Posts Tagged ‘Khushwant Singh’

Khushwant Singh dies 24 years after his obituary

20 March 2014

Khushwant Singh, the self-proclaimed “dirty old man of Indian journalism”, has passed away 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.




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

Khushwant Singh: 11 secrets of a long and happy life

Khushwant Singh: When R.K. Narayan saw a blue film

Khushwant Singh on L.K. Advani: the man who sowed hatred

Modi vs Rahul? Nah, more like Sanjay vs Rajiv.

27 July 2013

VIKRAM MUTHANNA writes: Recently, I was caught in the rain and I took shelter in a teashop.

Wet, and sipping on tea, I couldn’t help but notice the chatter of two older gentlemen who were sipping, puffing and professing. They seemed involved in an animated and heated discussion and I couldn’t help myself but eavesdrop.

Just as I got close to them, the discussion ended with the older man claiming, “None of the Congress fellows today have the guts of Sanjay Gandhi. If Sanjay Gandhi was alive, India would have been in a better state. I challenge.”

All that I could think of was “If Sanjay Gandhi had been around, I doubt this man would be a father and may be the word ‘nasbandi’ would have triggered an involuntary action of cupping his crotch and running for cover. I challenge.”

But was there any truth in the old man’s claim?

This reminds me of what Sanjay Gandhi’s son Varun Gandhi said to the media: “Wherever I go people say, if Sanjay Gandhi was alive India would not be what it is today.”

What they obviously meant was that India would be in a better state.

Better, how and why?

Because Sanjay had his own vision of what India should be and was authoritarian in pursuing them?

Well… if that’s the case, then it seems like we have a modern and better version of Sanjay Gandhi in Narendra Modi. True?

Well, we’ll know after 2014; until then we’ll keep our fingers crossed… well, had it been Sanjay Gandhi’s 1977, we’d have to keep our legs crossed.


The Narendra Modi and Sanjay Gandhi comparison crops up because they both are known to “get things done.”

In fact, the legendary journalist Khushwant Singh put a picture of Sanjay Gandhi on the cover of Illustrated Weekly of India magazine with a headline “Sanjay, the man who gets things done.”

Today, Modi is in every middle class urban Indian’s mind, and every time they think of him they see the same hope Khushwant Singh saw: “A man who can get things done.”

Fears that Modi will become authoritarian like Sanjay and will take us to the Emergency days of gag and imprisonment could be far-fetched because they operated at different times in our democracy.

Sanjay Gandhi was trying to find quick and simple solutions to complex problems. Sanjay was a Political Rambo in a young democracy and in a hurry to see change even if it meant mowing down slums or squeezing out manhoods.

The best example would be the unplanned execution of the sterilisation programmes. People were not educated about what it was and rumours spread that it was an operation that would render women unable to bear children and men impotent.

No one came, so they were dragged out and the rest is disaster as recorded in history.

Sanjay Gandhi had a five-point programme for India: tree planting, abolition of caste and dowry system, eradication of illiteracy, family planning and eradication of slums. All of them failed.

Sanjay may have been known as a man “who got things done…,” but if only he had planned them… Unfortunately he didn’t and he became a “man who got things wrong.”

Journalist Vinod Mehta concluded his book ‘The Sanjay Story’ by saying: “Had Sanjay possessed more finesse, had he not been in such a tearing hurry, had he been slightly more intelligent, he would have become ‘the national leader’ he so wished to be.”

Seems like Modi possesses the above qualities.

Also, Modi is more educated; he has a Master’s in Political Science. Sanjay was 11th grade pass and earned a course certificate from Rolls Royce.

Modi is a smart operator who plans and delivers. Sanjay and Modi have many similarities — both obsessed with development, both inclined towards technology. Coincidentally, both helped start the first indigenous Indian cars, a venture of “Indian pride” — Maruti for Sanjay, Tata Nano for Modi. Both have an image bigger than their party itself.

More importantly, both have used their party ideology partly to put themselves in a place of power from where they can force down their own vision of development.

For example, while analysts say Modi is a Hindu fundamentalist, no one talks about how when it was brought to his notice that 310 religious structures in Gandhinagar had encroached on government roads hindering road widening, he demolished them!

First, he demolished temples. This he did in spite of VHP, his party BJP’s strong arm, taking offence. VHP formed a Mandir Bachao Samiti and screamed “development cannot be achieved by demolishing temples.”

It did not stop him. Roads were widened, to be used by all. May be he came to power on his party’s Hindu ideology, but delivered on his Indian ideology.

Yes, of course, both leaders obsessed over infrastructural delivery and industrial development model. But what about the social aspect? Can Modi handle that? After all, this is where Sanjay failed ever so miserably and Modi too is criticised for his dismal social development record.

What’s he going to do when he has to deal with the whole nation?

For now, he is the CM of Gujarat where the only distractions for its citizens are supposedly Bollywood and stock market, makes it easier to administer. He also has to ask himself if Gujarat is truly democratic, then why are people drinking stealthily in Gujarat?

Why do non-vegetarians have to go all around the town looking to buy meat?

Why have minorities suddenly huddled in silence on the outskirts of urban Gujarat?

He has to answer these questions because soon he may have to deal with the booze-enjoying Bangaloreans, bar dance-loving Mumbaites, Fenny-loving Goans, meat-loving Punjabis, all perceived as sins in the puritan Gujarat.

Then there is the Kashmir issue, not to forget environmental and mining issues where his industrial friends have been known to run riot displacing indigenous people.

All these are important social factors. So far, Modi has been enjoying a saucer of dhokla; can his political palate handle the plate full of socially psychedelic India? Only time will tell.


But is 2014 election really about Rahul Vs Modi? It seems more like Rajiv Vs Sanjay.

Rahul, like his father, was a hesitant entrant to politics whereas Modi, like Sanjay, relishes it. Rahul plays by the rules set up by the old fogies in the party; Modi, like Sanjay, is feared in his own party for having a mind of his own.

Rahul, like Rajiv, perpetually seems like a political misfit; Modi, like Sanjay, looks like he was born to be in it.

Unfortunately, both have a disturbing streak of authoritarian model of work. This is where fear sets in and that’s why Vinod Mehta, comparing Modi and Sanjay said: “Narendra Modi type of leadership has a tendency to descend into authoritarian one-man rule.” Warning taken.

But even if the dark side of Sanjay manifests in Modi, is it possible to execute it in the 21st century democratic India where we have a hyperactive media, huge young population and technology at our fingertips? We doubt it.

Sadly in a way, the Indian middle-class is actually looking for an authoritarian leader.

They have tolerated a muted, submissive, incommunicado PM heading a government of inaction for so long that they seem ready to risk an authoritarian leader who can “get things done.” They feel Modi will get things done and if he doesn’t, they can always go back to the good old Indian National Comatose Party.

(Vikram Muthanna is managing editor of Star of Mysore, where this piece originally appeared)

When R.K. Narayan went to see a ‘blue’ film

16 April 2012

Khushwant Singh in the Hindustan Times:

“Once while attending a writers conference at Hawaii the only participant I knew was R.K. Narayan. He was a saintly sort of person, not great company for the likes of me. He was a strict vegetarian.

“In the evening he would buy a carton of dahi and go from cafe to cafe looking for plain boiled rice. He insisted I keep him company.

“One evening I tried to shake him off with the excuse that I wanted to see a blue film. ‘I come along with you,’ he announced. So we went to a locality where there were a few cinemas showing blue films.

“After an hour I got bored. So did he. We came out and resumed our search for dahi-chaawal and place where I could also get a meal of fried fish. I have not been able to find out why sexy films are called blue films. Why not red, yellow or green?’

