What a pity Khushwant Singh did not live to be a hundred. What a pity that we shall not see his reactions to the election results due in May. How would the man who bluntly told LK Advani that he had sown the dragon-seed of hate have reacted to the possible victory of Narendra Modi? What would he have said about the almost certain rout of the Congress, with which he had a problematic relationship? He had praised Sanjay Gandhi's efficiency, despite the excesses of the Emergency, but returned his Padma Bhushan in protest after Operation Bluestar. And what would he have had to say about Arvind Kejriwal, who is inheriting one of his public roles—that of an embarrassing gadfly?
Khushwant Singh, who died yesterday aged 99, is being mourned as a great writer but more than that, this was really the passing of a powerful influencer. Former editor of The Illustrated Weekly of India and Hindustan Times, former member of the
Rajya Sabha, a Padma Vibhushan awardee, fiction writer, translator and historian, he was most loved for his newspaper column ‘With Malice Towards One and All’, a daring mashup of political opinion, gossip items and jokes from the grapevine. The jokes put readers at their ease and made them receptive to the political content. It was an excellent subversive strategy.
It is impossible to think of a single personality who can step into the shoes of a man who wore so many hats. Indeed, that is mixing metaphors but in life, Khushwant Singh had always indicated his preference for mixed media over black and white. In our times, when opinion seems to have frozen into intractable, oppositional positions, when professional opinion-makers are dangerously sure of themselves, the sardar who poked fun at himself, trapped in a light bulb with a stack of books, a girlie magazine and a bottle of Scotch, will be sorely missed.