of India and Pakistan, Singh, then a lawyer practicing in the High Court Lahore, drove to his family's summer cottage at Kasauli in the foothills of the Himalayas. Continuing on to Delhi along 200 miles (320 km) of vacant road, he came upon a jeep of armed Sikhs who boasted that they had just massacred a village of Muslims. Such experiences were to be powerfully distilled in Singh's 1956 novel Train to Pakistan.

Singh has edited Yojana, 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 preeminent news weekly. After Singh's departure, it suffered a huge drop in readership.

From 1980 through 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. In 2007, the Indian government awarded Singh the Padma Vibhushan.

Singh is said to wake up at 4 am each day and write his columns by hand. His works range from political commentary and contemporary satire to outstanding translations of Sikh religious texts and Urdu poetry. Despite the name, his column "With Malice Towards One and All", regularly contains secular exhortations and messages of peace. In addition, he is 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. One of the most striking aspects of his weekly writings is his outright honesty; he will openly admit to his weaknesses and mistakes, along with an acceptance of his declining health and physical abilities in more recent times.

As a public figure, Singh has been accused or favouring the ruling Congress party, especially during the reign of Indira Gandhi. He is better viewed as establishment liberal. Singh's faith in the Indian political system has been has been shaken by events such as anti-Sikh riots that followed Indira Gandhi's assassination, in which major

Congress politicians were alleged to be involved. But he has remained resolutely positive on the promise of Indian democracy and worked via Citizen's Justice Committee floated by H. S. Phoolka who is a senior advocate of Delhi High Court.

Khushwant Singh is many things to many people. More you read about him, hungrier you get. He is the high priest of journalism and can be said to be India's best. He is a free thinker and an international celebrity. Khushwant Singh had become a legend and an icon in his lifetime. He is a lawyer critic and columnist. He is a prolific writer and historian. He is a man people love to hate and may even agree "Not a nice man to know". Yet, you would love to read him day after day to no end.

Khushwant Singh was born in 1915 in village Hadali in Khushab district Sargodha, Punjab - now in Pakistan. Family was very rich. His father Sir Sobha Singh had made his money as builder and contractor who was responsible for constructing many buildings in and around what is today New Delhi. Lady Varyam Kaur was a fine woman and mother. Khushwant singh attended modern school where, by his own admission, his distinction was a record in zeros in arithmetic. However he excelled in Urdu. It was perhaps an early streak of a writer in him. Later on he attended Government college in Lahore. Family was well off and soon Khushwant was sent to king's college, Cambridge and the inner Temple in London.

After qualifying in law, Khushwant Singh returned to India. He set up a legal practice in Lahore. He struggled in practice for several years before the Partition of India in 1947. This forced him to abandon his practice and family settled in New Delhi where they already owned real estate soon after he was offered a job in diplomatic service in the Ministry of External affairs. This first took him to London - a familiar ground to him, and later to Canada. He also served in Paris with UNESCO, to astonishment of some of his peers to whom diplomatic perks were attractive, Khushwant Singh found life of 'babudom' to his disliking and left MEA.

He joined All India Radio in 1951 as a journalist. This was just the beginning of an illustrious career of Khushwant Singh. He was founder editor of Yojana from (1951-1953). Soon he was editing the prestigious National Herald. Later on he was to edit The Illustrated Weekly of India, a magazine which increased its circulation many folds after he became its editor. Khushwant Singh was also chief editor of New Delhi and editor of Capital's newspaper Hindustan Times.

Khushwant Singh has worldwide readership. He has written for almost all the major national and international newspapers in India and abroad. He has numerous TV and radio appearances at home and Internationally. He has had an extraordinary career as a writer. A book, "A history of Sikhs" by him remains to this day a well-researched and scholarly work. It is a classic two-volume book on Sikh History and is used as reference by many scholars. He has written several novels, both fiction and nonfiction, which have been translated into many languages. Khushwant's "Train to Pakistan" won him international acclaim and Grove Press Award in 1954. He brought history to our doorstep both for Punjabi and non-punjabi speaking people. He wrote the book "Maharaja Ranjit Singh" explaining his secular rule. He also wrote "Fall of Sikh kingdom". His translation of Japji, Hymns of Nanak and the Guru shows his spiritual side. From Mind to Supermind. A commentary on Bhagwat Geeta, testifies his secular nature. Another book declaring Love in four languages, he along with Sharda Kaushki, presents a selection of finest poems inn English, Hindi, Urdu and Punjabi. He is a man for many people in many languages. He has translated Amrita Pritam's poems "Pinjar" (Skeleton) into English.