Read the full column: Lost romance of candlelight glow

FREE: 5 easy ways to a happy, stress-free life

20 February 2012

K. JAVEED NAYEEM writes: By qualification I am not an expert in stress management. But as a physician I think I see stress and its results on people more often than what most people think. Day in and day out I encounter patients who come to me and complain straight away that they are too stressed up and need some prescription for it.

But for every such patient who knows what his or her problem is, I meet at least ten more who simply do not know that every one of their physical complaints are related to the abnormally high levels of stress they build up as they go about their daily lives.

This stress in disguise can be very detrimental to a healthy and comfortable life and is the cause of many psycho-somatic problems where an over-burdened mind begins to induce disorders like insomnia, hyperacidity, hypertension, heart disease and diabetes in an otherwise healthy body.


From the days when I started practice soon after post-graduation, just about 25 years ago to the present day, I have been seeing and treating these stress related problems and I have found that their incidence is increasing by leaps and bounds every passing day.

That is because, from the days when we were cavemen and just hunters and gatherers to the present day where we have become hunters, gatherers, usurpers and accumulators, our life style has gone through a full circle of change.

Now even the most independent and affluent amongst us have just become bonded labourers who work ten times harder than necessary for a nonexistent boss to live just one life. Most of us till we reach the time to retire still continue to slog, trying to create more and more wealth which we will eventually be unable to use to make ourselves happy.

By the time you discover that you have made enough money to start spending it for your pleasure you discover that there is simply no time for you to do it in good health. So in the end you only end up making some doctor or hospital wealthier by it.

When you really come to think of it, we need not really work so hard and burn ourselves up in the process because what we really need to go through this life comfortably does not require so much effort.

I have seen hundreds of people around me who have made millions but who have ended up exiting this world as miserable paupers with their wealth intact and unused. If only they had worked a little less and had taken time off their slogging for a little leisure or to see the world around them they would have been happier and in better health although with a little lesser wealth.

Our obsession with building a cyber world of instant connectivity and communication too, without which we seem to be ill-equipped to survive, has certainly added much to our misery.

I know of many software professionals in metropolitan cities who after a hard day at the office come home tired and weary with a much harder time in the peak hour traffic. They come home not to put their feet up and relax with their loved ones but only to perforce open their laptops to be available online when their counterparts on the other side of the world wake up to interact with them professionally.

When the much-awaited weekend comes they find that they are either too tired to stir out of their homes or too deterred by the weekend rush at every tiny source of recreation.

Many cyber-professionals, as if in response to a conditioned reflex, simply rush to resorts with their families during holidays only to communicate with them in monosyllables without looking up from their laptops while they try to catch up with their work.

However much a person gets paid to work like this, it is all a very brief and pointless game.

It is no different from burning a candle at both ends to get more light but this way we only end up getting darkness twice as fast. Therefore, this game is certainly not worth the candle.

Very recently, a friend of mine sent me a link to an article on the net where a nurse who was in charge of looking after terminally ill patients had revealed what most of them expressed as to what they would have liked to do instead of what they did during their lifetimes.

What she says makes very revealing reading.

She says: “For many years I worked in palliative care. My patients were those who were destined to die as they were suffering from incurable problems. Some incredibly special times were shared. I was with them for the last three to twelve weeks of their lives. People grow up a lot when they are faced with the prospects of their own death. Each experienced a variety of emotions like denial, fear, anger, remorse, more denial and eventually acceptance. Every single patient when questioned about any regrets he or she had or anything he or she would do differently, invariably came up with these five answers again and again.

1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me. This was the most common regret of all. When people realise that their life is almost over and look back clearly on it, it is easy to see how many dreams have gone unfulfilled. Most people had not fulfilled even a half of their dreams and had to die knowing that it was due to choices they had made, or not made.

It is very important to try and honour at least some of your dreams along the way. But the moment you lose your health, it is too late to do this. Health brings a freedom and opportunity very few realise, until they no longer have it.

2. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard. This came from every male patient. They missed their children’s youth and their partner’s companionship. Women also spoke of this regret. But as most were from an older generation, many of the female patients had then not been bread-winners. All of the men deeply regretted spending so much of their lives on the treadmill of a work existence.

People do want to get their financial affairs in order if possible. But it is not money or status that holds the true importance for them. They want to get things in order more for the benefit of those they love. Usually though, they are too ill and weary to ever manage this task.

By simplifying your lifestyle and making conscious choices along the way, it is possible to not need the income that you think you do. And by creating more space in your life, you become happier and more open to new opportunities, ones more suited to your new lifestyle.

3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings. Many people suppressed their feelings in order to keep peace with others. As a result, they settled for a me-diocre existence and never became who they were truly capable of becoming. Many developed illnesses relating to the bitterness and resentment they carried as a result.

We cannot control the reactions of others. However, although people may initially react sharply when you speak out your mind honestly, in the end it raises the relationship to a whole new and healthier level. Either that or it releases you from this unhealthy relationship. Either way, you win.

4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends. Often people would not truly realise the full benefits of old friends until their dying weeks and it was not always possible to track them down. Many had become so caught up in their own lives that they had let golden friendships slip by over the years. There were many deep regrets about not giving friendships the time and effort that they deserved.

It is common for anyone in a busy life-style to let friendships slip. But when you are faced with your approaching death, the physical details of life fall away. Everyone misses their friends when they are dying. It all co-mes down to love and relationships in the end. That is all that remains in the final weeks, love and relationships.

5. I wish that I had let myself be happier. This is a surprisingly common one. Many did not realise until the end that happiness is a choice. They had stayed stuck in old patterns and habits. The so-called ‘comfort’ of familiarity overflowed into their emotions as well as their physical lives.

Fear of change had them pretending to others, and to their own selves, that they were content. When deep within, they longed to laugh properly and have silliness in their life again. When you are on your deathbed, what others think of you is a long way from your mind. How wonderful it is to be able to let go and smile again, long before you are dying.”

But although very revealing, these last wishes and much belated flashes of wisdom usually do not make sense to most of us until we realise that it is almost time for us to go.

If only we remind ourselves that the whole purpose and happiness of this life lies not at the end of the journey but all along the road, we will all find a completely new meaning and purpose in living. This calls for a new and completely different way of looking at life from an altogether new perspective, perhaps with our feet up and our heads down !

(K. Javeed Nayeem is a practising physician, who writes a weekly column for Star of Mysore, where this piece originally appeared)

Also read: Khushwant Singh‘s 11 secrets of a long, happy life

Khushwant Singh: 11 secrets of a long, happy life

15 January 2012

As he prepares to turn 98 next month, the “dirty old man of Indian journalism”, Khushwant Singhis in an effusive mood, revealing the tricks of Life Sutra, in his Deccan Herald column.

1) If you cannot play a game or exercise, get yourself a nice massage once if not two times a day. Not a greasy oil massage, but powerful hands going all over your body from skull to toes.

2) Cut down on your intake of food and drink.  Maintain a strict routine for intake of food. Use a stop watch if necessary. Guava juice is better than any other fruit juice

3) Forget ragi malt. A single peg of single malt whisky at night gives you a false appetite. Before you eat dinner, say to yourself ‘Don’t eat much’.

4) Eat one kind of vegetable or meat, followed by a pinch of chooran. Eat alone and in silence. Idli-dosa is healthier and easier to digest.

5) Never allow yourself to be constipated. Keep your bowels clean by whatever means you can: by lexatives, enemas, glycerine suppositories.

