There can be no two opinions that Khushwant’s Singh’s name was synonymous with The Illustrated Weekly of India. Its fun-filled and satirical writings were what attracted middle-class English- speaking readers like me. He never hesitated to call a spade a spade in his writings, which is what made him popular. His “Editor’s Page” had that indelible image of a Sikh sitting inside a round bulb with pen and paper next to a few books, a bottle of whisky and a cup. His History of the Sikhs was an epic piece.
Rajakumar Arulanandham, Palayamkottai
He often said: “My mother tongue is English though my mother cannot speak one word of it.” He may have been called “a dirty old man” for his bawdy writings but a closer analysis of his writings would reveal that he was a committed writer and never compromised on his views be it political or social issues. George Bernard Shaw’s statement, “My way of joking is to tell the truth,” fits Khushwant Singh.
I once met Khushwant Singh in 1994 in New Delhi and asked him what the secret of his youthfulness was. He quipped: “I dye every week.”
R.K. Jacob, Palayamkottai
It was only after becoming the Editor of The Illustrated Weekly that he learned the real value of the hit-and-run game of cricket. Once while strolling across to the office via Cross Maidan and Azad Maidan from his Colaba residence in Mumbai he noticed that people were glued to their transistor radios and guessed that it had to be a sporting event. He made it a point to ask the sports editor about it. K.N. Prabhu reminded him of the Test match being played in the city. Seeing the great response to the game, he asked the editorial to bring out a cricket issue exclusively for the readers of The Illustrated Weekly. Prabhu plunged into action, and with the help of B.B. Mama got the issue ready.
The story goes that a housewife heard about this and went out one afternoon to look for the special issue on the stands. Spotting it, she asked the news vendor for two copies, which got the vendor curious. She replied: “One copy is for my first son and the second one is for the second son. I don’t want them to fight.” The issue cost Rs.2 and was a runaway success. It shows how Khushwant Singh always did the spadework and felt the pulse of the people. It is sad that he missed scoring a century by the narrowest margin.
C.K. Subramaniam, Navi Mumbai
My family knew Khushwant Singh well. My father called him “Papa Ji” and my grandfather addressed him as “Singh Sahib.” For my father, Khushwant Singh was the person to emulate, wanting me to overcome my inhibitions and speak and write English like him. Later, life took a cruel turn when I lost my parents during the insurgency in Punjab. I gave vent to my feelings to Khushwant Singh in a letter. He wrote back to me saying, “It was a terrible shock for me when I came to know about your loving parents. Be brave.” He always kept track of what I was doing and was a father figure.
Harneet Singh, Hyderabad
Mr. Bishen Singh Bedi’s tribute (March 21) brought back memories of an interesting exchange of correspondence I once had with the inimitable Sardar. About 25 years ago, when “KS” had a column in a major newspaper, he used to publish select (and need I add, ribald) jokes from his readers at the end of the column. Trying my luck, I sent in my contribution, a play on the four-letter word associated with the consequences following an upset stomach. Shortly thereafter I received a reply from him in his own hand on a 50 paise post card, thanking me “a million times but unfortunately no editor will let through a **** in his paper.” Even in the rejection of a piece there was such grace and humour.
K. Balakesari, Chennai
Khushwant Singh, thy name has 3 Cs: conviction, commitment and courage. He was a person who bubbled with life. His Need for a New Religion in India and Other Essays, is still relevant in 21st century modern India.
Albert P. Rayan, Chennai
Indo-Anglian literature has lost the last of its first generation of doyens, the other two being Mulk Raj Anand and Raja Rao. A novelist, a liberal to the core, journalist par excellence and a real secularist, he was an inspiring figure. I remember the time when he addressed us research scholars in 1993 in Visakhapatnam at Andhra University. Laced with humour and the usual jibes, his address touched upon ecological issues as well. He was visibly elated when told that the university was dominated by progressive and Left forces and yielded no quarter for communal elements. That was a few months after the demolition of the Babri Masjid. He was there to receive an honorary doctorate along with B.R. Chopra and Satish Gujral. He quipped that the university chose only Punjabis for the honour and it was a coincidence that all the three had a Pakistani connection as they were either born in west Punjab or educated in Lahore.
K. Sekhar, Chennai
His A Train to Pakistan is a book which will always have instant recall and is perhaps the best novel ever written by an Indian author on Partition. Khushwant Singh will always be remembered this way: the blunt man with a sharp nib.
Sunny Joseph, Thrissur
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