Archive for the 'Newspapers' Category

Shekhar Gupta’s farewell letter to Express staff

2 June 2014
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Shekhar Gupta, left, holds up a drawing by illustrator Prakash Shetty, after addressing the editorial staff of the Bangalore-based newspapers Praja Vani and Deccan Herald, last week

The following is the full text of the letter sent by Shekhar Gupta, editor-in-chief of The Indian Express, to his colleagues, announcing his exit from the paper he helmed for 19 years.

Gupta’s resignation as editor comes 10 months after he relinquished his corporate duties as CEO at the paper—and a week after the Narendra Modi-led BJP government came to power in the 2014 general elections.

Gupta’s no.2 Raj Kamal Jha had been elevated as editor of Express in the middle of 2013.

***

Goodbye notes can be heartwarming or heartbreaking. On a rare occasion they can be both. This is one such.

It is time for me to say goodbyes at the Express — for the second time. The first was exactly at the same time of the year in 1983 when most of you were not born yet.

I say goodbye now with joy because I leave behind a wonderfully vibrant newsroom with very good hands of home-grown leaders. And a newspaper that defines its value and power in terms of its depth, credibility and respect. There is no higher currency, no fairer denominator of a newspaper’s stature.

And also a wrench precisely because we are such a fun gang, topped by a large-hearted proprietor who pretty much distributes all that the company earns back to us. As generous compensations, great working conditions, never a resource spared in pursuit of a story. No call ever to kill a story once it passes our highest and the most exacting editorial bars and filters.

I can do no better than paraphrase what Gen Krishnaswamy Sundarji, my friend and mentor in an area of journalism that fascinated me, had said at his farewell parade when cameras caught a hint of mist in his ever-smiling eyes.

He said he didn’t know whether to sob or smile. Because he was leaving behind the world’s finest army that God gave any human the gift of leading.

There isn’t a daily newspaper in India greater than the Express. Or a greater gift that a journalist can ask for than to lead it.

I have been doubly blessed. I started at the same paper as a reporter in 1977 and worked here for a full 25 years in two innings.

Leadership is its own teacher. In fact, the finest. It gives you an opportunity to learn from the many brilliant people that you have been given the honour to lead. I know, many of you by now would be tired of my three-example rule in editorial writing. Yet, here are my three leadership lessons.

First, you must have a big heart. You can be a competent manager, a powerful boss, the wealthiest owner. But never a leader without a big heart. Because there is an essential moral dimension to leadership.

Second, always connect with the universe of those you lead. In our case, it is exhilarating as, across our teams, we trawl the worlds of politics, government, economics, science, culture, cinema and sports. Even markets and advertising, our roti-dal and EMIs.

And third, find that instinct to choose the most talented and diligent, give them space, and then trust them. I confess this defies conventional logic. Or advice on your usual leadership manual’s back-flap. But trust with your heart and not merely, clinically with your head. This is the one gift I take away from Viveck through a two-decade professional relationship, and a friendship that endures.

This concludes my farewell sermon. So back to myself.

When life becomes cosy for too long, you need to disrupt it. Smugness is the beginning of old age, even if you are in your teens, which I, regrettably, am not.

I am embarrassed to lean on the wisdom of Neale Donald Walsh, a contemporary pop-spiritualist/philosopher so juvenile that had he been born in India, he would be a star on Aastha channel with his nutty Conversations with God. Life, he said, begins at the end of your comfort zone. I am checking him out.

In any case, I am an incorrigible reporter and thereby a terminal adventure junkie. By the way, even at the risk of being charged with crass tribalism, I shall write something more specifically for my fellow reporters at the Express. But a bit later.

I had said at my book release by Arun Shourie in Mumbai earlier this month that he taught me many things, but never to write anything short, an article, a letter, even a farewell note. So I can continue to indulge myself today as well. But you have to bring out tomorrow’s paper.

And I must write my first in this series — my last at the Express — of First Person/Second Draft — on time. Heard that before?