6) Keep a healthy bank balance for peace of mind. It does not have to be in crores, but enough for your future needs and possibility of falling ill.

7) Never lose your temper.

8) Never tell a lie.

9) Cleanse your soul, give generously. Remember you cannot take it with you. You may give it to your children, your servants or in charity.

10) Instead of whiling your time praying, take up a hobby: like gardening, helping children.

Bonus suggestion: If you can afford it, get yourself some nice genes.

Read the full article: Secret of my longevity

Photograph: courtesy Outlook

External reading: Khushwant Singh on how to live and die

Also read: If it works for the young man, it sure works for us

Vinod Mehta on Arun Shourie, Dileep Padgaonkar

7 November 2011

“India’s most independent, principled and irreverent editor” Vinod Mehta has just published a memoir. Titled Lucknow Boy, the editor-in-chief  of the Outlook* group of magazines, recaptures his four-decade journalistic journey via Debonair, The Sunday Observer, The Indian Post,  The Independent and The Pioneer.

With trademark candour often bordering on the salacious, the twice-married but childless Mehta reveals that he fathered a child in a tryst with a Swiss girl in his 20s, and that as a young copywriter in Bombay, he posed as a prostitute’s boyfriend to get her sister married off (and got paid Rs 500 for his services).

Along the way, Mehta also slays two very holy cows of Indian journalism, Arun Shourie and Dileep Padgaonkar, revealing their hypocrisy and duplicity in the way they dealt with colleagues while grandstanding in public as suave, softspoken, scholarly men of letters.



Over the years, Arun Shourie and I have not seen eye to eye on many issues—something I don’t regret. Shourie, as editor of the Indian Express, had broken the big Antulay story, ‘Indira Gandhi as Commerce’ [in the early 1980s].

The expose revealed that the Maharashtra chief minister, A.R. Antulay, had started an organisation called the ‘Indian Gandhi Pratibha Pratishtan’ through which he collected illicit funds from builders. The corruption scandal forced Antulay to resign.

Arun Shourie and the Express, now implacably opposed to Indira Gandhi and the Congress, had bagged a big Congress scalp. Among journalists and sections of civil society Mr Shourie was flavour of the month—or shall I say many months.

A young reporter in the Free Press Journal with friends in the Express came to see me. He said he had a story, but was not sure if a recently launched paper like the Sunday Observer had the nerve to publish it. According to him, the chief reporter and several other senior reporters in the Express were sulking because Arun Shourie had hogged all the limelight.

While they acknowledged Shourie’s contribution, much of the legwork for the scoop had been done by the Express bureau, a fact which was never acknowledged in the story. Staff morale apparently was at an all-time low.

‘Shourie and the Penthouse conspiracy’ duly appeared. ‘Penthouse’ was mentioned because Mr Shourie allegedly sat in the Express penthouse with Ramnath Goenka and wrote the expose.

It did not take long for Arun Shourie to come back. He demanded a full rebuttal in the form of an extended interview with him. ‘Your story is a complete fabrication,’ he charged.

Kumar Ketkar, then a young and pugnacious Bombay journalist, jumped into the fray. In a letter to the editor [of The Sunday Observer], he noted: ‘The self-righteous breast-beating of Shourie is a fast spreading gangrene in the profession of journalism. If not checked in time, it could acquire the dimensions of witch-hunting and Macarthyism.’

And concluded: ‘Free from any constraint of veracity, Shourie is always able to provide exclusive stories.’ The debate on our letters page continued for many weeks.


On 19 October 1989, The Independent published an eight-column banner headline, ‘Y.B. Chavan, not Morarji Desai, spied for the US.’ For two days the story went largely unnoticed. Except for Mid-Day which carried our Chavan report almost verbatim, the rest of the media kept away.

That did not suit the perenially insecure editor of The Times of IndiaDileep Padgaonkar.

While the other editors in the Times group were troubled by my presence, Dileep had a special and urgent reason to feel troubled. I and my team were producing an English paper every day which looked infinitely better than the paper Dileep was editing, and on many mornings it even read better.

Mr Padgaonkar’s insecurities when word got around that, at a meeting with his senior managers, [Times bossman] Samir Jain mentioned me as a possible editor of The Times of India.

Dileep and the Maharashtra Times editor, Govind Talwalkar, got together to ensure the Chavan story did not go unnoticed. In an editorial on 21 October, the Times viciously attacked me and the Independent. It went so far as to incite physical violence against me, suggesting that if it did occur, it would be my own fault.

Departing from its pompous, lofty, measured tone, the Times launched a series of vituperative onslaughts targeting me, which observers found astonishing since the two papers were ‘sister publications’. One opposition leader told the media that while the (Chavan) story was indeed objectionable, it was the Times group which created the ‘hysteria’ around it.

I hold no grudges against Dileep Padgaonkar. He is who he is. However, the man who once claimed he held ‘the second most important job in the country’ can be legitimately charged with single-handedly opening the door for the denigration and decline of the Editor as an institution.

When Dileep’s bosses asked him to bend, he crawled. Since then it has been downhill all the way for other editors.

(Lucknow Boy by Vinod Mehta, published by Penguin Viking, 325 pages, Rs 499)

Illustration: courtesy Sorit GuptoOutlook

Read an excerpt: Vinod Mehta on Radia tapes, Vajpayee, V.C. Shukla

Buy the book onlineIndia Plaza offer prize Rs 299


Disclosures apply

Also readS. Nihal Singh on Arun Shourie: Right-wing pamphleteer

Why Khushwant Singh fell out with Arun Shourie

‘Lone Hindu’ Dileep Padgaonkar gets it from M.J. Akbar‘s paper

How Dileep Padgaonkar christened a Pierre Cardin model

How the Sakaal Times dream became a nightmare

ARAVIND ADIGA: Mangalore’s circulating libraries

12 January 2011

Before the web brought the wide world to their desktop, the library was the window for young Indians seeking to peek into the universe beyond their doorstep. Each town and City, big and small, boasted a circulating library or two, usually run by a couple after office hours, offering an intellectual convergence point for the community.

Aravind Adiga, the Kannada-speaking former Time magazine journalist, who walked away with the Booker Prize for The White Tiger in 2008, spent his formative years in Mangalore. In this article, Adiga salutes the nooks and crannies that helped mould his consciousness—for a small deposit, a daily fee, and a penalty imposed randomly.



Mangalore, where I lived until I was almost 16, is now a booming city of malls and call centres. But, in the 1980s, it was a provincial town in a socialist country.

Books were expensive in those days, and few of us could actually buy them. The thing to do was to join a circulating library that would lend them out at a nominal rate (novels, two rupees a fortnight; comics, 50 paise).

Like most of my friends in school, I was a member of multiple circulating libraries; and all of us, to begin with, borrowed and read the same things.

Up to the age of 10, you borrowed comics (mainly illustrated versions of the great Indian epics); later came your first novels, a boys’ detective series called The Hardy Boys.

Girls read an equivalent series called Nancy Drew.

When you grew out of the Hardy Boys, you started on the action novelist Alistair MacLean, whose fast-paced novels such as The Guns of Navarone or Where Eagles Dare were given glamour by their big-budget Hollywood adaptations.

My problems started when Alistair MacLean bored me.

The owner of my favorite lending library suggested that I try a “woman’s writer” instead: Agatha Christie. She was fascinating for a while, introducing me to the revolutionary idea that a killer could narrate a novel (The Murder of Roger Ackroyd) before she bored me too.

The librarian then gave me an edition of the Complete Plays of Oscar Wilde (an edition which excluded Salome). Then he had nothing more for me.