He is best selling author of over 80 books and two Weekly columns syndicated in over 40 English publications. India Today describes him "The Capital's best known living monument." In the year 1999, when Sikhs celebrated 300th year of Khalsa at Anandpur sahib. It is estimated that about that million people visited the city at the time. To the delight of million of Sikhs, he was honoured with "Order of (Nishaan-e-Khalsa), the highest decorum bestowed upon by the Sikhs community.

Khushwant Singh was awarded the Padma Vibhushan in 1974. Ten years later in 1984, he returned the honour as protest to Government of India against the storming of Golden Temple by the Army. On June 8, a day after the incident, he drove to Rashtrapati Bhavan and returned the framed citation to the President of India, Giani Zail Singh, who himself was a Sikh. It was an act of Courage. When he returned to his house, his home became information centre for the Sikhs. Every TV channel and radio station from abroad contacted him about the details of the damage to Golden Temple. It also saw his falling out with Nehru family. Khushwant Singh was member of Parliament, Rajya Sabha, from 1980 to 1986. His dry and icy comments frequently landed him in Soup. Dr. Bideshwar Pathak, founder of Sulabh International, says, "Khushwant's biggest attribute is that he speaks what he feels. He is honest to the extent that he offends even his friends and icons revered by people. It does not matter to him that it jeopardizes his chances in life. It is this quality that made Gandhi into a Mahatma." Critics many not agree with this assessment entirely because Khushwant Singh was the editor of The Illustrated Weekly of India during the time of Emergency rule imposed by Indira Gandhi. He was not very vocal and to his critics, this made his position less than honest. His son Rahul Singh says "My father is a foolish politician but emotionally he is honest."

In July 2000, Khushwant received Sulabh Award for 'upholding moral values and being a person of impeccable character and exceptional integrity'. Andhra Pradesh Chief minister Chandrababu gave away the award. The function was marked by the release of a book on life of the worthy recipient called "Khushwant Singh: An icon of our Age". The delight of thousands of Khushwant followers, External affairs minister Jaswant Singh released the book. This is a collection of article by the writers of varied backgrounds including IFS Pavan Verma, Solicitor General Soli Sorabjee and Dr. Bindeshwar Pathak, the founder of Sulabh International for Social Service.

Khushwant Singh has crossed swords in the court but has never acted unlawfully. His writings are passionate and speak his mind and soul. Khushwant has never paid heavily for his writings from his so called Honest Pen. He admits, "There have been dozens of times when I have been dragged to court. In most cases, I was let off without being convicted". Punjab and Haryana Court once hauled him up for an article on Corruption in the Judiciary. Unable to prove anything unlawful, they let him off. In December 1995, Khushwant Singh was writing Truth, Love and a little Malice, an autobiography, when court passed injunction against him and barred him from Publishing any reference pertaining to Maneka Gandhi, a plaintiff, in his book.

Khushwant Singh is full of life. He believes in enjoying life to the fullest. He is not materialistic. He is a serious man but his casualness portrays his personas not so serious. He is not a bore and people of all ages feel at home with him. A frank discussion about sex is not a taboo to him. It is his openness, which unfairly sticks a label of 'dirty old man' to him. In real life Khushwant Singh is a thorough gentleman. Sex, Scotch and Scholarship another book by him is fun to read. When asked about his drinking habit, he admits, I started drinking at the age of 25. I have never been drunk even once in the last 60 years of drinking." His favourite is Premium Scotch but readily admits; I don't care for champagne, To me it tastes like alcoholic lemonade".

When his book "In the Company of Women" was launched, the occasion was attended by all who happened to be anybody including Pakistani High Commissioner Ashraf Jehangir Qazi. High Commissioner had brought along his daughter who wanted to meet him. Khushwant Singh, an unorthodox man in his behaviour and manner, planted an innocent peck on Miss Qazi's cheek upon greeting her. This was to cause an agitation in Pakistan. Ever vigilant, the mullahs in Pakistan revolted at the site of a kafir kissing a pure blooded Muslim girl good enough to be his great grand daughter. High Commissioner, to his discomfiture, was asked to submit an explanation to the Pakistani government. To a critic who ponders if he is anti-Hindu and admires Muslims, he replies, "I am emphatically not anti-Hindu. I rise to the defence of Muslims because they are far too often discriminated against and I feel we should befriend them. I have no particular admiration for them, only a lot of good will".

Khushwant Singh is a man larger than life. Befitting his accomplishment, he was honoured by Guru Nanak Dev University, Amritsar viz. Doctorate of Literature. The entire senate rose to deafening applause when the vice-chancellor introduced Sardar Khushwant Singh to the faculty. Khushwant Singh has been a lawyer, diplomat, critic, journalist, novelist, historian, humorist, naturalist and a politician all rolled into one.

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