Always surrounded by controversies, Khushwant Singh may have been, in his own admission, 'not a nice man to know', but he was definitely one who had intrigued several generations of Indians, with his humour, his irreverence and to repeat a cliche, his zest for life.
The noted journalist and author passed away this morning. He was 99.
His son and journalist Rahul Singh said the author passed away very peacefully at his residence in Sujan Singh Park in Delhi. "He led a very full life," he said, adding, he had some breathing problems.
Singh was born on 2 February in Hadali, now in Pakistan's Punjab. He was the founder-editor of Yojana and editor of the Illustrated Weekly of India, the National Herald and the Hindustan Times.
Besides his classics like Train to Pakistan, I Shall Not Hear the Nightingale and Delhi, Singh also wrote a number of pieces on Sikh religion and culture, Delhi, politics and Urdu poetry.
Singh was nominated to Rajya Sabha by the government under late Indira Gandhi. He was a Member of Parliament from 1980 to 1986.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh called him a "gifted author, candid commentator and a dear friend". In a condolence message, he said, "He lived a truly creative life."
Khushwant Singh was awarded the Padma Bhushan in 1974 but returned the decoration in 1984 in protest against the storming of the Golden Temple in Amritsar by the Army. In 2007, he was awarded the Padma Vibhushan.
One of Singh's various popular theories was one in which he exhorted his fans to throw love out of the window and said that it is lust that binds two individuals. He would always say that they still have not invented a condom for his pen. In fact they could never invent a condom for Singh's free spirit, because that is what he was, constantly feeding on controversies.
His last book, Khushwantnama: The Lessons of My Life was released when he was 98. In this book, he wrote about his life, lessons it has taught him, politics, future of India and what religion means to him. At 98, he wrote about the intrigue of sex, the pleasures of poetry and the importance of laughter with such flourish that it left his readers spellbound.
In an interview to CNN-IBN, Khushwant Singh had said he counted himself lucky that he still enjoys his evening drink and relishes tasty food. He said he felt sad that he has always been a bit of a lecher and looked at women as objects of lust.
Singh was also known for his brutal honesty.
"I have also come to the sad conclusion that I have always been a bit of a lecher. From the tender age of four right to the present when I have completed 97, it has been lechery that has been uppermost in my mind. I have never been able to conform to the Indian ideal of regarding women as my mothers, sisters or daughters. Whatever their age, to me they were, and are, objects of lust," he wrote in his last book.
The one thing one is reminded of, especially today, is Singh's essay Prepare for Death While Alive published as a part of his collection of essays Not A Nice Man To Know.
He writes in the final paragraph:
''All I hope is that when death comes to me, it comes swiftly, without much pain; like fading away in sound slumber. Till that time I will strive to live as full a life as I did in my younger days. One should prepare oneself to die like a man; no moaning, groaning or crying for reprieve. Allama Iqbal put it beautifully:
Nishan-e-mard-e-Momin ba to goyam?
Choon margaayad, tabassum bar lab-e-ost
(You ask me for signs of a man of faith? When death comes to him, he has a smile on his lips).''
The ones he inspired and the ones he outraged would possibly hope today that he was granted his wish.
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Updated Date: Mar 20, 2014 14:06:59 IST