Patwant Singh (1925 - 2009)


Bhai Patwant Singh (March 28, 1925 - August 8, 2009) was a famous Sikh writer, commentator, journalist, editor and publisher, as well as a frequent TV presenter. He was born in New Delhi on March 28, 1925. He grew up and carried out his school and University education in Delhi. He began his career in the family business of building and engineering but soon merged these interests with his love for writing. He started up his first periodical, The Indian Builder, in 1953 as publisher. In 1957, he unveiled his most influential journal, Design, the only magazine of its kind in the world at that time.

Design was a revolutionary magazine which brought together the latest thinking in the fields of architecture, urban planning, visual arts, graphics, and industrial design. Subject areas that, up to that point, had tended to have isolated audiences that rarely looked at or understood each other's fields. The journal’s strongly interdisciplinary approach led Singh to begin pondering questions about why Bombay, Delhi and other urban areas in India were being developed in ways that ran counter to his aesthetic and humanitarian sensibilities. When he realized that the answers had less to do with architecture and more to do with politicians, government policies and corruption, he began publishing newspaper articles in the 1960s with the aim of affecting public opinion and official policies.


The Sino-Indian War of 1962 and the Second Kashmir War in 1965 led Singh to think about international politics and India’s place in the world. These concerns are reflected in the focus of his first book, India and the Future of Asia, published in 1967. His second book, 1971’s The Struggle for Power in Asia, was intended as a corrective to the narrow and skewed perspectives of the west on Asia and its influence on the world. According to Singh, "The tragedy of our time is that instead of turning to the Asians to find out what they think . . . Western opinion on Asia [continues] to be shaped by Western minds, catering to Western needs."

In 1973, Patwant Singh bought eight acres of land in the Aravalli Hills in Haryana. While on the road looking for land to buy, he was flagged down by a small group of people by the side of the road. A young woman was in labor and experiencing complications beyond the level of expertise of her midwife, so her family was trying to get her to a hospital in the nearest town. Patwant Singh immediately resolved to build a hospital there. He persuaded some fellow trustees of a small trust to fund the idea and arranged for the state of Haryana to donate land for this purpose. When Singh had a massive heart attack in 1977, his appreciation for the quality medical care he received led him to strengthen his resolve to build the rural hospital. Donors in India were joined by supporters in the US and Canada as well as even the Canadian International Development Agency, and with their support, the Kabliji Hospital and Rural Health Centre was built.
Garland Around My Neck - The Story of Puran Singh of Pingalwara

After 1984, Patwant Singh began to delve into Sikh issues, editing and contributing the opening essay of Punjab: The Fatal Miscalculation, which was published in 1985. The Golden Temple, published in 1989, aimed to be the definitive volume on the Harimandir Sahib and show how central this "fountainhead of inspiration" has been to Sikhs since its construction.

Of Dreams and Demons is Patwant Singh’s 1994 memoir, which highlights the intersections that connect his personal history to India’s history in the 1930s to the 1990s. He returned to the topics of religion and history with his 1999 publication, The Sikhs, a survey of Sikh history beginning with the historical context of South Asia before the time of the Gurus and stretching to the present day.

Garland Around My Neck was published at the beginning of March, 2001. It the remarkable story of Bhagat Puran Singh of Pingalwara. The book was co-written with Harinder Kaur Sekhon as a tribute to the remarkable humanitarian, Puran Singh who dedicated his life to sewa in order to bring a more healthy and humane world into existence. It is the real life story of Puran Singh (1904-92), a barefoot colossus who cared for the despairing, disabled and destitute with his own hands restoring to them the dignity of human existence that an uncaring society had denied them. After 23 years of personally caring for ever-increasing numbers of people who were unable to take care of themselves, in 1957, Puran Singh expanded his service to society by establishing Pingalwara, which now serves over 1,000 residents. Unlike a hospital, which has the aim of treating the sick, Pingalwara was built for people--disabled, poor, mentally ill, with terminal diseases--who needed hope and a home. Patwant Singh and Harinder Kaur Sekhon relied on Punjab’s rich tradition of oral history in researching this book.

In 2005, Patwant Singh’s book The World According to Washington: An Asian View, was published. In this work, the author examines the often violent history of relations between western imperial powers and Asia, including East Asia, South Asia, and West Asia. His perspective is passionately critical of the destruction western interventionists have wrought in Asia, largely through valuing their own political and economic interests over the interests of Asians themselves--and by backing up these interests with firepower. First, Singh writes, there was a time when "Europeans considered the domination of Asia their birthright."

Now, incursions of US troops, US-made arms, and coercive development plans are the strategies of the world’s only remaining superpower. When Washington, DC and those in its pocket write history and cover current events, their perspective is so imbalanced that the general public in the western world is now ignorant of even the most basic facts about Asia. The World According to Washington was conceived as a corrective and fills in the missing histories of US involvement and interests in hotspots such as—Iran, Indonesia, Korea, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, India and Pakistan.

Patwant Singh has also written extensively for newspapers and magazines and has appeared on both radio and television. His articles have appeared in many publications including the New York Times, Canada’s Globe and Mail, the UK’s Independent. Patwant Singh gave a lecture on July 22, 2006 at the Rubin Museum of Art in New York in conjunction with, I See No Stranger: Early Sikh Art and Devotion, an exhibition jointly sponsored by the Sikh Foundation and the Sikh Art and Film Foundation.

