THE LIFE AND TIMES OF AN UNCOMMON INDIAN
Born on February 2, 1915, to a prosperous family in Hadali in Punjab, now Lahore, a place Singh went back to time and again until 1947: As a college student and as a practising lawyer. He was delighted when he received the Punjab Rattan award in 2006, the third Indian after Amrita Pritam and Yash Chopra, and called it his most valuable honour.
In the city of durbars, his was the last gracious outpost. In his book- lined, dimly- lit living room in Sujan Singh Park, he held durbars of the gifted, the wannabe, the sponger and the eccentric in two shifts: First, the tea- time mélange of female pen-wielders; and then, the whisky durbar at 7- 8 p. m..
A student of LLB at King’s College, London, he was called to the Inner Temple in 1938.“Happiest days,” he wrote in his autobiography, Truth, Love & A Little Malice. London brought romance into his life: His wife Kaval Malik. He went back to the city in 1947, when he joined the diplomatic service as press attaché. A staunch defender of British traditions all his life.
DIRTY OLD MAN
A Delhi millionaire takes up an unbridled sexual journey in Singh’s 1999 book, The Company of Women. A potboiler or a window to its creator? The nation could never be sure. Singh famously said, “I have been told that my eyes are those of a lustful badmash.” Notorious for his brazen views on sexuality, his penchant for excesses was a self- cultivated perception. In reality, he followed a disciplined regimen in his private life.
Fearless and acerbic, Singh continues to be India’s most- read author. He wrote over 80 best- sellers, including his first novel, Trainto Pakistan, in print since 1956. He began his career as a radio journalist in 1951 at the All India Radio. But it was print media that he thought he was carved out for. He started with Yojana, a Planning Commission journal, and later moved on to The Illustrated Weekly of India, 196978. He was the editor- in- chief of National Herald, NewDelhi, The Hindustan Times and Contour between 1978 and 1983.
He embraced the word ‘ malice’ as a leitmotif. Starting with his immensely popular column, With Malice Towards One and All, in The Illustrated Weekly— with a caricature by the late Mario Miranda of Singh inside a light bulb, with books, girlie magazines and a bottle of liquor— the word appeared repeatedly in his writing, From Truth, Lovea nd a Little
Maliceto With Malice towards One and All.
NICE MAN TO KNOW
He belonged to a generation of enormously influential editors. From Indira Gandhi to Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Manmohan Singh to L. K. Advani, he hobnobbed with the high and mighty of Indian politics. His political leanings— he was an unabashed admirer of Sanjay made him unpopular for a while. But with his trademark intellect, wit and creativity he made sure that he stayed in the news till the very end.
SCHOLAR PAR EXCELLENCE
“I am not a learned man,” he wrote in a 2009 column.“I was a poor student, a briefless barrister, a tactless diplomat and ended up as an ill- informed journalist.” But Singh was the author of over 20 non-fiction works especially on the history of Sikhism. Throughout his life Singh gave lectures, wrote essays and authored books on esoteric topics.