In the company of Delhi’s living landmark.
[Text and pictures by Mayank Austen Soofi]
There are two kinds of Delhiwallas. Those who have been to Khushwant Singh’s living room and those who have not. The Delhi Walla has been to Apartment no. 49-E, Sujan Singh Park.
However, the author of Train to Pakistan, it must bes aid, could not overwhelm me with his greatness. He hardly registered my presence. Only once, when I refused an offer of whiskey, did he turn to ‘check me out’. “Please poke around in the refrigerator for some fruit juice”, he said and turned back his attention to his whiskey-drinking guests.
These guests, of course, are a lucky bunch of people. They are usually puffed up with pride for managing to sneak inside one of the city’s most hoity-toity addresses. Most are authors, journalists, bureaucrats and industrialists. Some of these journalists, as Mr Singh complained to a friend, pass off these evening chats as exclusive interviews in the next day’s newspapers. The author now requests regular visitors not to bring along their friends. He says he is very old and finds it exhausting to make new acquaintances.
The guests don’t mind. Elegant and soft-spoken, they talk loudly for Mr Singh’s benefit since he is said to be nearing 100 and can no longer hear clearly. But they lower down their voices while talking among themselves. When this happens, Mr Singh looks amusingly from one face to another or just focus on his whiskey.
There floats an unmistakable whiff of unofficial hierarchy in the drawing room. Sheela Reddy, the book editor of Outlook magazine, stands out as the prima donna. A daily presence in the durbar, she is often chosen for the honour of measuring the peg for our author. Other regulars include a string of important Pakistanis visiting the town. They are summoned to Sujan Singh Park to brief the author with the latest on Lahore’s society gossip.
But as the clock strikes half past eight, everyone gets up to leave. Mr Singh, a morning person, is very particular about his time. The rule does not spare even Ms Reddy. Out goes everyone.