His latest book and now sadly his last book was just launched a month and half ago in Washington DC on June 18 and 19, 2009 at The Library of Congress Asian Division as part of the National Sikh Conference, Taking Heritage into the 21st Century celebrations. "Empire of the Sikhs - The Life and Times of Maharaja Ranjit Singh" by Patwant Singh & Jyoti Rai is about the Sikh ruler, Maharaja Ranjit Singh (1780-1839). The book deals with this glorious history of the Sikhs and has been largely written out of accounts of India's past by British historians. It highlights the Maharaja as one of the most powerful and charismatic figures in Indian history; how he unified the warring chiefdoms of the Punjab into an extraordinary northern empire stretching the borders of Kabul and Tibet, built up a formidable army, kept the British in check to the south of his realm, and closed the Khyber Pass through which plunderers had for centuries poured into India.

The book describes how the Maharaja's "consummate humanity was unique among empire-builders. He gave employment to defeated foes, honored faiths other than his own, and included Hindus and Muslims among his ministers. Inspired by the principles of peaceful coexistence uniquely articulated by the Sikh Gurus and firm in upholding the rights of others, he was unabashed in exercising his own. His court was renowned for its splendor; he had around twenty wives, kept a regiment of 'Amazons' and possessed a stable of thousands of horses."

The authors of this first full-length biography in English make use of a variety of eye-witness accounts, from reports by Maratha spies at the Lahore Durbar to British parliamentary papers and travel accounts. The story ends with the controversial Anglo-Sikh Wars following Ranjit's death, which saw the fall of his empire in the hands of his successors whose internecine conflict was exploited by the British.

Other Works

He has written extensively on international affairs. The first book, India and the Future of Asia, was published in 1967 by Knopf in the US and Faber and Faber in the UK. It was also excerpted at length by the magazine, Life International.

In 1971 Hutchinson published The Struggle for Power in Asia. The French edition of this book, by Editions Andre Gerard-Marabout, was published in 1974. The title of the French Edition was Le Jeu Des Puissances En Asie.

He edited as well as wrote the opening essay for the book, Punjab: The Fatal Miscalculation, which was published in 1985. It mapped the manner in which Sikhs were alienated by the political miscalculations of the government in New Delhi in large part because of its inability to understand - or accept – their ideals and beliefs. For that reason, from around the early eighties till the late nineties, almost the entire focus of the books he wrote was on Sikhs and the Sikh religion.

The Golden Temple (a book on the fountainhead of the Sikh faith, the Gurudwara Harimandir Sahib in Amritsar) was published in 1989 by ET Publishing and Gurdwaras in India and Around the World in 1992 by Himalayan Books. (A Gurdwara is a Sikh place of worship).

Patwant Singh’s personal memoir, Of Dreams and Demons, was published in the UK in 1994 by Duckworth, and in India by Rupa. The US Edition was published in June 1995 by Kodansha Globe.

The Sikhs, was published in London by John Murray and in India by Harper Collins in March 1999 and in the US by Alfred Knopf and Canada by Random House in 2000. Doubleday published the paperback edition in the US, as did Rupa in India.

Patwant Singh writes extensively for newspapers and magazines and has chaired seminars, appeared on radio and television, and been interviewed on both on numerous occasions. Has has covered, in his columns and public appearances, a full range of subjects from national politics to international affairs, urbanism, the arts and other aspects of culture. His articles have appeared in The New York Times, Canada’s Globe and Mail, the UK’s Independent and elsewhere.


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Sikh writer Bhai Patwant Singh receives Prime Ministers support


Written by Roopinder Singh, Tribune India
Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh expressed grief over the demise of the noted writer, philanthropist and activist Bhai Patwant Singh on Sunday.
In his condolence message, the PM said: "Shri Patwant Singh had made a mark in the literary arena with his creative sensitivities. His vast knowledge on wide ranging issues along with his vision made a difference to innumerable human lives." ANI has reported "Shri Patwant Singh's legacy will continue to live through his writings, the Prime Minister added while offering his condolences to the members of the bereaved family," the PM's message further stated.
Patwant Singh passed away in the national capital following a cardiac arrest on Saturday (Aug.8). He was 84.

Singh, who died at his residence, is survived by wife Meher and adopted son Satjiv Singh Chahil.

Suave, handsome, charming and a truly multi-faceted personality, Patwant Singh was the polished face of the Sikhs in the later decades of his life. He had, by that time, already earned a formidable reputation by writing on international affairs, the environment, the arts, and as a TV and radio commentator as well as a magazine editor.

Patwant Singh was born in New Delhi on March 28, 1925. He was educated in Delhi, after which he worked on construction sites. An urge to communicate his thoughts, and influence things around him, led to his becoming the publisher of the periodical The Indian Builder, in 1953, with which he started a career in writing and publishing.

He was always immaculately turned out and loved the good things of life. His house, in one of the nicest areas of Lytton’s Delhi, was very well appointed, full of books on literature and art, and it was a delight to hear him speak impeccable English. No wonder, he was much in demand as an orator. He lived with his wife, Meher Dilshaw.

Design, multidisciplinary journal edited and published by him, was a trailblazer when it came out in 1957. He wrote in various Indian newspapers, and his views were also published in the US’s New York Times, Canada’s Globe and Mail and the UK’s Independent.
His first book, India and the Future of Asia (1967), had the 1962 Sino-Indian War as a backdrop. The Struggle for Power in Asia (1971) sought to counter the biased Western perceptions.

Patwant Singh was the main person responsible for building Kabliji Hospital and the Rural Health Centre, near Gurgaon. He had a heart attack in 1977, but resumed normal life soon after. It was after 1984 that he wrote on matters concerning the Sikhs and wrote the main article for the book Punjab: The Fatal Miscalculation (1985). The famous volume The Golden Temple (1989) was followed by Of Dreams and Demons (1994), a memoir. The Sikhs (1999).

Recommended Websites


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Sikhi Gems