SHAM LAL: Rest In Peace

sans serif records with deep regret the passing away of Sham Lal, a 22-carat man of letters, on Friday, 23 February 2007. He was 95 years old.

Born in 1912, Sham Lal took a master’s degree in English literature in 1933, joined the Hindustan Times in 1934 and worked there for 12 years. After a three-year stint at the now-defunct Indian News Chronicle, he joined The Times of India and was its editor from 1967 to 1978.

His weekly literary column ‘Life and Letters’ was the first to introduce many Indian writers to scores of writers and thinkers who left their mark on post-war literature and social thought.

“The brilliant Sham Lal was as deeply read in modern Western thought as in the philosophical traditions of India,” Octavio Paz said of Sham Lal.


In 2005, Sugata Srinivasaraju interviewed Sham Lal for the 10th anniversary special issue of Outlook magazine.

Do you think our media has become frivolous because it has started focusing on a wider and younger audience?

There is nothing wrong in catering to a wider public with a short attention span and which is not interested in understanding difficult issues related to foreign or economic policy. Nor is there anything wrong in papers supporting one political party or the other. This inevitably reflects divisions in our society. But the papers also have a duty to address those interested in public affairs or those involved in shaping policy. It is important for them to be well-informed of not only big changes at home but also the forces that are bringing about a global transformation. The trouble with Indian media is that by reading papers or watching the coverage of events on TV, one just doesn’t get a proper idea of the event or the deeper changes the society is undergoing.

Read the full interview here: “Why can’t we invest to gain expertise on, say, China?”


  1. Sham Lal was part of almost daily conversation at TOI Mumbai when I joined that newsroom in November of 1996, a good 18 years after his tenure as editor.

    Part of his legend was that even as his colleagues preferred to gossip during the noon break, Sham Lal would head to the Asiatic Society library at Horniman Gardens for his daily fix of lunchtime reading. My friend and mentor Ashok Mahadevan, the Reader’s Digest editor, is a good source of other Sham Lal anecdotes.

    My condolences to the family of this intellectual giant.

  2. Upon learning of Sham Lal’s death at Sans Serif, I looked up other news sources. Here’s a particularly evocative piece that I found about the man: TOI’s Speaking Tree column, by Kailash Vajpeyi.

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