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Sikh News Mark Of The Man

Vikram singh

Feb 25, 2005
Bookwise, Rs 395
The author was described by Khushwant Singh, a fellow sardar, as “the most distinguished Sikh of his time’’. Reading this book, it is evident that there is no exaggeration in that statement.

H.S. Malik was born in 1894 and died in 1985, a few weeks before his 91st birthday. A brief glance at his career and achievements is impressive. He won a golf blue in Oxford. He was a fighter pilot in World War I who was shot down and was very lucky to have survived. After the War, he became a member of the heaven-born Indian Civil Service. After Independence, he held a number of important diplomatic assignments, including being India’s envoy in Canada and France. In between, he played golf and was perhaps the best amateur Indian golfer of his generation.
Malik was born into affluence. His father was one of the most successful contractors in undivided Punjab. At the age of 14, Malik persuaded his father to let him go to Britain for his education. His father laid down one condition: all the arrangements would have to be made by the 14-year- old. The fact that Malik did actually accomplish this should have been evidence of his promise.​
In Britain, he went to a minor public school after a stint in a prep school. He went up to Balliol. There he picked up golf and within one year, he was playing to scratch and earned his blue. He was naturally athletic and picked up golf from the manual written by Harry Vardon. Golf became a great passion of his life and he continued to play it with great panache and enjoyment till a few weeks before his final illness. He was very proud that on his 79th birthday he had notched up a score of 79 at the Delhi Golf Club.​
As the title of this autobiography suggests, Malik’s life was not all play and no work. This is the principle reason why his book is not dull. Malik took his privileged birth for granted but he was conscious that this gave him certain duties to his country and society. So as an ICS officer, he travelled extensively in the districts of which he was in charge. The fact that he loved outdoor life helped him to do this. He could combine work and enjoyment.​
This, despite being an autobiography, is a curiously self-effacing book. There is no tomtoming of his many achievements. He writes simply: putting his life down for the record. It is almost as if Malik is a reluctant chronicler of his own life. He takes as his life’s motto the evocative lines of Hilaire Belloc that he says he read on the walls of a London restaurant which was the haunt of artists and writers: “There’s nothing worth the wear of winning,/ But laughter and the love of friends.’’
Behind the charm and the bonhomie, Malik was a devout Sikh. He grew up in Britian when multiculturalism was not even a word. His turban and his beard called forth comment and even perhaps ridicule in college, on the golf course and elsewhere. Malik refused to give up the outward trappings of his religion, which obviously also gave him an inner peace, strength and sense of fulfilment.
This is an account of a life lived fully by a man who seems to have enjoyed every minute of it. Malik’s life was also set in times that were, at least for those of his class and background, gracious and easy. Malik, a trifle unwittingly perhaps, captures this too. This is an upright and enjoyable book, just as the man must have been.

The Telegraph - Calcutta (Kolkata) | Opinion | Mark of the man


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