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Rahul Singh

Rahul Singh

Rahul Singh

Your father passed away at the age of 99. He changed several jobs lived in several countries including England, France and Canada. Can you tell us what that was like?

Well living in many countries including India, Pakistan and three you have mentioned was disruptive but very fulfilling. My dad was a great believer in children being independent and even at the age of seven I used to go alone to school by tube in London and I used to distribute newspapers to earn some pocket money. It was also fulfilling that you met children from different backgrounds and it helped build character and you learned about different cultures. I also went to The Doon School for a few years but did not like that. Unusual things happened to me. I started losing my English when I started studying at a French Lycee in Paris and my father had to hire an English tutor for me.

Khushwant Singh is known for his candid comments and nature. What was he like in his private life?

My father was a forthright person if one had to evaluate his public persona but comparatively conservative in his private space. I would not deny the fact that his public persona was a little bit of a put-on. He might have seemed to be enjoying saying outrageous things, however, he did not really savour doing so. I must also confess that the idea of naming a Literature festival after him came during the days he was alive. Yet, it could not materialize owing to his old age decrepitude.

What is your one regret in life?

My one big regret is that I am unable to read and write Urdu, a language in which my father excelled. Khushwant Singh translated Iqbal’s Shikwa and Jawab-e-Shikwa with seemingly nothing lost in translation. He quoted and recited couplets from Urdu every now and then.
I had begun to learn Urdu but when the Partition took place, I had to learn Hindi and Gurmukhi in Delhi…I do, however, enjoy its cadence and mellifluousness. I love listening to ghazals.

What inspired you to start up a series of literary festivals in the first place?

It was a sheer casual idea being discussed among the three or four of us on a fine summer evening in the month of June that emerged as a potential venture. My very close friend, Niloufer Billimoria happened to be the one who had thought of the idea in the first place. Besides that, a heartwarming response from Ananta Narayanan, the Brigadier in charge of the small hill station of Kasauli back then, invigorated us to materialize this dream. He was the one responsible for running the whole show with umpteen courage. It was he who had promised to get it off the ground in another three months and stood by it willingly. We decided upon October to be the most convenient month to hold the festival in, as our school Founder’s day would just get over and the following weekend could be utilized for the festival. Then it was the place that we had to go about searching for, however, this problem was also solved as Ananta assured us to arrange it in the Kasauli club itself, the very place we’d been discussing the idea in, to serve as the venue.

Moreover, the fact of Kasauli being an ecologically sensitive location made us dubious whether anybody would come to attend the festival before holding the debut edition of it. However, we were fortunate enough to witness people’s enthusiasm from across the country and to have graced the occasion with their presence.

You are lightheartedly labeled for an unfair disadvantage you have of being Khushwant Singh’s son. What is your take on that?

I have become quite used to it but I would like to point out a few tidbits here. The actual fact is that I embarked on journalism way before my father did. My first job was with the Times of India and I left it five years later only because my father had joined in as the editor of a weekly. My image has always been in utter contrast with that of my father’s as he was a high-profile man, whereas, I am not. Moreover, we did not share the same house for any long period of time as I had left for abroad at an early age and returned to live in Mumbai. That is where we began to meet again, yet, we did not live in the same house.
Nevertheless, I am a very proud son of an illustrious father and more than willing to be known as one.

Your father became the legendary editor of the Illustrated Weekly of India. Did his fame cast a long shadow on your career in journalism though you did pretty well yourself?

Not really. By the time he joined the Illustrated Weekly of India, I had been assistant editor in The Times of India for five years. To avoid any conflict of interest, I left the Times to become Editor of the Readers Digest. I had quite a fulfilling career of my own and became the Editor of the Indian Express in Mumbai and The Sunday Observer among others so there was no shadow so to speak.

About the Interviewee:

Rahul Singh is a writer and journalist. Educated in St Stephens, Delhi University and Kings College, Cambridge, he began his career as the youngest ever Assistant Editor with the Times of India. Since then, he has served as Editor for various publications, including the Reader’s Digest (during which time he also set up its Hindi counterpart, Sarvottam), the Indian Express (for their Delhi, Bombay and Chandigarh editions), the Indian Post, the Sunday Observer and the Khaleej Times.