What do old men think about? Do they have any thoughts at all? Or do they just seem perverse to others? I have always wondered why old women look motherly and nice and old men don’t. Is it because they are men at the end of the day? But it isn’t about the way they look. It is about what they think and what they say to each other. We all wonder and think about our old age and may be that is the reason I was so attracted to “The Sunset Club” by Khushwant Singh.
Let me be very honest at the onset: I had not read a single Khushwant Singh till “The Sunset Club” and partly because I had read excerpts and did not like the way he wrote. Till I read the synopsis of his latest book which revolves around a year in the lives of three eighty-year old men from different backgrounds and faiths, who gather for a chat and a walk every evening, as they watch the sun set over the Jami Masjid in Lodhi Gardens, a mosque whose dome resembles the bosom of a young woman, by sitting on the Boora Binch (the old men’s bench).
They discuss everything in that one year (the chapters speak of every month, the changing seasons and the changing views of the three men) – from sex to politics, to constipation and the infirmities of old age to love and the poets and poems of years gone by. Singh at the same time presents a different point of view in the book – it is very strong from a political perspective and it is clear that he has an opinion on almost everything and rightly so. May be that is why the book on the front page has a line underneath that states, “Analects of the year 2009”.
The book starts in January 2009 on Republic Day and ends exactly a year after – 26th of January 2010. I loved the way Mr. Singh presented his view on non-violence and it appears as the book begins:
“You may well ask why India, which prides itself as the land of Gandhi, the apostle of peace and non-violence, celebrates the national day with such a display of lethal arms and fighting prowess. The truth is, we Indians are full of contradictions: we preach peace to the world and prepare for war.”
The three men at the heart of the book are Boota Singh (My personally opinion is that he is based on the author or a clever stand-in) – the self-confessed agnostic who still believes in God. Pandit Preetam Sharma – a Hindu in every single way and an Oxford graduate at that, being a former education minister, ironically is the most ignorant of the three and finally we are introduced to Nawab Barkatullah Dehlavi, who is a Pathan and is in good shape even in this age. He is a well-to-do man with a rich inheritance and has nothing to worry about.
I loved reading the book except for the illness bits – I was scared and was wondering what would happen to me when I reached that age. It is not a big book; however it is big when it comes to ideas and opinions. It is a light read and unpretentious. Mr. Singh touches on like I said almost everything that happened in 2009 – right from Babri Masjid verdict to the 377 act being not recognized through the eyes and ears of his three protagonists.
The Sunset Club; Singh, Khushwant; Penguin Viking; Penguin India; Rs. 399