The next place I went to was my grandfather’s house. Its cupboards were full of dusty books, all in English. This surprised me, because my grandfather, an Indian nationalist, disdained to speak English, except to correct another man’s.

He was a prominent local lawyer who dressed in khadi (as Gandhi had), spoke only Kannada, and scorned anything “Western”. Except for the one occasion when he had come out of his law office to chide me, in precise English (“You cannot ‘put a gate'”), I had never heard him speak the language.

My other grandfather, a surgeon in Madras, belonged to the opposite school of thought, once refusing to attend an official dinner in honour of the president of India, Zail Singh, on the grounds that the President’s English was inadequate.

Such debates were dead for my generation.

What my grandparents called the King’s English, I call Nehru‘s English.

The prime minister’s great speeches in English—the “tryst with destiny” oration delivered on India’s independence in 1947, or “the light has gone out of our lives,” to announce Gandhi’s death to the nation the next year—were taught in school, quoted on radio, and their fragments were found, like DNA strands, in all newspapers and magazines.

Nehru could only have made these speeches in English, because had he spoken in Hindi, we – in the south of India, where Hindi is not spoken, and is often abhorred – would not have understood him.

Every foundational document of India was known to me only in English: the Constitution, for instance, and even Gandhi’s autobiography, written in his native Gujarati, but taught in school in an English translation.

How could we function without our only common language? Doing away with English seemed to me tantamount to doing away with India: We were the language’s, before the language was ours.


Kannada is, in Indian terms, my “mother tongue” (which means, generally, that your father speaks it), has produced one of the world’s great literatures. But of its poets and writers, only one—the novelist U.R. Anantha Murthy (regarded by some as India’s greatest living novelist)—broke through to me, and only because one of his books had been adapted for the cinema.

I rarely saw any of my middle-class classmates read a Kannada book out of the classroom, where we were forced to learn poems and prose extracts in the lifeless way, reinforced with violence, typical of provincial Indian education in the 1980s.

All the glamour was in English, and when they were done with Alistair MacLean, they went on to Desmond Bagley or Jeffrey Archer or some other foreign writer.

Nor were there many Indian writers of serious English literature: I could find none except for R.K. Narayan, who seemed our only contender in the big ring.

The two Indians known to have written important works of non-fiction were both tainted by the popular feeling that they were “unpatriotic”—Nirad Chaudhuri and V.S. Naipaul—and I stayed away from both.

If there were few Indians to read, there was also, surprisingly, very little American literature around. Although most young men wanted to go to New York, the American language – a prejudice bequeathed by the British – was considered low-brow and full of vulgarity.

Patriotism was also involved. America had also supported Pakistan in the 1971 war that created Bangladesh, and our foreign policy was sympathetic to the Soviet Union on most matters.

The British had resigned all interest in India in 1947 and seemed to count for nothing in world politics now, so they were a neutral nation as far as I was concerned, and their writers soon provided the bulk of my reading.

Some came from my grandfather’s house – Darwin, Tennyson – and others I began to discover in Mangalore’s central municipal library, which most of my friends avoided because it was dirty, disorganised and bureaucratic.

But it was full of books, and you didn’t have to pay to borrow them, and I did so, liberally. Even the names of the novelists who defined the 1980s in England – Amis, Ishiguro, Byatt – had not arrived in Mangalore.

The 1980s were for me the decade of those exciting young British writers named G.K. Chesteron, G.B. Shaw, J.B. Priestley and Somerset Maugham.

It was not just that they were easily available; they spoke to a boy in a conservative Indian town as no living British writer would have done.

The official rhetoric of the Indian republic was solidly Victorian – progress, order and self-improvement. Science and mathematics were highly valued.

So Shaw – exciting and edgy, yet completely profanity-free – with his interest in parliamentary politics and evolution seemed to be jumping right into the debates of my time.

As a bonus, his brevity and wit made for a deliciously subversive contrast to the pomp of public language in Mangalore (“welcoming to this august meeting all esteemed members, families of esteemed members, notable visitors from other cities, families of notable visitors…”).


For every novel, I read a dozen magazines.

If we had little literature by Indians in English, we had a mountain of top-rate journalistic writing. The office of my grandfather (the one who would not speak the language) overflowed with English-language magazines: India Today, Sunday, Frontline and The Illustrated Weekly of India.

Then, as is the case now, India’s best journalists routinely used English with a directness and power that few of our novelists can match, and I owe much to the editors of these magazines – two of whom, Khushwant Singh and M.J. Akbar, are still prolific.

Around this time, I began pulling out of the municipal library books that seemed darker, more disturbing: Animal Farm, Doctor Faustus, Edgar Allan Poe. But when I was about 15, I found a book so dark and mysterious that it seemed to annul everything that I had read until then: William Golding‘s Lord of the Flies, which seems to me the first book of my maturity.

I began looking for others like it, even asking an uncle in America to send me The Lord of the Rings, in the hope that it would be similar. I was desperate to have this novel sent soon, because I knew my time as a reader of novels was almost at an end.

I would soon be studying to become a doctor (the only career, other than being an engineer, open to a middle-class boy in a small town in those years).

After that, I would be practicing medicine, like my father and uncles, and my novels would end up in a wooden case for my grandson to discover. Then, all at once, as these things tend to happen, the world came to end, my mother was dead, and I was taken out of Mangalore and India.

The world has flooded into Mangalore. India’s great economic boom, the arrival of the Internet and outsourcing, have broken the wall between provincial India and the world.

Indian-born novelists such as Salman Rushdie and Amitav Ghosh have exorcised Priestley and Tennyson for good from the bookshelves of even the remotest Indian town.

Yet I am glad for having been raised in the ancien regime.

Mangalore’s libraries, though cut off from the world, did supply me a set of very fine writers, whose books amplified the central message of Nehru’s English: that the world was a place full of light, and if spoken to in a rational language, would respond in one. This is, of course, not really true, and had I grown up in a big city I would have known it from the start.


Lead photograph: The Readers’ Delight library on Light House Hill road in Bavutagudde, one of the few surviving circulating libraries in Mangalore today (Karnataka Photo News)

Author photograph: courtesy Mark Pringle via Aravind Adiga


Also read: All you wanted to know about Aravind Adiga

A 21st century Adiga‘s call to Kannadigas

CHURUMURI POLL: India’s best prime minister?

18 August 2010

Bruised and battered by crisis after crisis, prime minister Manmohan Singh has received a rare stamp of approval from fellow-sardar Khushwant Singh. “The dirty old man of Indian journalism” has rated Manmohan as the “best prime minister” India has ever had, higher than Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and his other successors.

K. Singh lauds M. Singh’s integrity, calling him its “best example“. Unlike “impatient” Nehru’s instinctively anti-American and blindly pro-Soviet Union stance, “humble and simple” M. Singh, he says, has a free and open mind, and cannot ever be accused of nepotism, as Nehru and his “petty and dictatorial” daughter Indira Gandhi could.

In contrast to “dynamic” Sanjay Gandhi, K. Singh terms his elder brother Rajiv Gandhi as more of a “boy scout“.

Singh’s scorecard comes in the same week as an India Today mood-of-the-nation opinion poll, showing Manmohan Singh’s popularity at its lowest in his sixth year in office. Singh gets a measly one per cent approval rating, compared with Rahul Gandhi (29%), Atal Behari Vajpayee (16%) and Sonia Gandhi (13%) as a prime ministerial candidate.

Question: Who has been India’s best prime minister?

