Tag Archives: The Sunday Observer

The Khushwant Singh “pre-obituary” from 1983

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.

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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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How Amitabh Bachchan ‘saved’ an AFP journo

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SUDHEENDRA KULKARNI writes: “Hi Sudheen, how are you?” the caller on my mobile phone asked me the day after I landed in Cairo last month. It was an Indian voice, also somewhat familiar, but I couldn’t quite connect the voice with the name.

It was Jay Deshmukh, a colleague with whom I had worked together many years ago ─ indeed, in the early 1990s ─ in The Sunday Observer and the Business & Politics Observer in Mumbai (Bombay then). I had lost contact with him after I moved to Delhi and I least expected to receive a phone call from him in Cairo of all the places.

Jay had come to know about my arrival in Cairo from the email sent out to mediapersons by the Indian embassy in Egypt, which had organised my talk on ‘Mahatma Gandhi in the Internet Age’ the following day.

We met the same evening at Hotel Flamenco, overlooking the Nile River, where I was staying. The view of the river, and also of the sprawling city of Cairo beyond the river, was enchanting from the tenth floor of the hotel.

Over cups of Egyptian tea, we spoke about ourselves and about the state of the world.

My admiration for Jay grew immensely when I heard about his journalistic journey since he first cut his teeth in the profession two decades ago in Mumbai.

Jay, who is now the Cairo-based Middle East correspondent for Agence France Presse (AFP), is quite simply the only Indian journalist who has worked in so many “interesting places” in West Asia.

For the past fifteen years, he has served as a news agency correspondent in Iraq, Iran, Libya and now in Egypt. Earlier he has also worked in Sri Lanka.

Three years ago, he was expelled from Iran because of his powerful reporting about opposition reports in that country.

It takes courage and a very degree of professional commitment to work as a journalist in this part of the world, especially in countries like Iraq and Libya when they were facing both external wars and bloody internal conflicts.

The risks involved in covering conflict situations are obvious. The risks are all the greater for news agency correspondents who have to be alert 24×7.

For Jay, money is clearly not the attraction for working in these places.

He told me: “I have consciously chosen to specialise as a correspondent in this part of the world because, as I have often told myself, why should only westerners be telling the story of Africa, the Arab world and other West Asian countries like Iran? Of course, as a journalist working for an international news agency, I am a thorough professional, but at heart I remain a proud Indian. And I strongly believe that there should be more Indian journalists working in different parts of the world. Indians should see and understand the happenings in the world from an Indian perspective. Indian media has not paid adequate attention to this aspect.”

I couldn’t agree with Jay more.

Jay recounted one particularly thrilling ─ or scary, if one were in his position ─ experience of his as a news agency journalist while covering the US war in Iraq between 2003 and 2008.

One day he was kidnapped by a militant group, which suspected him to be an American spy. They handcuffed him and dragged him to an unknown place. Their captors used various methods to extract information from him ─ who he was, what he was doing, what information he was passing on, and to whom.

Jay tried to tell them, in his broken Arabic, that he was a journalist working for a news agency, but to no avail. The day wore on, but there was no sign of him being released.

Then a new interrogator came and asked Jay, “Are you from Pakistan?”

“No, I am from India,” Jay replied.

“INDIA? Sholay? Amitabh Bachchan? You know Amitabh Bachchan?”

When Jay convinced his interrogator, through his knowledge of Hindi films ─ and particularly Amitabh Bachchan’s films ─that he was indeed an Indian, the ice suddenly broke.

His Iraqi captor’s attitude turned perceptibly warm. Thereafter he started telling Jay what a big fan of Amitabh Bachchan he was. He then told his colleagues, “This man is a friend of ours. He is from India. Let’s set him free.”

Amazing, isn’t it?

(Sudheendra Kulkarni is former media advisor to Atal Behari Vajpayee and L.K. Advani)

Photograph: courtesy Asia One

Follow Jay Deshmukh on Twitter: @DeshmukhJay

***

Also read: Sudheendra Kulkarni on Russy Karanjia

Sudheendra Kulkarni ends his Indian Express column

When an editor draws a cartoon, it’s news

MJ

Indian print editors have done book reviews (Sham Lal, Times of India), film reviews (Vinod Mehta, Debonair), food reviews (Vir Sanghvi, Hindustan Times), music reviews (Chandan Mitra, TOI, Pioneer, The Sunday Observer; Sanjoy Narayan, Hindustan Times), elephant polo reviews (Suman Dubey, India Today) etc, but few have done cartoons.

When The Telegraph, Calcutta, was launched Pritish Nandy (who later became the editor of The Illustrated Weekly of India) would do a daily, front-page pocket cartoon, with Mukul Sharma (who later became the editor of Science Today) writing the caption, and vice-versa.

Even today, former Statesman and Indian Express editor S. Nihal Singh is a happy doodler.

In the latest issue of Open magazine, its editor Manu Joseph (who has set crossword puzzles at his previous port of calling, Outlook) puts his signature on a cartoon. Let the record show that “Pope” Joseph‘s handwriting bears a close similarity with Dr Hemant Morporia, the radiologist who draws cartoons.

Also read: 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

How journalism helped a cartoonist as author

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Author and playwright Manjula Padmanabhan, who created Suki, a female cartoon character for the now-defunct Sunday Observer, has a new book out, Three Virgins and Other Stories.

