The Sunset Club by Khushwant Singh
At 96, Khushwant Singh seems to be writing books at a faster pace then ever. This is second book in less than six months. The books are getting smaller, subjects crisper and you can sense the hurry to finish the book before it is too late. There is also an increased focus on the author himself and his reflections on life.
Very aptly named, this book is about a year in the life of three friends in late eighties, who have been meeting at a particular bench in Lodi gardens for more than 40 years. Author takes you through the 12 months of Delhi, through the conversation between three of them. He describes each month with its peculiarities like the flowers that bloom, the weather or the festivals and events that take place during that time. Three friends are Pandit Sharma – a hindu, a bureaucrat and a bachelor, Nawab Barakatullah – a muslim who practices Unani medicine and Boota Singh – a sardar with an uncanny resemblance to the author himself. The other two characters also seem to be very closely inspired from some real characters that author knew well and enjoyed spending time with. The end of the book also indicates the fact that the author misses these friends of his and this very fact may have triggered writing of this book.
With Lodi garden and the bench opposite it being the locus of the story, the author talks about the friends and their every day meetings. They share secrets both real and imaginary along with the uninhibited views about everything and everyone. The religious differences are discussed and debated openly and I found the views very representative of the communities they represent. If it is Khushwant, there has to be sexual fantasies, and the friends obviously talk about their juicy pasts again some real and some imagined.
Like one of my elderly friends said, there is so much sex in the book that you cannot really gift it to anyone. If you can skip that part of the book, it gives you a good glimpse of life of senior citizens who have been somebody in their younger days and who now live in the elite spaces around Lodi garden. Lodi garden comes alive in the narration, along with all the seasons of Delhi. Author also comes across as a keen observer of nature and seems to know the local flora and fauna pretty well. A chapter devoted to each of the calendar months takes you through the news, views and weather of that month and the thoughts of three protagonists. Incidentally, I went to Lodi garden just after reading this book, and I could see it much more there because of this book.
Like Mrs. Prime minister says, this book is quintessential Khushwant Singh – hilarious, open and scandalous. Read it if you like the storyteller Khushwant Singh.
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