He was my maverick editor through nine years (June 1969-July 1978). He took the circulation of The Illustrated Weekly of India soaring from 49,000 to 398,000. Some of our finest journalists flowered under his avuncular editorial care: Bachi Kanga-Karkaria, M J Akbar, Bikram Vohra, ‘Jiggs’ Kalra, Anikendranath Sen, Ramesh Chandran, Vithal C Nadkarni, to name a few.

Khushwant Singh
Khushwant Singh

For our 1970 Independence Day issue cover he commanded me to get Lata Mangeshkar to tie a rakhi on Dilip Kumar. Next, it could be Sunil Gavaskar on the cover, even Shakila Banu Bhopali. He was at once unpredictable and unputdownable. Alongside the personable Fatma Zakaria, he had two such towering intellectuals as R Gopal Krishna and Qurratulain Hyder serving under him.

He opened out The Weekly as no editor did. In sweatshirt, he entered office, sharp, at 9.10 am, spreading his corduroyed legs right across the editor’s table. Then, holding a ruled notepad in his lap, he wrote, by hand, every word he penned, not least ‘The Editor’s Page’. (It was Mario who put the Sardar inside that bulb.)

He made The Weekly the most discussed magazine in India and abroad. Even while he steadfastly supported Indira Gandhi and Sanjay Gandhi, his journal sold 375,000 copies a week through the 19 months of the emergency in India. ‘Sanjay and His Maruti’ was one of his more successful covers. This after his having refused, pointblank, to bow to the government censor’s diktat.

He refused to wilt in the face of the Sunday Times, London, labelling him as “another apologist for Mrs Gandhi.” We then counted circulation rises and falls by the 10,000, as the early-1972 Bangladesh war issue touched 398,000.

In his care, The Weekly became a cosmos of India as the world’s finest authors wrote readily for him. He promoted me as his assistant editor. He gave us youngsters on his staff total freedom, encouraging us to be as irreverent, as hard-hitting as he himself was.

He shocked the sensibilities of conservative India with his focus on nudes. Side by side, most controversially, he turned the accent on the castes and communities of India. He accomplished all this while uncaringly leaving office by 2.30 pm each day. He never worked at being editor, he just glided through the job.

His distinguishing trait was that he left you to perform. Yet there was the devil to pay if a particular issue failed to sell. He got a chart placed behind his back reading: “The editor’s answer to his critics.” That chart always showed an upward trend in circulation. Maybe he had his failings. Yet he never knew failure. He worshipped success and swore by it.

He swore at the world and got away with it. He was the most hated and yet the most loved editor of India. He set the journalistic tone for a whole new generation of editors led by Vinod Mehta. By defying all conventions of journalism all the way.

At the end of the most eventful years in our lives, he found himself sacked by a three-line note, one July 1978 afternoon. Whereupon he just picked up his umbrella and walked off, saying: “Goodbye, Raju, thank you for suffering me for nine years.”