Book Review: The Sunset Club

Aman Kanth

Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.
Mark Twain

At 96, Khushwant Singh is one of the most prolific writers of India, whose vast expansive knowledge, acerbic wit and dry humour elicits both disbelief and admiration by the literati.

A self-proclaimed last novel by Khushwant Singh, ‘The Sunset Club’ is the tale of three members of the Sunset Club and friends for over forty years, now in their eighties: Pandit Preetam Sharma, Nawab Barkatulla Baig and Sardar Boota Singh, who meet each day at the sunset hour and sit together on a bench in Lodhi Gardens, exchanging their views on each passing day, talking about everything from politics, religion, love, lust and sex – not exactly in the same order.

Set in picturesque Delhi, the novel traces the life of three octogenarians – from 26th January 2009 to 26th January 2010, where Khushwant sketches his characters with utmost precision, right from their physiognomy, idiosyncrasies and fantasies of old age, thereby making ‘The Sunset Club’ a compelling read.

The book celebrates cyclical nature in all its hues, while chronicling the life of three old friends and a sharp portrayal of a fast changing India.

‘The Sunset Club’ is almost lyrical and poignant when it touches upon the infirmities and lonesomeness of old age. However, the moment it borders gloominess, Khushwant infuses lighter moments through the lustful details of Sardar Boota Singh, a doubting Thomas, an aging lothario and a man of easy virtue, who takes great pride in drinking, swearing, philandering and recounting his sexual conquests. Sardar Boota Singh is one big lusty fellow for whom even the Bara Gumbad of Lodhi Gardens bears a striking resemblance to a virgin’s breast.

At times, one feels that Sardar Boota Singh is the doppelganger of Khushwant Singh.

However, at the end of the novel, one finds Sardar Boota Singh in the rarest of rare human emotions. One gets struck by pathos when Sardar Boota Singh opens his telephone book and crosses out the name of the now deceased Pandit Preetam Sharma and Nawab Barkatulla Baig with the date, month and year of their passing away and also adds his own date, month and year in the telephone book.

The beauty of this moment is captured in the faith and doubt of Sardar Boota Singh, who finally pulls himself out of despondency and goes to the Lodhi Gardens, occupying the bench all by himself and gazing at the Bara Gumbad, once again resembling to the fully rounded bosom of a young woman. It’s the celebration of beginning and end, where life comes to a full circle.

‘The Sunset Club’ is another frank and honest tour de force from Khushwant Singh, a tale of life - lived and loved at one’s own terms. ‘The Sunset Club’ may not be the greatest book written by Khushwant Singh, but it definitely celebrates the zest for life.

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