The Sunset Club
Author: Khushwant Singh
Publishing Date: 2010
Number of Pages: 232
Price: Rs. 399
Old wood best to burn, old wine to drink, old friends to trust, and old authors to read.
Experience is like wine. It gets better with age and The Sunset Club is a very good example of that. Khushwant Singh, at 96 vividly documents a year (January 26 2009- January 26 2010) in the lives of three octogenarians: Pandit Preetam Sharma, Nawab Barkatulla Baig and Sardar Boota Singh. The trio meet each day at the sunset hour and sit together on a burra binch (after the three old men) facing the monument in the Lodhi Gardens. They exchange pleasantries and conversations talking about various topics ranging from politics, religion, nature, love, lust to sex – not exactly in the same order as they share golden moments of their sunset years together.
The book is beautifully organized into thirteen chapters; with each of the twelve months of the year having a chapter to itself. The flow of stories between the pandit, the nawab and the sardar beautifully evokes the many moods of Delhi in different seasons during different phases of each protagonist’s life. Though the plot itself might not be of much attraction to the reader of The Sunset Club, it is none the less a telling commentary on an ever changing India seen through the eyes of the elderly. The book is also a poignant though unabashed celebration of the experiences of being human; of the frailties of old age. Each protagonist is fleshed out with minute and sensitive detailing in terms of their appearance as well as their ideological standpoints. The Pandit with his Brahminical elitism, the Nawab with his mild demeanour and the robust and raunchy Boota Singh take the reader on a rollercoaster ride filled with laughter and silence as the everyday ordinary conversations provide an expose of faith and doubt, pathos and glee.
Singh’s trademark narrative style of using school-boy humour to provide an unapologetic critique of the society flavours this book too, He etches out the emotional states and physical realities of the three friends in tones that range from the lyrical to the crass given the very different personalities of each character. Singh’s depiction of the changes in Delhi, especially his portrait of the seasons with detailed observations of the weather, flora and fauna is a poetic highpoint of the text. For many, Boota Singh hold the focus of the book as a thinly guised pen-picture of Khushwant Singh himself with his love and celebration of the bottle, well-endowed women and Ghalib co-existing with a unhypocritical penchant for interspersing sentences and opinions with highly colloquial abuses .
The Sunset Club may not have gone down as Singh’s best literary offering with several reviewers; nevertheless its subtle finesse in mixing the various textures of the lives of the three protagonists through the various tones of writing is worthy of high appreciation. It does remain yet another gem of an offering from the maestro’s pen. A simple tale simply told, yet rich with metaphors and insights into our own selves, I can only sum this book up in one line: An extraordinary book about ordinary everyday lives.
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