Wednesday, March 26, 2014

My remote connection to Khushwant Singh

My remote connection to Khushwant Singh
Sakal Times
Saturday, 22 March 2014 - 09:23 PM IST

"Khushwant Singh has returned his Padma Bhushan to protest against the 'Operation Blue Star'," the chief sub editor said excitedly as he rushed to the editor's cabin, flashing the teleprinter copy of the PTI news. The chief sub-editor's excitement was contagious as the announcement led to a surcharged atmosphere in The Navhind Times office at Panaji in Goa. It was 1984 and as the junior most reporter, I watched the subsequent heated discussion with amusement. 
The excitement over Khushwant Singh's news was very natural. All of us knew that our editor, Bikram Vohra, was a disciple of Khushwant Singh. He had started his journalism career with `The Illustrated Weekly of India' and Khushwant Singh was his first boss. Since joining The Navhind Times, I had heard the editor narrating many tales of Khushwant Singh.
There was a debate among the journalists on whether it was it was a good decision to return the coveted civilian award over the issue of Operation Blue Star. Although a staunch Indira Gandhi supporter, Khushwant had not liked the attack on the Darbar Sahib which he considered as the Vatican of the Sikh community.
But this debate was soon overshadowed by another debate. The question was: Does the news merit page one space? Our pipe smoking news editor who age wise and also experience-wise much senior to Bikram Vohra coolly announced that the news should go on inside pages. Others present there also nodded in approval.
The editor threw up his hands in exasperation. "Come on, have a heart! You know he was my first boss. OK, I'll use my veto power. The news will appear on page one, single column." All of us laughed, consenting to his veto power and dispersed to meet our newspaper deadline.
This incident flashed before my mind when I heard that Khushwant Singh was dead at 99.. Bikram Vohra who later left the Goa newspaper to pursue career in the gulf was my first boss in journalism. Like most newspapers in the country at that time, The Navhind Times too carried every week Khushwant's syndicated column, 'With malice towards one and all'. It was the most popular syndicated column of those days and I doubt whether any other newspaper column has ever surpassed this popularity.
Later I learnt more about Khushwant Singh as I read his books and realised that he was not the kind of person as was popularly believed. In his daily routine, he followed a strict discipline which only a few would dare to imbibe. He was the 'first boss' of my 'first boss' in journalism. But I would say Khushwant Singh can be truly called as the role model for all journalists and also for those in the field of research writings.  

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