The curious case of Zakir Naik & Shekhar Gupta

21 June 2010

The gentleman on the right of the frame wants India to be ruled by Shariat laws. He recommends death for homosexuals. He supports Osama bin Laden if he is “fighting the enemies of Islam”. He says revealing clothes make women more susceptible to rape.

Yet, the gentleman on the left, Shekhar Gupta, introduced him as the “rockstar of tele-evangelism” in March 2009, on his NDTV show Walk the Talk:

“…but surprise of surprises, he is not preaching what you would expect tele-evangelists to preach. He is preaching Islam, modern Islam, and not just Islam but his own interpretation of all the faiths around the world.”

In February this year, the paper edited by the gentleman on the left, the Indian Express, ranked the gentleman on the right 89th on its list of the most powerful Indians in 2010 (jury: unknown), ahead of  Nobel laureate Amartya Sen, with large numbers dripping all over:

“His sermons on Peace TV-English boast of a viewership of 100 million. The channel is aired in 125 countries. Peace TV Urdu has 50 million viewers. He has given 1,300 public talks including 100 in 2009, 10-day peace conference attened by 2 lakh…”

Now, with the British government announcing that the gentleman of such affection—the gentleman on the right, Dr Zakir Naik—will not be allowed into Britain because of numerous comments that are evidence of “unacceptable behaviour”, the journalist-author Sadanand Dhume writes in The Wall Street Journal:

“If you’re looking for a snapshot of India’s hapless response to radical Islam, then look no further than Naik. In India, the 44-year-old Dr. Naik—a medical doctor by training and a televangelist by vocation—is a widely respected figure, feted by newspapers and gushed over by television anchors….

“When the doctor appears on a mainstream Indian news channel, his interviewers tend to be deferential. Senior journalist and presenter Shekhar Gupta breathlessly introduced his guest last year as a “rock star of televangelism” who teaches “modern Islam” and “his own interpretation of all the faiths around the world.”

“A handful of journalists—among them Praveen Swami of The Hindu, and the grand old man of Indian letters, Khushwant Singh—have questioned Dr. Naik’s views, but most take his carefully crafted image of moderation at face value.”

But the Indian Express is, if nothing else, extremely touchy when its judgments are questioned.

With Dhume’s article doing the rounds, it has run an editorial in response to the British decision, curiously titled “Talk is Cheap”:

“By disallowing Zakir Naik from delivering his lecture in Birmingham, Britain has simply made him a cause and handed him a megaphone, ensuring that his voice is amplified on blogs, social networks and other forums where disenfranchised and angry Muslims gather.

“This is not to say that Naik’s televangelism is not entirely free of objectionable or sometimes plain ridiculous content…. Naik is simply one corner in a larger field, and his ideas have been debated, endorsed or demolished, as the case may be, on very public platforms…. Words must be fought with words alone, not clumsy state action.

“Zakir Naik talks of ideas that some might abhor, but some others take all too seriously. Not permitting open discourse is to constrict the free play of disagreeement and disputation.”

Photograph: courtesy NDTV 24×7

Read the full column: The trouble with Dr Zakir Naik

Follow Sadanand Dhume on Twitter

‘I thought she would live forever’: A love story

21 February 2010

At the urging of his grandson, the renowned photo-journalist and churumuri contributor and wellwisher T.S. Nagarajan has just put together a private book titled ‘A Pearl of Water on a Lotus Leaf and Other Memories‘ for his friends and family.

The piece de resistance in the beautifully produced, brilliantly written 198-page book is his 50-year love affair with his wife Meenakshi that ended two Decembers ago. is both honoured and privileged to be given the permission to reproduce a 22-carat love story, all 4,624 words of it.



I do not know where to begin but I do know where it ended.

So many years together, so many memories. Losing her has changed my life.

Going back now to an empty house in Bangalore is difficult. There is no one to greet you. The house with its silence seems to grieve with you.

Somehow, this place doesn’t seem to fit me since Meenakshi died; but I really have to live here.

I love this place. It is my home.

Our house in Bangalore meant everything to both of us. We spent 20 of the full 50 years of our married life in this home. The house grew with us and acquired all its colours and glory. We developed a beautiful garden. Meenakshi was its brain. I was only the brawn.

Instead of a compound, we preferred a line of crotons as a green wall in front. Today, as I water them every evening, the plants remind me of the green fingers that nurtured them as they grew from little saplings to tall, robust and colourful sentinels. Meenakshi was a great gardener. She had magic in her hands. Whatever she touched flourished.

Life rolled on at an enjoyable pace for ten years. As all good things come to an end, we found it difficult to manage the garden. After much deliberation, we came to the painful decision to close the garden and pave the space around the house with grey granite.

I put in an ad in the paper announcing the sale of the garden. A few days later, an old gentleman arrived with a carrier van to buy the garden. After the deal, Meenakshi urged me to take some photographs of the garden and vanished from the scene.

She found it too difficult to witness the departure of her loved ones. The garden vanished in a jiffy.

As one grows older, passing through the realities of life, dreams die. But I still keep intact my memories of sharing an exciting life with someone special.

Meenakshi is dead.

How am I to tell you?

One does not fix appointments with fate.

There is a rigid lump in my throat. I am learning to hold on and come to terms with the reality that she is no more.  Old age demands dignity. I manage a stoic face with a deliberate smile. Cross-sections of my life with her spring involuntarily from my memory. I have enough of them to ruminate upon.


Madurai to Delhi was a huge change for Menakshi. A few weeks after our wedding in the temple-town, she travelled by air for the first time and landed in the capital to a noisy welcome from my friends.

They were stunned by her beauty.

She looked like one of those chiselled figurines in the Madurai temple, her skin shining like ebony in the midday sun and eyes those of angels. She appeared as though she had descended from heaven just to taunt the blue-blooded beauties of Delhi.

Delhi’s weather was an entirely new experience for her. In summer, she loved the cooling rain that followed the dust storms, and wondered why in Delhi no one carried umbrellas while walking in the summer sun. She loved the exhilarating aroma from the wet khus curtains.

Phatphatis”, Delhi’s famous motorcycle rickshaws, thrilled her. She had never seen a Sikh. She was puzzled most by the sight of a Sardarji drying his hair in the winter sun.  Khushwant Singh was the first Sikh she saw and spoke with. He was also the first to plant a soft kiss on her cheek.

In course of time, she fell in love with Delhi, its people and their manners and customs. It was in Delhi that our two daughters, Kalyani and Vasanti, grew up and were married.  We spent 30 long years in the Capital. They were indeed the sunshine years of our life.


Moving from Delhi to Bangalore was like going back home. A welcome change. We loved the city’s salubrious weather and the slow pace of life.

Riding on a Vespa scooter, we discovered Bangalore together.

Not knowing Kannada was a big handicap for Meenakshi.  But she learnt the language by persisting to speak, despite the initial imperfections. In a few years, she was able to speak well,  and relate easily with the women in the neighbourhood.

One day, I heard her speak in Kannada to a gathering of women in the temple behind our home. It was a meeting to form a women’s committee. She was elected its first secretary.

Our scootering adventures became less frequent after sometime. We then turned to walking. Most friends in the area got used to seeing us always together. If, for some reason, Meenakshi stayed back, I had to explain her absence to the friends I met on the way. To avoid this, I made it a point  to cancel my walks on the days she didn’t go.

One evening, barely a few minutes after we had left home for a walk, I found Meenakshi   lagging behind, unable to keep pace with me. This was unusual. I asked her what was the matter. She said that she was feeling exhausted and wanted to return home.