In an interview in Mint, she is asked:

What effect has your life as a journalist had on your fiction?

My early training to be a journalist powerfully shaped the way I look at reality and then bend it towards an idea I want to follow. I know what it’s like to write a news story—presenting facts in a coherent and readable manner—but I far prefer to open up existing boxes of facts to speculations about their contents. Does that make sense? Being a journalist gave me the tools with which to write fiction more effectively (or so I imagine) than I felt I could write non-fiction.

Among the stories in Padmanabhan’s book is on a TV journalist “Basra Dott” who vows to fight for her cause before matters take a deadly turn.

Read the full interview:

Sudheendra Kulkarni ends his ‘Express’ column

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Sudheendra Kulkarni, the former left-leaning Sunday Observer and Blitz journalist who became a close aide of former prime minister A.B. Vajpayee and BJP president L.K. Advani, has ended his column in The Indian Express.

Kulkarni, who was jailed for his alleged role in the cash-for-votes scandal and wrote a book on Mahatma Gandhi and the internet upon his release, writes in his farewell piece:

“I always tried to use this valued space to write what I believed in, and on issues of concern and interest to society.

“Although I have long ceased to be a Marxist, there is one maxim of Karl Marx which continues to hold a sway over my mind, and which consciously or subconsciously dictated, each time I sat down to write my column, that I should take this communication with my readers seriously.

“Ideas, Marx says, become “a material force as soon as they have gripped the masses”. And they grip the masses if they are radical (which, to me today, means if they are truthful in the Gandhian sense of Truth).

“To be radical,” Marx adds, “is to grasp the root of the matter. But for man the root is man himself.” Man-making, in the words of Swami Vivekananda, is the mission of all education—and journalism is nothing if it does not regard itself as an educator of society.

“I sincerely attempted through this column to accomplish two things. Firstly, I tried in my own very modest way to participate in the ongoing battle of ideas in Indian society, believing both that good ideas are what India desperately needs and good ideas are what ultimately will triumph.

“Secondly, with the hope that spurs every goal-oriented social-political activist who has access to some media space, I hoped that my words could influence some positive change somewhere in our society, even though this hope is increasingly giving way to the realisation that Gandhiji was right in exhorting that one can influence change in the world only after creating the desired change in oneself.”

Photograph: courtesy NDTV

Read the full article: Thank you

Also read: Do journalists make good politicians?

2,450 journos lost jobs in Chitty Chitty Bong Bong

Mail Today, the tabloid daily owned by the India Today group, reports that an astonishing 2,450 journalists (including non-editorial staff) may have lost their jobs after the meltdown of Bengal’s chitfund driven, politically backed newspapers and TV stations.

Employees of Saradha group owned 24-hour TV news station, Channel 10, are reported to have filed a complaint against the Trinamool Congress Rajya Sabha member andSaradha group media cell CEO Kunal Ghosh and the chairman Sudipta Sen for not paying salaries and depositing contributions to the provident fund.

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In the Indian Express, editor-in-chief Shekhar Gupta writes:

“But why are we complaining? Why are we being so protective of what only we see as our turf? There is nothing in the law to stop anybody from owning media. And sure enough, the biggest business houses in India have tried their hand with the media and retreated with burnt fingers and singed balance sheets.

“The Ambanis (Observer Group), Vijaypat Singhania (The Indian Post), L.M. Thapar (The Pioneer), Sanjay Dalmia (Sunday Mail), Lalit Suri (Delhi Midday), are like a rollcall of the captains of Indian industry who failed in the media business.

“They failed, you’d say, because they did not, deep down, respect the media, or journalists. Many of them saw themselves as victims of poorly paid, dimwit journalists employed by people who called themselves media barons but were barons of what was a boutique business compared to theirs.

“But there is a difference between then and now, and between them and the state-level businessmen investing in the media now. They failed because they did not respect journalism. The current lot are setting up or buying up media mainly because they do not respect journalism, because they think all journalists are available, if not for sale then for hire, as lawfully paid employees.

“If you have a couple of news channels and newspapers, a few well known (and well connected) journalists as your employees, give them a fat pay cheque, a Merc, and they solve your problem of access and power. They also get you respect, as you get to speak to, and rub shoulders with top politicians, even intellectuals, at awards and events organised by your media group.

“It is the cheapest ticket to clout, protection and a competitive edge.

“A bit like, to steal the immortal line Shashi Kapoor spoke to his wayward “brother” Amitabh Bachchan in Yash Chopra‘s Deewar (mere paas maa hai), tere paas police, SEBI, RBI, CBI, kuchch bhi ho, mere paas media hai.

“Remember how Gopal Kanda defied Delhi Police to arrest him rather than have him present himself grandly for surrender? The police put up scores of checkpoints to look for him, but he arrived in style, riding an OB van of STV, a channel known to be “close” to him. Which cop would dare to look inside an OB van?”

Infographic: courtesy Mail Today

Also read: How Bengal’s chit fund crooks exposed the media

Sreenath Sreenivasan named Columbia CDO

Sreenath Sreenivasan, the Tokyo-born son of former Indian diplomat T.P. Sreenivasan, who freelanced for India Today, Business Today and The Sunday Observer before joining Columbia University on its staff, has been appointed its chief digital officer.

Link via Vishwatma Bhat

Also read: Do journalism schools produce better journos?