NEW DELHI: Khushwant Singh died here on Thursday, shutting the doors on generations of Pakistanis to the happy hours he would find himself celebrating in their company at his landmark home in Delhi — as an iconic wit, writer, raconteur, Urdu buff and a man who always wished their country well. He was 99.

As a self-declared agnostic born to Sikh parents, Singh left an epitaph for the way future generations should see him: “Here lies one who spared neither man nor God/ Waste not your tears on him, he was a sod/ Writing nasty things he regarded as great fun/ Thank the Lord he is dead, this son of a gun.”

Unstoppable even at 95, he wrote the novel ‘The Sunset Club’ about a group of pensioners. Before he stopped writing ‘With Malice to One and All’ two years ago, Singh had used the book as the obituarist of his generation with personal reminiscences about the good, the bad and the ridiculous who were departing this world. These recollections were set among the regular fare of pointed political and social criticism.

He was awarded the Padma Bhushan in 1974 but returned it in 1984, in protest against “Operation Bluestar”, or the storming of the Golden Temple in Amritsar by the Indian Army under then prime minister Indira Gandhi. He had controversially defended Mrs Gandhi’s Emergency of 1975-77, when opposition leaders were jailed or punished saying protest had to be suppressed if it turned violent.

“He liked to call a spade a spade. He hated hypocrisy, fundamentalism, and was a gentle person,” son Rahul Singh told NDTV. “He was fine and passed away peacefully at home on Thursday,” his daughter Mala Singh said. He was cremated at the Lodhi electric crematorium.

Born on February 2, 1915 at Hadali, now in Pakistan, Singh wrote classics like ‘Train to Pakistan’, ‘I Shall Not Hear the Nightingale’ and ‘Delhi’.

He was a lawyer-turned-diplomat-turned-writer. His autobiography, ‘Truth,Love and a Little Malice’, was published by Penguin Books in 2002.

He was editor of several literary and news magazines, including the Illustrated Weekly of India as well as two newspapers, the Hindustan Times and the National Herald, through the 1970s and 1980s.

In real life, Khushwant Singh was nothing like Mario Miranda’s caricature that went with his column, a man whose creature comforts were a bottle of Scotch, a girlie magazine and a pile of books.

He had sided immoderately with Sanjay Gandhi during the Emergency, yet returned his Padma Bhushan in protest against the armed assault on the Golden Temple in 1984, and castigated L.K. Advani for sowing hatred with the Rathyatra.

In 2007, he was awarded with the Padma Vibhushan.

“Widely syndicated, collected in book form and read by hundreds of thousands, the column was perhaps more influential than Singh’s other work.

“He will certainly be remembered for academic and creative writing like a ‘History of the Sikhs’ and ‘Train to Pakistan’ but he loved the reach of media and used jokes to soften up the reader for a dose of subversive commentary,” The Indian Express wrote.

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