As we turned back, I found her collapsing on the road, a small by-lane in the area, and sweating profusely. I was shocked to see her lying on the road, unable to talk. I sensed something serious. A passer-by helped me lift her and take her home in an auto-rickshaw.

I managed to put her on the bed. Her pulse was terribly low. I gave her a glass of sugared water, thinking she might have had low blood sugar. She was diabetic.  It might also be a heart attack, I thought. I put in a tablet of Sorbitrate (nitroglycerine, very helpful in such situations) under her tongue.

I had saved a strip of this drug for an emergency. Soon after the first aid, I phoned my grandson Duglu and told him that his grandma was sinking and urged him to rush home with his parents.  They arrived quickly accompanied by a hospital ambulance.

She was given emergency treatment in the intensive care unit of the hospital. Her condition stabilised by late in the night. She was declared out of danger the next day. A coronary angioplasty  was done. The doctors found an advanced block in one of the arteries.  She was given a stent.  She remained in the hospital for a few days and returned home, bright and beautiful.

The entire family heaved a sigh of relief. After a few weeks of rest and recuperation, Meenakshi resumed her normal routine.  She got up well before sunrise, helped herself to a cup of coffee, got the breakfast ready (invariably an oatmeal), finished the  day’s cooking and sat down in the favourite rattan chair in her room with the prayer book in hand. This was her meditation time. I made it a point not to disturb her.

It was also the time when some women, who swept the road every morning, her best friends, would drop in for their daily bible-babble. She wouldn’t mind their intrusion. She would make coffee for them. (A whole group of them came home to see me and condole her death. This was her speciality. She would relate with everyone on equal terms.)


Within months after she arrived in Delhi after the wedding, we attended a reception to the President of Ghana at Hyderabad House. It was hosted by Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru. Meenakshi saw Jawaharlal Nehru escorting his guest into the hall and whispered to me that she wanted to meet Nehru.

I told her that I didn’t know the Prime Minister personally. Barely I had finished saying this, she rushed through the gathering towards where Nehru was talking with some people. The next moment, I saw her talking with the Prime Minister.

Cameras clicked.

The picture became a hit in the family back home in Madurai.

Another  interesting incident involving Nirad C. Chaudhuri, the famous Indian writer,  comes to my mind. We had met him a few times at Khushwant Singh’s place. When Khushwant Singh became editor of the Illustrated Weekly of India, he wanted me to do some interesting pictures of Nirad Babu to illustrate a series of articles by him for the magazine.

Accompanied by Meenakshi, I went to the writer’s home. Nirad Babu had become a familiar figure walking the lanes and quadrangles of the Mori Gate area of old Delhi; a thin, short, spry man in dhoti and kurta. He would usually don Bengali clothes at home. His suits and the hats were reserved for his walks. He was proud of everything British.  He loved showing off his collection of a variety of items, especially those made in England, to his visitors.

As he talked with us, he opened the shoe rack and pulled out a pair of shining Oxford shoes and began explaining its special features. When he brought the shoes somewhat close to Meenakshi, urging her to see them, she boxed her nose and politely pushed the shoes back telling him “Nirad Babu, thus far and no further, please.”

Nirad didn’t mind her comment. He had a hearty laugh with us, and continued singing in praise of the English shoes. Fame or position of people just didn’t bother her. She was frank. She was candid. She was brave. She had nothing to conceal. She was true to herself.


I found a big change in her in the years after her heart attack. She became very spiritual and often talked about God. She joined a group of women, all her friends, and started attending prayer meetings every Saturday morning. She stopped going out for walks because of pain in the knees.

She spent minimum time in the kitchen and would retire to her room when once the morning chores were over. Her interest in TV serials waned.

In the evenings, when I was busy with my computer in my room, she preferred to lie down on the couch in the drawing room waiting for me to come and sit next to her.  This is the time we listened to classical music.  Half past eight was dinner time. Thereafter, we would retire for the day.

Meenakshi was deeply interested in music and loved listening to her favourite singers. She was close to the diva M.S. Subbulakshmi. They became good friends when we spent three days in MS’ home in Madras documenting her life in pictures.

MS made it a point to meet Meenakshi whenever she came to Delhi or Bangalore. They would discuss not music but cooking.

We generally stayed at home and talked a good deal on various subjects. We listened to each other with steadfast attention. Often we discussed serious subjects like life, death and even God. We also indulged in a bit of gossip about the goings-on in the neighbourhood.

We derived a vicarious delight in giving nicknames to people. For example, we named a vegetable seller, who came every morning announcing his wares at a high musical pitch, “Bhimsen”, after the music maestro Pandit Bhimsen Joshi. Meenakshi felt that Bhimsen was indeed blessed with a great voice; if he had only taken to music, he would have been a celebrity.

The woman, who swept the road,  Lakshmi was called “R.L.”, Road Lakshmi. After she left, she was replaced by another Lakshmi. The new Lakshmi was called “N.R.L.”, New Road Lakshmi.

We found delight even in seemingly simple things in life. This is what perhaps made our life an enjoyable journey.

*** (more…)

If it works for the young man, it sure works for us

12 September 2009


The plight of cigarette and liquor addicts is well known. What is not as well known is the plight of coffee lovers.  Depending on the headline of the “health brief” in the newspapers, it is their fate to get their daily lecture from mothers, wives, girlfriends, friends, flames, etc, on limiting their coffee intake.

To them all, we present Sudhakar Chaturvedi.

Born on 20 April 1897—which makes him an eye-popping 112 years old—the vedic scholar has lived through the invention of the aeroplane and the motor car, countless skirmishes including the two World Wars, the independence movement, etc, and is still doing splendidly well in the era of reality television.

A lot can happen over coffee? Try telling this dude.

On Saturday—his 41,025th day on this planet—the Jayanagar resident took a sip from the cup that cheers at a felicitation ceremony organised by the Shri Kashi Seshadri charitable trust in Bangalore.


Khushwant Singh, “the dirty old man of Indian journalism”,  who is 94, writes reveals the eight clues to happiness (which presumably is the secret of a long life), in The Telegraph:

1) Good health

2) A healthy bank balance

3) A home of your own

4) An understanding companion, be it a spouse or a friend

5) Lack of envy towards those who have done better

6) Shut the gup-shup

7) A fulfilling hobby

8) 15 minutes of daily introspection


As if to bolster the debate, the world’s oldest known living person, Gertrude Baines, who passed away a few days ago, revealed the secret of her longevity: a steady diet of crispy bacon, fried chicken and ice-cream.


Photograph: Karnataka Photo News

Also read: How Siddhartha built the CCD dream cup by cup

Look, who’s ordering one-by-two coffee at Wipro

What happens if an insect falls into a cup of coffee?

Every picture tells a tale. Babu’s can fill a tome.

24 March 2009

Unlike India’s big cities, “happening” Bangalore has had a stunning inability to inspire writers and movie makers.

Mention Bombay and a welter of books springs to mind, only the latest of which is Suketu Mehta‘s Maximum City. Mention Delhi, and there is always Khushwant Singh‘s eponymous magnum opus, if not William Dalrymple‘s. Slumdog Millionaire and Delhi-6 are, of course, the latest billet doux that Danny Boyle and Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra have signed on celluloid of those metros.

Not so Bangalore.

The iconic local book is missing, boring or out of print. There is barely a film, in English or Kannada, that could be said to capture the city. The newspapers and magazines are like the glass structures that dot IT halli: all glitz, no gandha. The reasons are aplenty (and a few of them can be found in Koshy‘s), but the result is Bangalore is lonely in the planet of popular culture, dependent on the PowerPoint™ wisdom of Thomas L. Friedman and Nandan M. Nilekani for succour.

