Opinion - A Fearless, Devout Sikh | SIKH PHILOSOPHY NETWORK
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Opinion A Fearless, Devout Sikh

Vikram singh

Feb 25, 2005

A 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.
Perhaps the 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.

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.

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