Biography of Khushwant Singh

Khushwant Singh was an Indian author, lawyer, journalist, diplomat, and politician known for his provocative, honest, and witty writing. Singh was born in Hadali, British India (now present day Pakistan) in 1915. His exact day of birth is unknown, as births and deaths weren’t recorded in his time, but February 2nd, a date his father made up, is commonly used. Singh came from a wealthy and well-connected Sikh family. His father was a builder and contractor, and his uncle was a former governor of Punjab.

In 1920 Singh started school at the Delhi Modern School and continued there until 1930, after which he went to Government College in Lahore, St. Stephen’s College in Delhi, and then King’s College London. While studying law at King’s College, he met his future wife, Kawal Malik. He began formally practicing law in 1939, and worked at the Lahore Court for eight years until the Partition of India in 1947. The splitting of the Indian subcontinent into India and Pakistan led Singh to relocate his family to Delhi. Once there, he joined the Indian Foreign Service for the newly independent country, and began his career as a diplomat.

Singh’s experiences during and after the Partition of India provided the material for his most celebrated and famous work, Train to Pakistan. He began writing short stories while doing diplomatic work in London and Ottawa, Canada, and his first work, The Mark of Vishnu and Other Stories, was published in 1950 in London. Train to Pakistan wouldn’t come until later, in 1956. In addition to writing his own fiction and nonfiction works, Singh also translated several Urdu language fiction and Sikh scripture texts into English.

In 1951 Singh began his career in journalism at All India Radio, and in 1956 became an editor. He founded and edited Yojana, a government journal, and would go on to edit numerous popular publications, including the Hindustan Times. His satirical column in the Hindustan Times, “With Malice Towards One and All,” was one of the most popular columns of the day.

In 1974 India’s president awarded Singh the Padma Bhushan, the third highest civilian award in India, for his distinguished service to his country. Politically, Singh was originally a strong supporter of Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, and was a member of the Indian upper level of parliament from 1980 to 1986. However, in 1984 Singh returned the Padma Bhushan in protest of the government attack on a Sikh place of worship in Amritsar, India. Following this and other anti-Sikh attacks, Singh’s faith in the Indian political system was deeply shaken, but he still remained resolute in his hope for a democratic and fair India. He was awarded the second highest civilian award in India, the Padma Vibhushan, in 2007.

As a writer, Singh’s strengths lay in his candid political commentary, exceptional social observations, incisive secularism, and satirical style of writing. In July 2000 the Sulabh International Social Service Organization awarded him their “Honest Man of the Year” award for his courage and honesty as well as the humor in his writing. Singh published his last book, The Good, The Bad and The Ridiculous, in 2013, after which he retired from writing. The book was a critique of religion, particularly its practice in India, and received much acclaim. One year later, in March of 2014, Singh died in New Delhi, India. Per his request some of his ashes were buried in his place of birth in present-day Pakistan.

Study Guides on Works by Khushwant Singh