Famous journalist and writer Khushwant Singh dies at 99

khushwant_singh New Delhi (IANS): Author, journalist, commentator Khushwant Singh, known for his witty, fearless and acerbic writings, is dead, his family announced. He died in his 100th year.

He died quietly at home at his leafy Sujan Singh Park apartment, a landmark for oldtimers of the capital, in whose construction his grandfather, Sir Sujan Singh, had a big hand.

He was pre-deceased by his wife Kawal. He is survived by son Rahul and daughter Mala.

He will be cremated at Lodhi crematorium at 4 p.m. Thursday.

A recipient of Padma Vibhushan, India’s second highest civilian honour, Khushwant Singh authored some internationally renowned books like “Train to Pakistan”, “I Shall Not Hear the Nightingale”, “A History of the Sikhs”, “The Company of Women” and “Delhi”, and has written over 30 novels, many short stories, essays and countless commentaries.

He was close to former prime minister Indira Gandhi but then fell out with her over her imposition of press censorship during her emergency rule 1975-77. The relationship further soured after he became close to estranged daughter-in-law Maneka Gandhi, whom he mentored for some time.

In 2002, the author candidly wrote about his life, family history and his relationship with politicians in the autobiography “Truth, Love and a Little Malice”.

In 1974, he was awarded the Padma Bhushan, the third highest civilian award, but he returned the award in 1984 in protest against the army siege of the Golden Temple of the Sikhs in Amritsar.

His son Rahul Singh, a journalist and writer, said the author had stopped writing a few weeks back, but he was reading papers every morning.

“He was alert mentally till the very end,” Rahul said.

“He passed away very peacefully, led a very full life,” he added.

Born in Hadali, now in Pakistan, he had, among others, served as the editor of The Illustrated Weekly of India, where his column, “With malice towards one and all”, flagged with the bulb symbol with his caricature inside, made him an iconic figure. He was also editor of The Hindustan Times and National Herald.

[Editor Rattan Mall adds:

“I had the immense privilege of working under him at the National Herald in New Delhi just before I joined The Times of India in 1979. He was highly approachable and very helpful. I always admired him for his guts and was inspired by him.]

Known for his colourful writings, sharp sense of humour and love for the good life, his writings weren’t just limited to novels and short stories, Khushwant Singh oeuvre ranged from political commentary to contemporary satire.

“He was a gentle person and a great admirer of Mahatma Gandhi and Mother Teresa. He believed in good thought and good deed. He hated hypocrisy and fundamentalism,” Rahul said.

He was also a member of the Rajya Sabha from 1980 to 1986.

Vice President M Hamid Ansari, in a tribute, said: “Khushwant Singh had a long, prolific and illustrious literary career spanning several decades during which he wrote on subjects varying from politics to poetry to issues of social concern.

“He was particularly admired for being fearless in expressing his views in his writing and speech.”