I have known Khushwant Singh for over thirty years and continue retaining the membership of his inner circle; the group of friends that gather around him in the evenings at the now famous Sujan Singh apartments. Its usually easy to bully Khushwant and extract information, but he had been obstinately secret about his latest offering, The Sunset Club. All he divulged was that the story is about the friendship of three old men in their eighties, a Hindu, Christian and Muslim. Sometimes, he asked me to verify some Urdu and Arabic phrases, saying he needed to get them right for his Muslim character. Reading the book, I discover how these three old friends spend their evenings together on a bench in Lodhi Gardens to exchange views on current events, their conversations punctuated with experiences of love, lust, scandal, religion and politics. It doesnt take long to figure out that Boota Singh the columnist, with his obsessive love for Urdu poetry, nature, single malt whisky, nonvegetarian jokes and women is none other than Khushwant himself.
Pandit Preetam Sharma, the educationist is modelled on his friend and neighbour Prem Kirpal. I knew him well and at one time he was Indias education secretary who did a brief diplomatic stint with a United Nations organization. Prem, a harmless, kind lovable old character would be in and out of Khushwants home for he lived in a flat in the same housing complex as the writer. Like Pandit Sharma, Prem wrote English poetry, publishing it himself at Khan Market and distributing the books amongst friends. I still have a signed copy of Prems poetry book. He died a bachelor, and similar to Pandit Sharma, Prems friends were convinced that he never really experienced a relationship with a woman.