India Insight

Writer Khushwant Singh dies at 99

Khushwant Singh, one of India’s best-known writers and columnists, died of a heart attack on Thursday. He was 99.

Singh was the founder-editor of Yojana and served as the editor of the Illustrated Weekly of India, the National Herald and the Hindustan Times. He practised as a lawyer before moving to journalism and writing, eventually authoring as many as 85 books.

In his last days, Singh had been interested in political developments ahead of the general election in April, his son Rahul told reporters in New Delhi on Thursday.

“Congress, Aam Aadmi Party, BJP [Bharatiya Janata Party], who all are contesting, such discussions used to happen,” Rahul said. “He did not talk much but listened.”

“Train to Pakistan” (1956) was among Singh’s most popular novels. “Truth, Love and a Little Malice”, his autobiography, was published in 2002.

Comic books try new ways to keep Indian readers hooked

For 11-year-old Jahanabi Prasad, it’s a busier month than usual. After eight hours at school, she returns home for a quick lunch before attending classes for her annual exams a few weeks away. Still, she always finds time to read her favourite comic book series.

“I like Tinkle … Its characters are funny. And the stories are nice. Unlike regular books, it is colourful too, easy to understand,” said Prasad, a resident of Noida, a suburb east of Delhi.

Some 600 kilometres to the south in the tourist city of Udaipur, 12-year-old Bhaskar Sinha buys comic books every two weeks. His favourite character is Shikari Shambu — a bumbling, faint-hearted jungle explorer who ends up trapping animals on the loose and saving people’s lives by accident.

In India, grassroots comics rule where media cannot reach

Devender Ojha was a student in high school when he created a comic strip about a headmaster who used to turn up to class drunk. The teenager made copies of his work and displayed them in his village in Uttarakhand. It wasn’t long before it got noticed.

“After that, that headmaster was sacked from the school and new headmaster came there,” said Ojha, who is now 24 and has turned his adolescent doodling into a career as a newspaper cartoonist.

Ojha was trained at a World Comics India workshop and is one of thousands of volunteers working with villagers in India’s heartland. They organise workshops where people learn to draw and depict topical issues — such as genetically modified cotton or radiation exposure — on A4 sheets joined together to make four-panel strips. The organization’s founder, Sharad Sharma, describes them as “grassroots comics“.

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