Patwant Singh 1925-2009

Patwant Singh, the well-known writer, journalist, commentator, and activist, passed away on 7 August at the age of 84. We were fortunate to have him at the meeting of the Lutyens Trust in London in late May of this year, where his legendary wit and his thoughtful insight were both very much in evidence.

Patwant was a member of one of Delhi’s oldest families, and had a lifelong love affair with his city. He began his public career in the early 1950s as publisher of The Indian Builder, but really began to hit his stride in 1957, when he created the influential and pioneering Design, journal, a magazine that focused on interdisciplinary discourse in the fields of architecture, art, urban planning, and both graphic and industrial design. His growing realization that the problems with urbanization in India were basically political led him into writing on public opinion and policy.

By the late 1960s, Patwant had begun writing a series of books that reflected his wide-ranging interests in power, politics, culture and history, as well as his devout belief in the Sikh faith. The twelve major publications that resulted include the beautiful The Golden Temple (Time Books International 1989), The World According to Washington (Common Courage Press 2005), and The Second Partition: Fault-Lines in India’s Democracy (Hay House 2007). His last book, Empire of the Sikhs: The Life and Times of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, was released at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. on 18 June this year.

In addition to his writing, Patwant was a lifelong philanthropist. He established a rural hospital and health centre in the state of Haryana in the late 1970s. Along with his wife, Meher, the operation and funding of this facility remained a vital interest. He was a passionate advocate of heritage preservation concerns, especially in Delhi, and participated enthusiastically in the programmes of the Lutyens Trust.

Those of us who were fortunate enough to know him cherished his wit, his elegance, and his lifelong commitment to the causes in which he believed. The Lutyens Trust extends its deepest sympathies to his wife, Meher, and will continue to be inspired by his vision.