Author Khushwant Singh passes away at 99

Last Updated 20 March 2014, 20:47 IST

Noted author, journalist and a loyal lover of life’s finer things, Khushwant Singh died at his Sujan Singh Park residence in Delhi on Thursday. He was 99 and is survived by son Rahul and daughter Mala.

“He died in a way that he would have wanted to,” said Khushwant’s son Rahul Singh, also a journalist.

A family member said Singh raised his last peg of “single malt whiskey” on Wednesday evening, read his newspaper and solved crossword on Thursday morning. “He passed away in his sleep around 12:15 pm,” Rahul said.

For ages, Khushwant drew readers to his widely-published column “With Malice Towards One and All”. He served as the editor of the now defunct Illustrated Weekly of India and The Hindustan Times. He was also the recipient of Padma Vibhushan, India’s second highest civilian award, in 2007.    

At his funeral, relatives, friends and acquaintances remembered him as “a man whose zest for life was infectious”. 

“I will fondly remember the man who wrote so easily and lovingly. When you know a man like him so closely, it is difficult even to take offence at his jokes,” said Kamla Bhasin, a feminist activist.

Sumita Didi, who started her career as a producer for a TV show under Khushwant, said, “He was quite opposite to the womaniser tag that he had embraced himself. I was 23 when I started my career as an intern under him in 1991. He came across as an encouraging, witty and knowledgeable man.

“Another standard question you would have heard had you ever tried seeking an appointment with him in the evening would be — are you the drinking or the not-drinking type,” she added chuckling.

Though a family member was quoted as saying that Khushwant spoke little in the last few months, singer Rene Singh, who met Khushwant last in November, said, “We would recite Urdu poetry together. His memory was lucid and intact till the end.”

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, his wife Gursharan Kaur, Sonia Gandhi, veteran journalists M J Akbar, Kuldip Nayar and former cricketer Bishen Singh Bedi, among others, joined Khushwant’s family members in mourning at his residence.

The author’s last rites were performed at the Lodhi Road electric crematorium. “He hated rituals,” Rahul said.  

BJP leader L K Advani, Union Ministers Kapil Sibal, Salman Khurshid and Farooq Abdullah, journalist-turned-politician Arun Shourie, former attorney general of India Soli Sorabjee and senior journalist George Verghese, among others, paid homage.

“He (Khushwant Singh) led a remarkable life. A man of wisdom and excellent analytical ability, he was a man of the past and present. And, what he wrote was for the future,” Khurshid said.

Sibal remembered him as a “brave and loving man”, who encouraged him passionately in his efforts to write poetry.

(Published 20 March 2014, 20:47 IST)

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