known Sikh Writer, activist and
philanthropist Patwant Singh
By Balbir Singh Sooch -Sikh
people and impartially recorded the events and the pains of the
contemporary period of people, for the coming generations to learn
from the history, shall always be alive idelogically and
Patwant Singh was unbiased personality or the ideologist and
columnist in touch with the ground realities of India especially
related to people of Punjab?
All these issues
would be discussed and kept in mind to judge his performance as to
how far, he could work successfully with the aim of affecting public
opinion and official policies and the service rendered by him along
with such personalities.
No-doubt, he earned
fame and honourable position as a Sikh writer, columnist,
commentator, journalist, editor and publisher, as well as a frequent
TV presenter in the field as reported.
His life history is
like a success story of a perfect professional.
writer, activist and philanthropist Patwant Singh is no more
THIS ABOVE ALL
friend rang me up in the afternoon to tell me that Patwant Singh had
died that morning and his cremation was fixed for later that
evening. I switched on my TV set to hear what different channels had
to say about him. Perhaps they could include tributes from the Prime
Minister, the Chief Minister of
Punjab, Sikh leaders and literary personalities. I went from one
channel to another. Not one had anything to say about him. I
switched off the TV in disgust.
morning papers would make up for the omission. Of the six I get,
only two paid him tributes. That is the way of the world — no sooner
dead than forgotten. Patwant was a man of substance and had many
achievements to his credit. Though almost 10 years younger to me, we
had many things in common. Our fathers were builders of New Delhi.
Both of us were brought up and educated in
Delhi. He tried his hand at building, gave it up and turned
to writing on design and architecture.
Patwant Singh was a man of substance and had many achievements
to his credit
Then he turned
to Sikh themes — eminent personalities like Bhagat Puran Singh,
biography of Maharaja Ranjit Singh and much else. A sort of sibling
rivalry grew between us. The similarity of our names and themes we
wrote on added fuel to the rivalry. But neither of us ever
criticised the other. He was a devout Sikh. I a dheela dhaala
non-believer. When I rang him up, he did not answer with a "hello,"
as most people do, but with a full blast of the Khalsa greeting —
Sri Waheguru ji ka Khalsa, Sri Waheguru ji ki Fateh. It made me
feel a second class Sikh.
He was very
fastidious about his dress and style of living.
He was always
smartly turned out with moustaches twirled up. In earlier
times he could be seen walking briskly like a soldier in Lodhi Park.
He wore gloves in winter and had a pedigreed dog alongside. People
said he was the Hollywood version of a sardar. He lived in a
double-storey bungalow on Amrita Shergil Marg abutting Lodhi
Gardens. His sister Raseel Basu lived on the ground floor, he on the
upper floor redesigned by himself.
He had a cosy
study lined with books all round where he served his guests
pre-dinner drinks. There was a large sitting-cum-dining room with a
huge fireplace in the centre covered by an umbrella-like chimney.
Guests sat around it and were served with the most gourmet
continental style food by gloved waiters. I have never been at a
dinner as classy as Patwant’s. There was a lot more to him than
erudition and good living.
He built a
hospital for poor peasants near the sulphur hot springs at Sohna in
Haryana. He spoke out boldly on issues concerning the Sikhs. He
never forgave Giani Zail Singh for not preventing Operation Bluestar,
and the negative role he and Narasimha Rao played in the massacre of
Sikhs in 1984. Nothing daunted him, because he never asked for
favours or honours from anyone. I lost track of Patwant and saw
nothing of him for the last 20 years.
I heard that
late in life he married a Parsi lady friend, Meher Dilshaw, who was
devoted to him. Earlier this year I heard from my friend Jaya
Thadani, who lives part of the year in London, that Patwant and
Meher had lunch with her and he looked very ill. Then on Saturday,
August 8, he called it a day. He was 84.