The Biographical Dictionary of Delhi – Chandan Singh, b. Tehri, Uttarakhand, 1930
Author Khushwant Singh’s longtime cook.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Chandan Singh, 85, has a kind of sculpted face that won’t look out of place in a room filled with death masks of Roman emperors who had lived up to a great age.
Mr Singh was a longtime cook to author Khushwant Singh who died in March 2014 at the age of 99. He served the celebrated author for 60 years. The capital’s important people, who routinely attended Khushwant Singh’s famous evening soirees at his drawing room in the colonial-era Sujan Singh Park, had grown used to nibble at what Chandan Singh would made for them in the kitchen.
On Khushwant Singh’s last day on 20 March, Mr Singh had served him half a glass of fresh orange juice and half a buttered toast. He was making broccoli soup when the author of Train to Pakistan passed away at noon.
Born in 1930 in the Sirohi village, which falls in the mountainous Tehri district of present-day Uttarakhand, Mr Singh never had a formal education. He arrived in Delhi in the 1950s and started to work in the kitchen of Khushwant Singh’s father, Sobha Singh, who lived in a bungalow in central Delhi’s Janpath. A cook, Shona Singh, taught him the basics of cooking in the Singh household. Two years later, Sobha Singh’s wife, Sardarni Vira Bai, moved Mr Singh to her son’s home in Sujan Singh Park.
In his 2013 book Khushwantnama: The Lessons of My Life, the author wrote: “I like to vary my food. Chandan, my trusted cook of over fifty years, is now too old to try his hand at new recipes. So I keep handy menus of eateries that deliver home. I try them in turn—Chinese, Thai, French, Italian, south Indian.”
Mr Singh, who has two sons and ten grandchildren, has greatly reduced his work following Khushwant Singh’s death. However, he continues to live with wife, Sharda, in a small quarter in Sujan Singh Park. They are looked after by their late employer’s daughter, author Mala Dayal, who lives in the same neighborhood.
Mr Singh once told me that Khushwant Singh was particularly fond of his baked fish.
The kitchen secret