Wednesday, 1 April 2020

Khushwant`S Swan Song?

Updated: January 15, 2011 3:16 pm

Like him or not, controversial or not, Khushwant Singh has an iconic status on the Indian literary horizon. His work as a writer of fiction has somehow always appealed to me more than his other endeavours as a penman, vastly popoular as they are. One of his earlier works,“I shall not hear the Nightingale” was one of the best works of Indian fiction I have read in a long time.

                The author who has completed 96 autumns assures us that this will be his last book, a statement I am not too sure about.

                The volume is based in Lutyens Delhi and has three octogenarian protagonists a Hindu, Pandit Preetam Sharma, a Muslim, Nawab Baraktullah Baig Dehlavi, and a Sikh, Boota Singh(who is very clearly a not to well disguised Khushwant in his mannerisms and way he expresses his ideas, any even not to frequent reader of his columns will have little difficulty in recognising him). The novel begins on Republic Day 2009 and ends exactly one year later.

                Khushwant still retains the ability to keep you reverted to your chair, his interesting gossip through the exchanges of the three old foggies is entertaining throughout. Every evening the stalwarts converge after their constitutional is over, in front of the “Bara Gumbad” or big dome in the Lodi Gardens. Khushwant observes in his trademark style “You can gape at it for hours on end and marvel its likeness to a virgin’s breast”.

                Apart from a lively disscusion on current affairs through the year, the book gives adequate coverage to subjects as diverse as the flora and fauna of Delhi, religion, and various other aspects. Also the author’s views on futility of rituals, our lack of civic sense, and population control. Some of his exploits with the fair sex I have read earlier, probably in his autobiography, but Khushwant is Khushwant ever the incorrigible author, who cannot help entertaining his readers even at the cost of repetition. You come across peccadilloes in Chawari bazaar as well as in Europe and England as memory of the old days come larking back.

                Nobody is left in doubt that he is a great Ghalib fan, and you are treated to generous helpings of the bard’s verse. I have read elsewhere that he keeps Ghalib on his bedside table, a habit also attributed to one of the characters in the book. But it must be noted that Mir Taqi Mir and Thomas Moore are given adequate representation.

By Arvinder Singh

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