The latest offering from the celebrated grand old man of Indian-English literature, ‘The Sunset Club’ is a nonagenarian’s rant about his intolerable indigestion and insatiable desires! As a hardback of over 200 pages, it was a light read and mostly passable.
It is a simple story of three old men who meet every evening at Lodhi Gardens in Delhi, discussing various occurrences in the country. Drawing almost idiotic caricatures of a Hindu Brahmin (Sharma), a Muslim (Baig) and a Sikh (Boota Singh), Khushwant Singh wavers too much between the important political happenings in the country and the old men’s bowel movements! Along with these three old men, there are drivers who sit down when their masters sit on the bench, there is a sister who can cook no good, a wife who disapproves of her husband’s alcoholism and such others. All caricatures, nonetheless.
To his credit, Khushwant Singh does take the reader through various important happenings of the year. Beginning with the Republic Day celebrations, he goes past Tata Nano, Maoism, Congress, BJP, Ayodhya verdict, Ramzan, Diwali, Christmas, Hinduism, Islam, Sikhism etc along the climatic changes in Delhi. Intertwined in these incidences are also the old men’s s*xual exploits in their eighty-odd years of existence.
What remains with me of the three characters is not much I’d like to retain in memory. At the end of the book, much beyond all the important happenings in Indian history, seen through the eyes of three ‘aam aadmis’ (may be not! They are rich and seem to be distinguished. Nevertheless) I am only left with the bad taste of these old men’s indigestion. I am not particularly someone who cringes at such things, having high tolerance for literary freedom. But this book crossed all limits. Reading over and over about Boota Singh digging himself to relieve himself is not a pleasant experience. Worse is their s*xual experiences with White women. The pages about all men having nothing else on their minds other than sticking it into someone is unbelievably tasteless. The explanation of some women showing off her sanitary pad and doing Yoga upside down in front of Boota Singh is downright gross.
Even if we could let this pass as Khushwant Singh’s style, there is a more pertinent issue in this book: The flimsy treatment of all the occurrences in the year. Sharma and Baig arguing about revenge for revenge between Hindus and Muslims is naive to say the least. All the issues are analysed at a superficial level and all problems over-simplified. But I must mention that it is downright cocky and righteous, leading the reader to think in a certain way!
A chronicler of our times claims the blurb (rather proud, I think) that is behind a book that captures the uniquely Indian narrow-mindedness, reiterates myths and perpetuates stereotypes like no other. As though he has expected this kind of reviews, Khushwant Singh offers his ‘apologia’ right in the beginning. All said, if this is the chronicle of my time, I’d be worried about my children reading it!