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Kushwant falls short of a century

Kushwant Singh, one of the most fearless and controversial journalists of our times, passed away in New Delhi on March 20, 2014.

Born on February 2, 1915, he was less than a year away from becoming a centurion.

He is survived by his son Rahul (who was the first Indian Editor of the Reader’s Digest) and Mala. His wife Kawal Malik passed away in 2001.

Recipient of Padma Vibhushan, a renowned author, journalist, novelist and columnist, the master writer suffered a breathing problem shortly before his death.

According to the Delhi based Business Standard, Mr Singh was best known for his trenchant secularism, humor, and an abiding love for poetry. “His comparisons of social and behavioral characteristics of Westerners and Indians were laced with acid wit.”

He served as the editor of several literary and news magazines, as well as two broadsheet newspapers, through the 1970s and 1980s. His last book was ‘The Good, The Bad and The Ridiculous.’ Other works of the writer include ‘Train to Pakistan,’ ‘The History of Sikhs,’ ‘Black Jasmine,’ and ‘Tradition of Punjab.’.

He was Editor of the now defunct Illustrated Weekly of India and later the Hindustan Times (Delhi). His weekly column ‘With Malice Towards One and All’ was very popular and was syndicated in many dailies.

Honours & Awards

Kushwant Singh was nominated to Rajya Sabha, the Upper House of Parliament, which he served from 1980 to 1986.

He was awarded 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, the Indian Government made him a ‘Padma Vibhushan,’ the second highest civilian award in the country.

Among the other awards that he received were the ‘Punjab Ratan,’ the ‘Sulabh International Award for the Most Honest Indian of the Year’, as well as honorary doctorates from several universities.

The Editor adds:

Kushwant Singh was not just a journalist; he was an Institution. I have had the honour of working with him when he was Editor of the Illustrated Weekly of India and later the Hindustan Times. Breaking the taboo that existed between Editors and reporters (a cub reporter of sorts), he was amiable, authoritative, flexible, intolerant – all at once. But never did he allow his human trait of understanding overtake his consummated course as a journalist par excellence. Everyone- almost anyone – would seek his advice on matters relating to publishing, from a Letters to the Editor to a 700-page book. He was an icon in print journalism, almost without a comparison in the world.

In mourning

I shed a quiet tear, mourning for the man who had meant so much, taught so much in life and career. I will always remember his daily comment to staff: “Write what you think is right, but not before due consideration of it from legal, moral and professional perspectives. After that, defend every word with your mite. Never budge.”

I had not met Kushwant in 30 years and yet I know that he would not have liked anyone of his innumerable disciples to write an epitaph. For, he wrote one himself, long before he knew he would meet his Maker.

In ‘Death At My Doorstep,’ he wrote:

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.

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