I so love you all, friends, colleagues, much younger, brighter and with a great future. I am proud of you and cherish the time we spent together. I will be generally in my office until June 15. There is a fair bit of pending writing. So please be forewarned: you will still have to endure the corridor addas on my compulsive breaks from spells of writing, bare feet and all.

Postscript: One antidote to compulsive rambling is to steal a poet’s lines. Let me sign off, therefore, with Gulzar, whom we all so adore…

Din dhale jahan, raat paas ho,
Zindagi ki lau, oonchi kar chalo,
Yaad aaye gar kabhi, jee udaas ho,
Meri awaz hi pehchan hai,
Gar yaad rahe…

We will always be in touch….

Shekhar

***

Photograph: courtesy K.S.N. Kumar

***

Also read: Shekhar Gupta gives up his managerial role

To all Express employees. From: Shekhar Gupta

From Viveck Goenka. To: Indian Express employees

The Indian Express, Shekhar Gupta, Gen V.K. Singh

The difference between a home and a house…

26 April 2014

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Intellectuals in India, like news consumers, now have a less-than-healthy cynicism of the media, much of it the media’s fault of course, but also the result of a sustained slander campaign by partisans.

How heartwarming, therefore, to see this plaque at the museum of the Jnanpith Award-winning Kannada poet, writer and academic, Dr K.V. Puttappa, in his home-village, Kuppalli, in the western ghats.

Loosely translated from the original Kannada, it reads:

“The attributes of a good home are a good newspaper and a few good books.”

Shekhar Gupta dedicates book to Viveck Goenka

16 April 2014

sgfirst      sg

Indian Express editor-in-chief Shekhar Gupta‘s much-awaited book, Anticipating India, a compilation of his Saturday columns, has seen a change of cover.

At left is the original cover, with the tagline “If Modi wins on Sunday”. At right, is the actual book jacket, with the tagline now reading “The best of National Interest”.

The 516-page book, published by Harper Collins, is dedicated to Viveck Goenka, the chairman of the Indian Express and the grandson of Ramnath Goenka.

“For Viveck Goenka, ninetten years, 900 columns and not one call to ask ‘why’. If you find more newspaper owners like him, please do exchange notes with me.”

The book is also dedicated to his children Mandakini Gupta and Abhimanyu Gupta and their respective spouses, the “four points of my compass”.

The sleeve notes records this line about the author:

“A proud father of a pastry chef in Delhi and a mathematical economist in London, Gupta lives in New Delhi with his wife—and the company of an adorable family of dogs and cats whom you would call stray at your own peril.”

Also read: You have read the column, now read the book

From Viveck Goenka. To: Indian Express employees

Why Shobhana Bhartia was late for PM’s breakfast

12 April 2014

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As is only to be expected, a number of journalists figure in former Economic Times, Times of India and Financial Express journalist Sanjaya Baru‘s book ‘The Accidental Prime Minister‘ (Penguin), on his days as the PM’s media advisor.

But a few publishers and head honchos do too, including Prannoy Roy of NDTV, Samir Jain of The Times of India and his mother Indu Jain, and Shobhana Bhartia of Hindustan Times.

***

In May 2005, as the UPA approached its first anniversary, reports began to appear that the PM was reviewing the performance of his ministers.

On 9 May, when he was in Moscow, NDTV ran a story that external affairs minister Natwar Singh had secured a ‘low’ score on the PM’s ‘report card’ and was likely to be dropped from the Cabinet.

Natwar was most unhappy and took the day off on ‘health grounds’.

This news reached the PM in Moscow when he was in the midst of a briefing at his hotel. He asked me to find out what exactly NDTV had reported.

When I brief him he burst out angrily, ‘Tell Prannoy to stop reporting these lies.’

I called Prannoy Roy and had just begun speaking to him when the PM asked for my mobile phone and spoke to Prannoy himself, scolding him like he was chiding a student who had erred, saying, ‘This is not correct. You cannot report like this.’

