By John B Monteiro
Mangalore, Mar 20: The death of Sardar Khushwant Singh, at the age of 99 years, brings back to me memories of how he provided a window for Mangalorean Catholics to showcase their community in the then leading Indian magazine the venerable The Illustrated Weekly of India.
In the late 1960s he became the Editor of this magazine and started a series on Indian communities. My friend, Stany Rebello from Udupi-Kallianpur side, who was Marketing Manager of the then leading publishing and book-selling house, Allied Publishers, was a pushy Mangalorean. Having heard that Khushwant Sing had started a series on Indian communities, he went and met Khushwant and had him agree to feature Mangalorean Catholics. Next thing Stany did was to enlist my participation.
Apart from writing the lead article on Mangalorean Catholics, I did also assemble some photo-ops. My daughter, Primrose, now Managing Editor of Lonely Planet, and earlier of Femina, both of BBC-Times Group, had to be imported from Mangalore to Bombay before the 40-day embargo on newly delivered moms/babes from getting out of their maternal home where delivery has to take place traditionally, and was flown back, at plane fares which I could ill-afford then, to be baptised by a very handsome priest at Wodehouse Church, in Colaba, Bombay. The Times photographers, who are cited in the reproduced pages, did a good job.
Khushwant Singh was a rich man by himself, his father being a leading builder in Delhi. When in Bombay, he was my neihbour in Colaba, my Strand House flat being next to Arthur Bunder Road, leading to Radio Club and the B0mbay harbour at Gateway of India. In the building where he stayed on the second floor, we had our friend, John D’Souza’s family, since migrated to Australia, on the terrace flat. Occasionally, Khushwant would go to their flat and would have only Scotch. But, John, and his wife Tresa, didn’t mind as he was in ship-connected business and getting hold of Scotch was not an issue for him.
Down the same road, across the Colaba Causway, lived his son bachelor son Rahul, next o the petrol pump, retired editor of Reader’s Digest. It is interesting to note that this son and I competed, among others, for a Readers Digest scholarship in USA. Parameshwar, the doyen of advertising fraternity and the backbone of Reader’s Digest in India, was the deciding factor and my friend, Piloo Narielwala , another ad pioneer of the day, early 1960s, said that despite my considerable journalistic output, I had no chance against the Establishment.
While working at Illustrated Weekly of India, with the India’s communities series and a dash of sex, then a rare thing, the circulation of Illustrated Weekly skyrocketed only to decline under the later editorship of M V Kamath and even Pritish Nandi. I was an occasional contributor even with these editors – before its closure for good.
It is interesting to note that Khushwant walked the 3/4 km distance from his Colaba flat to his office at Boribunder, also Victoria Terminus (VT) and now Chatrapathi Shivaji Terminus (CST) in a sweat T-shirt.