Thankfully, blogs have filled the breach somewhat, and up there somewhere, near the very top, must be Gopal M.S.. A copywriter with McCann-Erickson in Bangalore, Gopal’s wife Kavita gifted him a point-and-shoot Canon A530 camera two years ago, and thus began a labour of love called Mains and Crosses.

Every day, Gopal, who lives in Sanjaynagar (Hebbal) takes a different route to and from work on Langford Road—a stop here, a detour there—and clicks pictures here, there, everywhere. The result is a chronicle and catalogue of a city that is changing by the second; erasing sights, sounds and smells the senses are familiar with.

“Like many Bangloreans, I have spent a sinful amount of time in the darkness of Plaza, one of Bangalore’s oldest movie theatres, while our teachers and lecturers were busy shouting hoarse to an almost empty class.

“Today, it’s Plaza that’s empty.

“Before a show began at Plaza, an old man, who seemed to be as old as the theatre itself, used to go around closing the wooden shutters. That ritual doesn’t happen anymore.

“However, light beams continue to stream in from the holes where the projector used to be. Minus the whirring sound. Plaza is now an empty shell, stripped of all the seats and curtains. However, a few memories from the past remain.”

Photograph: Babu, a security man, sits amidst the ruins of Plaza theatre on M.G. Road (courtesy Gopal M.S.)

Visit the website: Mains and Crosses

Also read: Once upon a time, in Bangalore (as we knew it)

Once upon a time in Bangalore on route No. 11

Once upon a time, when the gari did not put mari

T.S. NAGARAJAN: The Sharada Prasad only I knew

4 September 2008

'A man of few words who was a master of words'

More than a few people have been intrigued by‘s description of H.Y. Sharada Prasad as the ultimate exemplar of the “Mysore School of Writing“—not too light, not too heavy. And the questions have come flying at us: Is there really such a thing as “Mysore School of Writing”, like the Mysore School of Dance or the Mysore School of Yoga? Has any scholar done some research on such writing? Why the double-quote marks? Who are the other practitioners? Etcetera.

We named R.K. Narayan, R.K. Laxman, and T.S. Satyan as good examples of the “Mysore School of Writing”. We could have added other luminaries like Raja Ramanna, M.N. Srinivas, and A.K. Ramanujan.

And T.S. Satyan’s brother, T.S. Nagarajan.

A former photographic officer in the photo division of the government of India—a job that saw him work closely with Sharada Prasad on Yojana magazine—Nagarajan is best known as (probably) the only chronicler of the interiors of turn-of-the-century houses.

In this exclusive, Nagarajan remembers his days with “Shourie”.



While I was in Mysore, after my graduation, waiting to find my feet in life, I met H.Y. Sharada Prasad for the first time when he came to our home in Saraswathipuram to visit the family and especially to meet my mother whom he liked and respected.

He was dressed in khadi kurta and pyjama with a jacket to match and wore Kolhapuri chappals.

I had not yet taken to photography and journalism and so he didn’t interest me much. But I liked the way he talked and looked—like a bright young Gandhian. He measured his words when he spoke and gave brief answers to my mother’s queries as he enjoyed the the cup of tea that she made for him.

I didn’t know that after a few years, I would have the opportunity to work with him.

Sharada Prasad succeeded Khushwant Singh as the chief editor of Yojana, the journal of the Planning Commission.  By then, I had joined the journal as its photographer. Yojana was already two years old. My colleagues and I wondered whether the new editor could adequately fit into Khushwant’s place and make a success of the journal.

The bigger worry was whether Sharada Prasad with his reputation as “a man of few words and somewhat reserved” would be bossy and officious in dealing with his colleagues.

None of these happened.

Khushwant Singh produced a very lively and readable journal without resorting to the famous Khushwant formula which he successfully tried later as the editor of the Illustrated Weekly of India. His hope of making the journal the talk of the town in the country had failed miserably because of the utter inability of the government to organise a good network of distributors. He had left the journal an unhappy man.

It is against this background that Sharada Prasad, took over the reins of the journal.

Yojana had its office in Yojana Bhawan on Parliament Street. The chief editor had a spacious room on the second floor. The rest of the editorial and administrative staff was located on the fifth floor. I had a room for myself: Number 508.

By background and temperament Sharada Prasad was very different from Khushwant Singh.  But within weeks after he took over, he gave the impression that he found the job very satisfying. He retained most of the regular features that Khushwant had introduced as also the emphasis on field reports and their conversational tone but gave more space for discussion, debate and controversy.

He found Yojana Bhavan a ‘civilised’ place because of its atmosphere which resembled that of a university. It didn’t function like a government office. There was a total absence of bureaucratic stiffness. There were many men and women of ideas and achievement working within its portals. Instead of politicians, many celebrities and academicians, acclaimed internationally, came there to meet their Indian counterparts.

It was just the kind of environment that Sharada Prasad loved.

The editorial staff meeting in his room, once a fortnight, was more like a journalism class. He lost no opportunity to tell us how to edit articles and do field reports. He was an expert in wielding the ‘blue pencil’ and a miser with words, but had the unique ability to cut a long story short without in any way affecting its meaning or reducing its impact.

He advised us to read whatever we wrote, more than once, and rewrite, more than once, if necessary, until the piece was trimmed to its right length to make it interesting and effective.

“Beware of the introductory paragraph, make sure it is the best way to begin or else delete it. Most first paragraphs are often mere starters,” he would say.

He believed that writing doesn’t just communicate ideas; it generates them.

Among the new features he had introduced in Yojana was a talkative character called “Ignoraman”, who never failed to appear in every issue asking very inconvenient and often tongue-in-cheek questions.

For example he would ask: “Ignoraman wants to know what is needed? Centralised Civil Service, or Civilised Central Service?  The bespectacled genius, whose caricature was a creation of the Yojana artist R. Sarangan, looked like a Thanjavur intellectual. He was very popular not only among the readers but among politicians and bureaucrats too.

Sharada Prasad made Yojana, a journal well respected in university circles and among economists. Most economists who came to Yojana Bhavan didn’t leave without meeting him. His room or my room on the 5th floor, which was adjacent to an unit of the Indian Statistical Institute located on the same floor, would turn into a kitty lunch room for a group of economists who were friends of Yojana.

Most of them came in to the room  with their lunch boxes and shared the food with others. Among the regulars were B.S. Minhas, T.N. Srinivasan, Jagadish Bhagavati, and A. Vaidyanathan—all well-known economists. Many a time the lunch hour would turn into a debating session when important matters of economic policy were seriously debated upon. Thanks to Sharada Prasad and Yojana, I made lasting friendships with most of them.

Sharada Prasad was able to get away with publishing articles critical of the government in an official journal. When asked how he was able to manage this, his answer was “by not seeking anybody’s clearance or permission.” He made it a rule (which Khushwant Singh had also made) of publishing no photographs of ministers and officials, or of ceremonial inaugurations of projects.

The only time he published Nehru‘s photograph was when he passed away.

His stay with Yojana was suddenly cut short when Indira Gandhi became prime minister and chose him as her Information Advisor.

Even while at the South Block, he distinguished himself as a brilliant writer and a dependable consultant on matters of national policy. Even though he left Yojana, both of us kept in constant touch with each other. We edited some books together (mainly The Spirit of India) and worked on major expositions on India abroad.

I met Sharada Prasad frequently in his office room which was very close to that of the Prime Minister. On several occasions, while we were working, there would be a soft knock and the door would open a little. The prime minister would peep in and say, “Sharada Prasadji…”

He would excuse himself and leave the room.