Indeed, the relationship between him and Pranny was not that of a PM and senior media editor but more like that of a former boss and a one-time junior,. This was because Prannoy had worked as an economic adviser in the miistry of finance under Dr Singh.

After a few minutes, Prannoy called me back.

‘Are you still with him?’ he asked

I stepped out of the room and told him that I was now alone.

‘Boy, I have not been scolded like that since school! He sounded like a headmaster, not a prime minister,’ complained Prannoy.

***

Rupert Muroch (of Star TV and News Corp) tried a trick to secure an appointment (with the PM).

Having failed on one occasion to meet Dr Singh, he made a second attempt by letting it be known that he was not interested in talking about his media business. Rather, he wanted to talk about China.

The PM was amused and granted him an appointment. Murdoch did duscuss China and explained where he saw China going. But, as he got up to leave, he expressed the hope that the Indian government would be more receptive to his media plan than China had been.

***

Within the PMO, (former national security advisor) Mani Dixit’s imperious style inevitably came into conflict with my own more freewheeling and irreverent style of functioning.

Our first disagreement was on who could travel with the PM on his official plane.

Seeing the name of Times of India journalist Siddharth Varadarajan, who later served as editor of The Hindu, on the media list, Mani sent me a note informing me that Siddharth was not an Indian national but an American citizen and, as a foreign national, was not entitled to travel on the PM’s plane.

I was aware of Siddharth’s citizenship, since this matter had come up when I had hired him as an assistant editor of the Times of India.

I chose not to make an issue of it then and Samir Jain, vice chairman of Bennett, Coleman & Co Ltd, the publishers of The Times of India, who took particular interest in the hiring of editorial writers, did not object either. Now the matter had surfaced again.

***

I arranged a series of breakfast meetings with important editors, publishers and TV anchors. As an early riser Dr Singh would schedule his breakfast meetings for half past eight being late to bed and late to rise, editors and TV anchors would protest but turn up on time.

When I invited a group of publishers, the only ones to arrive late were Shobhana Bhartia of Hindustan Times because, as she tole me, she took a long time to dry her hair and Indu Jain, chairperson of the Times of India, because she had to finish her morning puja.

Also read: Kuldip Nayar on Shekhar Gupta, N. Ram & Co

B.G. Verghese: a deep mind with a straight spine who stands tall

Vinod Mehta on Arun Shourie, Dileep Padgaonkar, et al

Jug Suraiya on MJ, SJ, Giri, Monu and Mama T

When Samir Jain served a thali, Vineet served a scoop

When NaMo joins hands with a journo, it’s news

8 April 2014

Photo Caption

The BJP’s “prime ministerial candidate” Narendra Modi has, at best, enjoyed a tenuous relationship with the media and media professionals.

Although media houses which he spurned are now eating out of his hands, the Gujarat chief minister continues to be generally more comfortable with owners, whom he gives helicopter rides or calls on personally while visiting their cities.

But in Mysore, on Tuesday,  Modi made space for journalist Pratap Simha, the 36-year-old columnist of Kannada Prabha, who is the official BJP candidate from Mysore.

Simha, who created a stir with his blazing Saturday columns at the Rajeev Chandrasekhar-owned Kannada Prabha and previously at the Times of India-owned Vijaya Karnataka, was the alleged target of a “terror” plot in 2012, in which a journalist was named. The police claim, however, fell flat.

Let the record show that a journalist who had never seen the sun rise, now begins his day at 6 am.

Let the record also show that at extreme left is the former Karnataka minister S.A. Ramadas, whose threat to commit suicide was caught on live television.

Photograph: Karnataka Photo News

Also read: Bangalore journo in plot to kill editor, columnist?

Anti-minority bias in plot to kill editor, columnist?

