Khushwant Singh, one of the finest authors who elevated English writing in India with his classic works on Partition and history of Sikhs, literature and displayed an impeccable sense of wit and humour, died here today at the age of 99.
The veteran writer and journalist, who suffered from age- related illness and had faded from public life, passed away at his Sujan Singh Park home built by his father Sir Sobha Singh, a civil contractor and a prominent builder of Lutyens' Delhi.
A fearless writer, who had taken on Jarnail Singh Bhindrawale who had spearheaded the insurgency in Punjab from Golden temple, fell out with the then Indira Gandhi government after Operation Bluestar in 1984. He had surrendered the Padma Bhushan given to him in protest. Later he was awarded Padma Vibhushan in 2007.
Singh's son Rahul, also a journalist, said the author breathed his last "very, very peacefully" and was mentally alert till the end. "He led a full life. Although he stopped writing a few weeks ago, he was reading books and newspapers."
"He had his regular peg of whiskey last night, read a book, solved crossword in the morning and passed away within minutes," Rahul said, adding, "The sad part is he could not complete his '100' which was just 11 months away."
President Pranab Mukherjee and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh paid rich tributes to Singh, describing him as a "fearless intellectual" and a "gifted author". The Prime Minister and UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi were among scores of people who paid homage to the author at his residence.
The author, who produced classics like Train to Pakistan, I Shall Not Hear the Nightingale and Delhi - A Novel and The Company of Women, was cremated at the Lodhi electric crematorium here.
Though Singh was an agnostic in life, a Sikh priest conducted Ardas, the last rites in Sikhism as Rahul and other family members watched.
His friends, well wishers and political leaders including Union ministers Salman Khurshid and Kapil Sibal and BJP patriarch L K Advani attended the last rites.
Born on February 2, 1915 in Hadali (now in Pakistan), Singh had done his schooling at Modern School in Delhi and later studied at St Stephen's College here before moving to the Government College in Lahore. He also studied at King's College in Cambridge University.
He practiced law at the Lahore High Court for several years before joining the Ministry of External Affairs in 1947.
He had married Kawal Malik in 1939 and has son Rahul and daughter Mala. His wife predeceased him in 2001.
Singh had worked on a classic two-volume history of the Sikhs, a number of translations and non-fiction books on a variety of subjects including nature, current affairs and Urdu poetry. He had authored around 30 novels.
At 95, Singh had authored the novel The Sunset Club. His autobiography, Truth, Love and a Little Malice, was published in 2002 in which he had candidly wrote about various aspects of his life including relationship with politicians.
Some years ago, he wrote his own epitaph in which he described himself as one "who spared neither man nor God".
As a journalist, Singh had edited the now-defunct Illustrated Weekly of India (1979-1980) and later the Hindustan Times (1980-83). His weekly column 'With Malice Towards One and All' was very popular and syndicated in many dailies. He was also founder-editor of Yojana magazine (1951-1953).
Singh, an outstanding novelist and a forthright political commentator, was nominated to Rajya Sabha by the government under late Indira Gandhi. He was a Member of Parliament from 1980 to 1986.
Known for his humour, Singh often took dig at his community. His works ranged from political commentary and contemporary satire to outstanding translations of Sikh religious texts, Urdu poetry and a number of novels.
His short story collection includes The Mark of Vishnu and Other Stories, A Bride for the Sahib and Other Stories, Black Jasmine, The Portrait of a Lady and A Love Affair In London.
Singh was known to have a good equation with Indira Gandhi and even supported the Emergency she had clamped between 1975-1977.