Though he remained in the Prime Minister’s office for long, his close proximity to power  never changed the principles and motives that controlled his life.

He remained the same shy, graceful and a delicate gentleman all his life. Possibly elfin is a word that might describe him physically though it is inadequate to perceive his formidable and sometimes unadorned intelligence.

Ostentation never impressed him.

He hated acquiring things. His most precious possession was his pen.  His house resembled a library and reflected his personality in a way houses rarely do. Most certainly, he was the best-read man I have ever met.

No politician ever came into his home. Those that frequented his house and sometimes remained as house guests were either singers, dancers, artists or men of letters.

I talked with him on phone a few months ago to tell him how much I enjoyed reading his brilliant piece on Ustad Bismillah Khan. I liked the elegant way he had described the artist’s funeral in Varanasi. He wrote: “The newspapers made much of the fact that a state funeral was given to the Bharat Ratna. It must have sounded most incongruous that such a meek man, who symbolised melody, was laid to rest amidst gunfire.”

Sharada Prasad was a master of words.

Photograph: T.S. Nagarajan

Also By T.S. NAGARAJAN: My most unforgettable picture

The R.K. Narayan only I knew

The most memorable house I photographed-I

The most memorable house I photographed-II

Jiddu Krishnamurti on love, death, god, and more

Right people, wrong place, wrong time, right ho

The maharaja’s elephant made me a lensman

‘The man who sowed the dragon seeds of hatred’

3 April 2008

L.K. Advani‘s memoirs My Country, My Life is a remarkable literary effort, more remarkable than literary.

Its timing, on the eve of an election for which he is a prime ministerial candidate, is intended to air-brush his legacy and keep him in the mind’s-eye of voters, like the tell-all tomes of American presidential hopefuls. Its size is intended to show how different he is from others of his ilk, that they don’t make them like him any more. And its economy with the truth, even at the risk of alienating friends and colleagues, suggests a serious desire to pull a halo over his head, come hell or high water or both.

From a media perspective, though, two things stand out. One, the ease with which the 80-year-old Loh Purush allowed his eyes to well up for the benefit of the (pseudo-secular) English news channel cameras. And two, the extraordinary reverence with which (pseudo-secular) English interviewers and reviewers have treated him, as if they have been handed a tablet from the high heavens. Ram bhakt (as Atal Behari Vajpayee used to call Advani) may think that having reshaped the grammar of India’s politics, he has now earned his right to be looked upon as a “statesman”.

But do the titans of television have to wear kid gloves while jostling with a glowering giant?

Does every MP elected from Gandhinagar necessarily get blessed with the attributes of the man after whom the City and the constituency are named? Merely because he gives convoluted answers while meaningfully rubbing his palms to even simple questions, can Advani wipe away a trail littered with the blood stains of innocent Indians slaughtered at the altar of majority communalism? Can he divorce himself from his seminal role in the institutionalisation of hate—the demonisation of the other—as the dominant feature of the discourse?

Can the emperor’s new clothes (stitched by a ghost with enormous stamina to last 986 pages) blind us to the fact that he was naked in the hamaam not too long ago?

It takes 95-year-old Khushwant Singh to call the bluff on the “man who sowed the dragon seeds of hatred”. In the latest issue of Outlook, the “dirty old man of Indian journalism”, who signed Advani’s nomination papers after the anti-Sikh riots of 1984 but fell out with him after the Ayodhya movement in early 1990s, provides some much-needed perspective:

# My disenchantment began after he launched his rath yatra from Somnath to Ayodhya. When he was Union home minister, I said on his face, “Mr Advani, you sowed the dragon seeds of hatred in this country….” In his address, he said he would answer my charges at a more appropriate time. I hoped to find them in his autobiography; they are not there.

# I turned the pages to see what he had to say about Mahatma Gandhi who remains the national touchstone to test political and moral decisions. He tells us that the RSS held Gandhi in high esteem and he, in turn, praised its military discipline. When Gandhi heard that cadres of the RSS were also involved in communal riots and took on Muslim hoodlums in street battles which erupted periodically, he sent for the sarsanghchalak.

The latter explained, “If we object to the conduct of some Muslims in our society, it is not because they follow Islam but rather because of their lack of loyalty to India. The partition of India has proven us right. Therefore to call the RSS anti-secular is to show one’s ignorance of what secularism stands for and what the RSS stands for.” Advani adds: “This was my first lesson in secularism. I was twenty-one then.”…

If the RSS is secular, how many Muslims and Christians does it have on its rolls?

# Advani was 14 years old when he enrolled himself as a worker of the RSS in Karachi. His views on secularism are naive beyond belief. He tries to equate Gandhi’s concept of Ram rajya in which all religions will be treated with equal respect—sarva dharma samabhava—with the RSS concept of Hindutva, “a noble concept,” according to him. The RSS was suspect in the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi. His assassin had been a member of the organisation. Advani tells us that on Gandhi’s murder the RSS was ordered to observe 13 days of mourning.

# He, more than anyone else, sensed that Islamophobia was deeply ingrained in the minds of millions of Hindus and it only needed a spark to set it ablaze…. Advani claims that breaking the [Babri] mosque was not on his agenda and he actually sent Murli Manohar Joshi and Uma Bharati from the dais to plead with the breakers to desist. If that is so, why were the two seen embracing each other and rejoicing when the nefarious task was completed?

Advani records the jubilation that followed at the site and along his triumphal return to Delhi. Repercussions were felt over the world: Hindu and Sikh temples were targeted by irate Muslims from Bangladesh to UK. Relations between Hindus and Muslims have never been the same in India. There were communal confrontations in different parts of the country: the serial blasts in Bombay, the attack on Sabarmati Express in Godhra and the massacre of innocent Muslims in Gujarat can all be traced back to the fall of the Babri Masjid.

# Advani has quite a lot to say about Narendra Modi, the chief minister of Gujarat. He exonerates him from the charge of allowing the massacre of innocent Muslims following the attack on the Sabarmati Express at Godhra. It is a symbiotic relationship: Modi helps Advani win elections from Gandhinagar in Gujarat; Advani stands by Modi whenever his conduct comes under question from the higher echelons of the BJP.

# Either we remain a secular state envisaged by Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru or we succumb to Advani’s interpretation of it and become the Hindu Secular Socialist Republic of Bharatvarsha. Perish the thought.

Read the full review: Ghost burial that wasn’t to be

Photograph: courtesy NDTV

Also read: CHURUMURI POLL: Is L.K. Advani lying on IC-814?

Vir Sanghvi: Advani’s Hindutva versus Modi‘s Hindutva

Journalism’s 5 Ws and an H are gone, 4 Fs are in

16 March 2008

“The dirty old man of Indian journalism”, Khushwant Singh, has used the occasion provided by M.J. Akbar‘s unceremonious exit from The Asian Age to deliver his own tablet on the state of Indian journalism, in the latest issue of Outlook:

“The scenario changed with the spread of television. People who saw events take place before their own eyes could not be bothered to read about them in the papers next morning. Fewer and fewer people read editorials.

Proprietors of newspapers sensed that editors were dispensable as they and their business managers could better meet the challenges posed by the electronic media. All it needed was to fill their pages with pictures of scantily-clad starlets or models, recipes for exotic foods, vintage wines, and gossip.

“The formula could be summed up in four Fs: films, fashion, food and fuck editors.

“The hard truth about Indian journalism is that proprietors matter, editors do not; money counts, talent does not.”

Read the full article: F*** all editors

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

Five Ws and an H