An Editor reveals his friendship with a politician

7 April 2014
Star of Mysore editor-in-chief K.B. Ganapathy (right) with the politician H.S. Shankaralinge Gowda, who passed away yesterday

Star of Mysore editor-in-chief K.B. Ganapathy (right) with the politician H.S. Shankaralinge Gowda, who passed away yesterday

The relationship between politicians and journalists is usually an after-dark activity in India, with neither participant ready or willing to put the other’s involvement on the record.

Wise heads in politics will counsel newcomers against getting too close to journalists, because, well, you never know when the snake could discover its fangs.

Grey beards in journalism will lament such proximity, because, well, it could harm the holy grail of our profession that textbooks say exists—“objectivity”.

K.B. Ganapathy, the editor-in-chief of the evening daily Star of Mysore, swerves off the beaten track to pay a heart-warming tribute to the three-time BJP MLA in Karnataka, the former mayor of Mysore, H.S. Shankaralinge Gowda, who passed away yesterday.

***

By K.B. GANAPATHY

It was 1979; Star of Mysore was into its second year of publication from its office in Saraswathipuram near Kamakshi Hospital.

One afternoon, a young, lean, tall man, neatly dressed with his shirt tucked into his pants held in by a leather belt, wearing specs with thin plastic frame, came to my desk hesitantly wanting to discuss an incident to be published.

He was an angry young man. There was clarity in his speech and honesty in his voice.

The officer in charge of issuing cement permits in those days of scarcity and license-permit Raj at the divisional commissioner’s office was partial and corrupt, he said and wanted the paper to expose him.

He had come to me after creating a scene at the office with the support of the disappointed permit-seekers. I grabbed the opportunity and published the story with his picture.

Lo and behold, a leader was made.

Having been a journalist in Bombay, I knew every leader would have his detractors. Soon, I was fed with information about his antecedents, specially as a manager in the Janata Bazar. But I knew there was not much truth in it.

He was already into poultry business with his unit at Martikyatanahalli on Bogadi road, eight km from city. He was staying with his family in his own house near our office. His name was H.S. Shankaralinge Gowda.

And soon we became very close friends.

***

The first quality I found in him was his helping nature. Second quality was his societal concern. The third quality was his immediate reaction both in words and deeds.

To me he was a unique kind of a person. Naturally our contact blossomed into friendship. This bonding had helped both of us in succeeding in our chosen field of activity.

To cut out details, he as a politician and I as a journalist and newspaper publisher.

I remember those early days, he on his scooter and I on my motorbike, going to his farm, in the evening, to spend some ‘quality’ time enjoying boiled eggs and omelette aplenty or even a chicken fry. And he would load my motorbike’s side box with vegetables and trays of eggs on the rear seat despite my protestation.

To further strengthen our friendship, he found out a three-acre land close to his which I bought, but later sold, just as he himself did with his farm.

Again, it was at his insistence and moral support that in 1983 I built my own house at Kuvempunagar in a 60×40 site.

A dashing man of courage and confidence, I was convinced by him that I could build a house knowing that I did not have required money.

In the meanwhile, he was wanting to become a politician, Janata Party politician. By then I had built personal rapport with the leading politicians of Janata Party in city as a journalist and through my elder brother late Dr K. B. Subbaiah.

Again rivalry and he was nowhere in the race for Corporation election ticket.

I was doing the background work no doubt, but it was his presence of mind and the way he reacted in lightning speed that enabled him to wangle a ticket from Janata Party.

One day, he was in my ‘own’ house at 7 O’clock in the morning on his scooter. By then I had a Fiat car.

I took him to the government house to meet Azeez Sait [the late Congress leader], made him speak to M.S. Gurupadaswamy [former Union minister], went to T.V. Srinivasa Rao’s house in Vidyaranyapuram where Shankaralinge Gowda’s challenger for the ticket too was there.

He gave me a sheepish smile and whispered, “what have I done to you?” in Kannada.

