Writer-journalist Sadia Dehlvi was attending a calligraphy exhibition in Delhi when Khushwant Singh walked up to her and asked, “How are you so beautiful?” If she was thrown off by his impetuous question, Dehlvi didn’t show it. Instead, she confidently replied, “Well, because I am a beautiful person.” Khushwant Singh responded almost immediately: “Tomorrow, my house, 7 o’clock.” That was 30 years ago; today Dehlvi is thoughtful while talking about her best friend and confidant who passed away on Thursday morning. “Khushwant Singh touched so many lives in more ways than one — be it through his writing, helping people find jobs, reading manuscripts of young authors and journalists and editing those as if they were his own, among others,” she says.
Khushwant Singh’s editor, Ravi Singh, first at Penguin and now at Aleph, couldn’t agree more. “The light has gone out. His (Sujan Singh Park) home was a place of refuge for so many people who needed help or just wanted to talk. Those with a sense of humour also have a sense of compassion. Khushwant gave his best to people, and they, in turn, became their best with him,” says Ravi.
Ravi began working with Khushwant Singh while the latter was writing The Company of Women, published by Penguin in 1999. “He favoured short sentences, didn’t use big words and never wrote a convoluted sentence. He was the most versatile writer in India, he straddled both the literary as well as the popular fiction genre,” he says.
At home, Ravi remembers a man who was full of mischief, but never malice. “Khushwant Singh liked the image he’d cultivated of a curmudgeonly old man, but he was very child-like. He grew to become my favourite person,” says Ravi. Every year on his birthday, Singh received a bouquet of flowers from the Prime Minister’s wife, Gursharan Kaur, and delighted in pointing them out to his visitors. His friends remember a man who loved gossip but wasn’t petty with people, a man who could not abide anger and rudeness, a disciplined writer who woke up every morning at 5 to write. “Khushwant always said that his greatest joy was receiving letters from readers, especially the abusive ones,” says Ravi.
The 99-year-old writer-historian was also famous for his 8 o’clock cut-off hour. Writer Bhaichand Patel speaks fondly