New Delhi: Khushwant Singh died at 99. He missed a rare century by just one year. As film actress and model Gul Panag tweeted 'what a man, what a life', he was a totally different type of writer and journalist. Unlike his peers, he had no intellectual pretentions. He was careless both in what he said and what he wrote. As he himself claimed he was an accidental writer. His ambition to become a famous lawyer failed and after that took up some odd government jobs both in abroad and back home in India.
His stint with the Planning Commission of India magazine 'Yojana' made him a journalist. He later went on to edit 'Illustrated Weekly of India' and 'Hindustan Times'.
He had a close proximity with the corridors of power. He was close to Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and was nominated to the Rajya Sabha in 1980. Before that he was very sympathetic towards Sanjay Gandhi and had strongly defended him and the Emergency imposed by Indira Gandhi. He even wrote a book on it.
He was a controversial figure all his life. His love for wine, women and gossips made him a cult figure and he earned both fans and foes in abundance.
A secular to the boot, Khushwant Singh wrote and spoke against the RSS, BJP and even the Shiromani Akali Dal and Shiv Sena. He firmly believed that parties based on religion would destroy the country.
His outspokenness made him a highly unpopular figure among the orthodox and rightwing sympathizers. But, 'dirty old man of Indian media and literary world' never bothered about such people and their criticisms.
Khushwant Singh loved Delhi, where he spent most of his life. His grandfather and father had built parts of the colonial, grand Lutyen's Delhi. His novel 'Delhi' won many awards and was translated into several languages. But he believed that William Dalrymple was a better writer on Delhi than him. Once he said, "Dalrymple is a much better writer than I am and I am glad that he is doing it."
As noted writer Amitava Ghosh says he was a multifaceted personality. He was a journalist, author, social-political commentator, critic, historian and a great raconteur. His books on Sikhism are considered some of the best books on the religion and its history.
He rarely changed his opinion on people. He had always been a vocal supporter of the Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh. He used to describe him as the most honest man in Indian politics. He even took on the critics of Manmohan Singh. Unsurprisingly, Manmohan Singh was the first political leader to condole his death.
Talking about his father, son Rahul Singh said, "He lived a very full life and went like he wanted to. He had a scotch. His birthday was on 2nd February. L K Advani ji came to meet him. Despite being openly critical of him politically, he met him. He never minced his words. Honesty is a writer's biggest contribution and virtue. He wrote 85 books. Greatest contribution was as a columnist. Began in 69 and continued till just weeks before his death. 'Above all' and 'malice towards one and all' were his two columns."
Khushwant Singh was never a retired old man. He was full of life and was always busy. As Garima Dutt writes, "You request him to recite poetry and he answers with a gentle no. Then he changes his mind and obliges you by reciting Ghalib. That's Khushwant Singh for you. Beyond whiskey, women and humour, poetry is the man's passion."
He was a great admirer of Urdu poetry. Speaking to IBNLive he had said, "No, it won't vanish. Urdu has a great future, the entire film industry relies on Urdu, most of the songs are written in this language and as you pointed out Hindi cinema has been the mainstay of the popularity of Urdu."
Three years ago he had decided to stop writing. But, a few weeks later, he again started writing his columns. He famously joked that nobody had invented a condom for his pen!
As his son Rahul Singh says he achieved everything he wanted to achieve in his life.