First I went into a huddle in a room with H. Kempe Gowda, the city president of the party, Azeez Sait and T.V. Srinivasa Rao. Gurupadaswamy did not come but had given his consent. Then I called my friend and introduced him to the party honchos.

Well, Shankaralinge Gowda never looked back.

***

It was I who advised him to change his sartorial choice immediately to that of what politicians are seen wearing. In his case, kurta and pyjama, with a stoll.

I was his political guru (and he would embarrass me by declaring it in public meetings) till he won the first MLA election from the BJP which he joined, again, at my insistence and a little help. Later, both my guruhood and friendship too faded away to the point of occasional telephone contacts.

I recall today the timely help given to me by Shankaralinge Gowda when I had faced threat to my life and harassment by those who were upset by what was published in those early first 10 years. It was during those trying days Shankaralinge Gowda showed his sterling qualities of heart and head for a friend.

If anyone doubts the time tested saying that ‘A friend in need is a friend indeed,’ here I am to vouch for the veracity of such a saying. He was a friend who stood by me, specially on two occasions.

One, when I was harassed and threatened by one who was exposed for cheating students seeking medical college seats and two, when my life was threatened by another group taking offence to what was published connected to LTTE.

Shankaralinge Gowda may not be with us today but his memory and my days of friendship with him will always remain indelible in my memory.

Adieu my friend, goodbye.

RIP, Shankaralinge Gowda.

Also read: A song for an unsung hero, C.P. Chinnappa

9 steps for success from a (super-successful) editor

When a freelance writer cannot meet an editor

Is ‘Modi media’ paving way for ‘soft-Fascism’?

29 March 2014

In an opinion piece in The Times of India, the academic and international affairs analyst Kanti Bajpai says an India under Narendra Modi will be marked by “soft-fascism—a society marked by slightly less extreme levels fo authoritarinism, intimidation, chauvinism, submission and social Darwinism as classical fascism—and he includes the media as being among the four factors responsible for it.

“Big business and middle classes are helping line up media behind soft fascism. Media is influenced by big business, which funds it through its advertising, and by the middle classes, who work in it.

“Today, both stand behind Modi and together they have helped rally millions of Indians behind Modi-ology.

“It is another matter that media may well come to regret its role. Those who were in the media when BJP was last in power seem to have forgotten that this is a party that is not particularly interested in, or indulgent of, journalistic independence.”

Read the full article: Journey towards soft fascism

Photograph: courtesy Wall Street Journal
***
Also read: Is Modi media biased against Rahul Gandhi?

 How Narendra Modi buys media through PR

Modi‘s backers and media owners have converged’

‘Network18′s multimedia Modi feat, a promo’

On TV, Congress loses to BJP, Left to AAP

 

When your paper has six mastheads, it’s news

26 March 2014

It isn’t everyday that the front page of your newspaper also sports the mastheads of other newspapers, but this is how the front-page of the Hindustan Times looks today, as it announces an advertising tieup with the Ananda Bazaar Patrika group in Calcutta and the Hindu group in Madras.

A bunch of advertisers—Amul, Britannia, Fortune oil, Garnier, Godrej, ICICI, Kellogg’s, Marico, Morgan Stanley—have even pledged support as “advertising partners”.

HT calls the move a historic first although a similar plan for classified ads in the early 2000s, when newspapers first began feeling the impact of The Times of India‘s predatory practises, came kaput. Then Eenadu of Hyderabad and Deccan Herald of Bangalore were partners.

The “One India” plan has been registered as a trademark™, although one of India’s oldest portals oneindia.in has been around for years now.

Oddly, the announcement is a flanking jacket advertisement in HT, it isn’t so in The Telegraph or The Hindu.

