I first met Khushwant Singh in 1969 when I was working on my notorious Bombay: A Private View—a book which my mother hated. Khushwant gave me two long interviews. When I asked him what he did during his time in London, he said, “Fuc***g, cheese and wine.” That wonderful sentence became the title of the chapter I devoted to him in the book.
Later, in 1974, when I was editing Debonair and he was flourishing at The Illustrated Weekly, we discovered a new bond: the nude centrespread in the magazine. As a personal favour to him, I would send him advance copies of Debonair so that he could savour the delights of that page first. Khushwant greatly appreciated the gesture and we became lifelong friends. He also became my guru, although we had a couple of disagreements.
If there was an editor in India who influenced me, it was Khushwant Singh. He educated me to value intelligent controversy, which led to intelligent debate and dissent. Provoke the reader, wake him up, he would say. People sometimes compliment me on the lively ‘Letters Page’ in all the publications I have edited. The truth is readers love attacking not just the paper but its editor too. Khushwant taught me to take the criticism gracefully, because letters which take on the editor are invariably more entertaining, better written and closer to the truth. I grasped this wisdom swiftly.