There are editors and editors. There are those who are handpicked minions of corporate and ruling establishments, who have worked years to faitfhully serve their adopted masters (or mstresses), and in the process ensured a steep and steady rise in their own incomes. These dominate the media today. But then there is the fast vanishing tribe of those who have worked long years in the field, risen to become professionals with values and ethcis forming part of their work ethos. They are largely men (and women though in the partriarchal world of journalism women are not kept in their place) of integrity, independent and refusing to be pushed around where news and facts are concerned.

Nihal Singh was a proud member of the last category, an editor who never compromised, and hence despite his amazing work experience was sidelined by those who control the media today. He was an editor of various newspapers during his years, The Statesman and Indian Express being two noticeables, but more than that he was India’s first foreign correspondent who did not write from his chair in Delhi but travelled the world, to conflict zones, reporting with zeal the situation as it was. His stories made the headlines as the media valued him in those days, and those are years that even till yesterday---as now he is no more---brought a glint of passion in his eyes.

I first got to know him when I joined the Indian Express as a green horn reporter and he was one of the editors in the galaxy that Ram Nath Goenka liked to collect around him. Unlike Kuldip Nayar he was reserved, and kept very much to himself, but was also accessible with a warm smile for the rookie who did knock and go into his room. He followed foreign policy reporting with a hawks eye and did not hesitate to send copy back with a little note every now and again. I will never forget a little note I got from him of someone’s rebuttal to my story with a ‘for your edification’. I had to look up the word in the dictionary at the time, it was so rarely used. And was bubbling over with anger, made sharper by the fact that I knew he was right, and the letter did have a point of view.

Nihal Singh never one to write on politics, or at least not in words that easily made his position understood, became more and more disgusted with politics and the servile attitude of the media since 2014. We would meet often and he spoke, of course in measured tones, of how the institution of the editor was now compromised and the profession jeopardised, with his choice phrases reserved for the current government of the day. Always an editor who believed in keeping governments and political parties more at arms length, Singh wondered at a media that was sitting on the lap of the government to do its every bidding.

It was so refreshing talking to him. He followed a regular scheduled., enjoyed his two tots of whisky every evening before an early dinner, and was a regular at the Saturday Club---an exclusive group of senior civil servants, military officers, academics (all retired). He had a fixed chair next to where the speaker would sit, and usually started the discussion that followed the lecture with a one sharp question, incisive and penetrative. He would always use the paper napkin on the table to sketch a caricature of the speaker of that week, never flattering, but yes capturing the broad profile.

And this piece would not be complete without mentioning Singh’s debonair style, his old world British charm that made him a favourite with the ladies. Chivalry at its best!

Nihal Singh was the first editor I went to when we conceived the idea of The Citizen, He loved it, his only worry being how would I a print journalist adapt to the new technology. But from the word go he was the big support for us as we got the team together and started the venture without funds to speak of. He was the only journalist who never asked me about the funding knowing perhaps there was none, but always about how we were doing, and what more could we do. He accepted the responsibility of being on our Advisory Board and did not miss a meeting, being present at the one late last year, frail, quieter than usual, but there for the moral support he know we needed.

He was critical, he would tell me in person what more we could do, but the conversation was always about content not about money. We are so glad in The Citizen that we were able to honour Nihal Singh last year with a Lifetime Achievement Award. We had thought of postponing it for this year, but good sense prevailed, as it would have been too late and a regret that could not have been overcome.

Rest in peace Nihal Singh. You have gone at a time when Independent Media needed you more than ever. But you have your innings, and you served the cause more than most.

Lifetime Achievement Award (English): Surendra Nihal Singh is a columnist and journalist, and former editor of The Statesman. He was a foreign correspondent in Moscow, London, the United States, and Indonesia. He won the prestigious International Editor of the Year Award in New York for his role in opposing Indira Gandhi’s emergency in mid-1975. His publications include The Yogi and the Bear: A Study of Indo-Soviet Relations; Ink in my veins:A Life in Journalism; and The Gang and 900 million: A China Diary.