Also read: When journo dedicates book to journo, it’s news

When a Delhi journo joins New Yorker, it’s news

When an editor draws a cartoon, it’s news

If The Economist looks at Tamil News, it’s news

When a stringer beats up a reporter, it’s news

When the gang of four meets at IIC, it’s news

When a politician weds a journalist, it’s news

When a magazine editor marries a starlet, it’s news

When dog bites dog, it’s news—I

When dog bites dog, it’s news—II

‘Modi Wave’ can also touch a CPI(M) newspaper

25 March 2014

deshabhimani

From Buzzword, the gossip column of The Sunday Guardian:

The Communists in Kerala were left red-faced when the CPI(M) newspaper Deshabhimani carried a full page advertisement by Narendra Modi‘s Gujarat government. The advertisement, highlighting Gujarat’s Mahatma Gandhi Swachchata Mission, features a huge Modi portrait.

When taken to task, the newspaper management defended their act by saying it was a government advertisement.

The associate editor of the newspaper went ahead to say that it did not matter if the ad was from the Narendra Modi government, or from Mamata Banerjee or Oommen Chandy. However, CPM bosses have told the newspaper to stay away from accepting all Modi advertisements.

External reading: Madhyamam

Also read: Is Modi media biased against Rahul Gandhi?

How Narendra Modi buys media through PR

‘Media’s Modi-fixation needs medical attention’

Modi‘s backers and media owners have converged’

‘Network18′s multimedia Modi feast, a promo’

For cash-struck TV, Modi is effective  TRP

 

The Khushwant Singh “pre-obituary” from 1983

20 March 2014

Khushwant Singh, the self-proclaimed “dirty old man of Indian journalism”, has passed away at his home in New Delhi, at the age of 99.

Exactly, 30 years ago, when Singh was 69, the journalist Dhiren Bhagat wrote a pre-obituary of the “sardar in the light bulb” for the now-defunct Sunday Observer.

Ironically, Dhiren Bhagat was to predecease Singh by 24 years, and Khushwant Singh ended up reviewing a collection of his work for India Today in 1990.

Below is the full text of Dhiren Bhagat’s “obituary”, written for the February 13, 1983 edition of The Sunday Observer.

***

bhagat

By DHIREN BHAGAT

I was saddened to read that Khushwant Singh passed away in his sleep last week. What a quiet end for so loud a man.

How the gods mock the mocking.

Contradictions surrounded Khushwant at every stage of his life. He strove to give the impression that he was a drunken slob yet he was one of the most hard-working and punctual men I knew.

He professed agnosticism and yet enjoyed kirtan as only few can and do.

He was known nationally as a celebrated lecher but for the past thirty years at least it was a hot-water-bottle that warmed his bed.

He devoted his last years in the service of a woman who  decisively spurned him in the end.

He made a profession of living off his friends’ important names and yet worked single-handedly to diminish that very importance.

Empty vessels make the most noise but Khushwant was always full of the Scotch he had cadged off others.

He was a much misunderstood man. So before the limp eulogies start pouring in (how Khushwant would have hated them!) let me set the record straight.

As Khushwant once said, the obituary is the best place to tell the truth for dead men file no libel suits. (An agnostic to the end he didn’t believe in the Resurrection.)

***

Khushwant was born in 1915 in a rich but not particularly educated home. They were Khuranas from Sargodha who made good in Delhi.

His father, Sir Sobha Singh, was the contractor who built the city of New Delhi and who in consequence received a knighthood. In 1947 it used to be said (somewhat inaccurately it must be admitted) that ninety-nine per cent of New Delhi was owned by the Government and one per cent by Sir Sobha Singh.

After his initial education Khushwant was sent to England to appear for the ICS. He didn’t make it.

Later he would tell a story of how he had made it to the Merit List but how that year there was a reserved place for a non-Jat from Phulkian state (later PEPSU) and how some-one with less marks than him filled that place. But Khushwant was always a great raconteur so it is difficult to know what to believe.

Once bitten, twice shy. Khushwant didn’t try for the ICS again but instead enrolled himself at the London School of Economics from where in the course of things he acquired a BA.

