Saturday, January 19, 2019

Posted at: Apr 17, 2018, 1:24 AM; last updated: Apr 17, 2018, 1:24 AM (IST)OBITUARY: S NIHAL SINGH (1929-2018)

Media loses another giant

Media loses another giant
S Nihal Singh (1929-2018)

Rami Chhabra

It is hard to find the words to describe a colleague and friend who in the last few decades became more of a family member, as he lies awaiting his last rites, blood congealing cold in the veins from which ink freely flowed till just a couple of weeks ago.

Nihal’s love for journalism — so ably documented in his memoir ‘Ink in My Veins’ — was such that even between the frequent bouts in hospital with several surgeries since last December, he could and did bounce off trenchant pieces of criticism, one on the Prime Minister, his particular bete noire, as secularism and freedom of speech was the creed by which Nihal lived and his book “Modi” counterpointed. “I was so incensed with what Modi is saying that I just had to write,” he cheerily told me, sounding so much the better for having done so. 

As a person, Nihal was always a poised gentleman, gracious, well-mannered, punctual to a fault. But in professional life, his political analysis and prose, concise and precise, knocked holes in super-flated political egos with a delight — that he loved to recall with equal delight.

I first met Nihal 61 years ago when I walked into The Statesman News Editor’s room with a clutch of stories to sell while he, then still an intrepid staff reporter bored with his daily assignments, was selling the News Editor the line that there were no celebrities in town to cover!  I next encountered him — at my husband’s baraat as best man, alongside the late Inder Malhotra and Bikram Singh. 

Nihal’s days of glory came as he moved from reporter to foreign correspondent — Islamabad, Moscow, Singapore, Paris — then as Resident Editor of The Statesman in which capacity he mainly took the flak of blank spaces and much more as the newspaper refused to be cowed down by the censors during Emergency that was to cover The Statesman with glory that CR Irani, Statesman’s then Managing Director, largely appropriated. 

Nihal Singh received the International Editor of the Year Award in New York in 1978.  But he soon  moved onto The Indian Express and later to try and bring out The Indian Post. 

His travels across the world had already made him a much sought after foreign affairs expert. Wearying of the slender offerings the Indian press gave him, he went off to edit the Khaleej Times in Dubai, “so that I can retire to write books in India and drink good whisky with my friends.”  

His wife died while he was still in Dubai and he returned home and gamely looked for a suitable senior vantage point from which to say his piece. But the media had changed by then and those with “the ability to remain true to oneself” were not in demand anymore. It is to Nihal Singh’s credit he did not let this frustrate him. He gamely wrote his books — nearly a dozen in all — and his columns and the occasional TV panel. 

He remained a true friend, frequently visiting us as my husband ailed over the last few years, listening gravely and with respect to all that was said around him and recounting his own stories with his characteristic economy of words and dry humour, relishing his single malt.

And at the IIC Saturday Discussion group, where he had the chair next to a chair reserved for him after another dear friend Krishen Katyal passed away, he always asked a succinct single question and quietly presented the speaker with an on-the-spot sketch: a talent lesser than his gift for words but which he liked to pursue as diligently.


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