The examiners decided to place him in the Third Class. After his degree Khushwant read for the Bar where he was equally successful. (His brother Daljit, now a businessman, was always the better scholar of the two.)

When Khushwant came back after six years in England a family friend asked his father: ‘Kaka valaiton kee kar ke aayaa hai?  (What has the boy done in England?) Sir Sobha Singh replied ‘Time pass kar ke aaya hai jee.’ (He has been marking time.)

It is unlikely the canny contractor was joking.

***

After the Partition Khushwant joined the Indian Foreign Service and this phase of his career took him to London, Ottawa and Paris. In this period he began publishing short stories on rustic themes.

In 1955 he shot to fame when a novel of his won a large cash award set by an American publishing house in order to attract manuscripts. It was a mediocre Partition quickie called Mano Majra (later published as Train to Pakistan).

Years passed. Khushwant kept writing books, on the Jupji, on the Sikhs, on India, stories, translations: many of them provocatively titled and indicative of his deepest desires, “I Shall Rape the Nightingale”, “I Take This Woman” etc. Some of these attempts were successful.

But success and cosmopolitan living did not spoil the earthiness of the robust Jat.

He continued to down his Scotch with a ferocity that made his hosts nervous. He

continued to tell stories that revealed his deep obsession with the anal.

He had a theory that all anger was a result of an upset stomach and instructed his son to ask his mother if her stomach walls troubling her whenever she scolded him.

In his more smug moments he attributed his own iconoclastic calm to the severe constipation from which he had suffered since childhood.

In 1969 Khushwant took over the Illustrated Weekly of India and embarked on the most controversial phase of his career. On the editor’s page Mario Miranda drew a bulb and Khushwant sat in it, along with his Scotch and dirty pictures.

Sitting in that cross-legged position Khushwant took the ailing magazine from success to success, all along illuminating millions of readers on the more outre aspects of the world’s brothels.

Once in a while he tore into a friend’s reputation. So great was our prurience that he became a household name in a short while. Fame he had, honour he sought.

In the early seventies an eminent Muslim journalist friend of Khushwant’s approached Rajni Patel. Could Rajnibhai fix Khushwant with a Padma Bhushan? If the honour didn’t come his way soon Sardarji would have a heart attack. Patel flew to Delhi twice and fixed it. Later Khushwant showed his gratitude in strange ways.

***

Then came the Emergency. Khushwant’s friends and admirers were very troubled by his stand: IndiraGandhi was Durga incarnate, SanjayGandhi the New Messiah and the highways of the land were clogged with smoothly running Marutis.

Many explanations have been offered for his position but I believe I am the only person to know the right one. (Khushwant in an unguarded whisky-sodden moment once opened up to me and told all.) And since it is only in obituaries that it is proper to disclose the little-known details of a man’s personal life I shall come out with it now.

Impotence had claimed Khushwant back in the fifties. At first he had been sorely troubled by this condition (most Jats are) and had tried several remedies, mostly indigenous. This accounted for his immense knowledge of jaree-bootees and his disillusionment with quacks.

When he had finally given up all hope of lighting the wick he had turned to other pleasures with a vengeance. (Exposing his friends’ affairs was a favourite pleasure: it was envy compounded with righteousness.)

It must be remembered that Khushwant’s lechery was of the mildest order: he as a voyeur, he could do nothing. Scotch was a palliative, but in the end even that failed to make up the loss.

It was Sanjay’s power that finally did the trick. So great was the vicarious pleasure the ageing Sardar felt that it went to his head. And after Sanjay’s death Khushwant lost his vitality, his vigour. He grew listless.

And then the quiet end. A lively man all in all. Even as I write this I am sure Khushwant is busy looking up the angels’ skirts. And since angels are constitutionally condemned to celibacy that should suit Khushwant fine.

Photograph: courtesy The Hindu

Also read: Khushwant Singh on his last day at The Weekly

Why Khushwant Singh fell out with Arun Shourie

External reading: The journalism of Khushwant Singh

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