Many a times in order to taste the cuisine of a place people order a thaali. A thaali has a variety of components and give an overall picture about a type of cuisine. 99 is an extremely tasty thaali which gives the reader a taste of a literary genius of contemporary time, Khushwant Singh.
Though I was introduced to Khushwant Singh’s writing with 'A mark of Vishnu' when I was in class X, I read a little of the famous 'Train to Pakistan' later. 99, published on his birth anniversary, is Alephs tribute to Mr Singh and has 99 pieces of his writing selected from different genres. The 15 sections that the book is divided into, like Family matters, The Sikhs, How to Live, How to Die, Sex on my mind, A passion for poetry among others, is a testament of how prolific he was.
The mastery of the writer is reflected in each genre. How he describes early life in Hadali, how he despite not being a historian gives a fresh and detailed look into Sikhism, his political and social views, his defense or the lack of it for being termed a womanizer, his controversial support of Emergency, his famous or infamous views on famous people, and many such masterpieces.
It is indeed interesting that one who was born to one of Delhi’s foremost builders, did not choose to use the luxury to a point where his aversion for litigations prevented him for inheriting great wealth. An agnostic who produced probably the most seminal work on Sikhism is remarkable. A voice which as editor of Weekly was heard in corridors of power and equally in hush-hush circles for the in-their-face remarks.
Each piece puts the reader at ease with the writer. The narration, simple prose most of the times, is always gripping, the sense of humor unparalleled and the insights the writer gives into his own life makes 99 an unputdownable one. It is as if he talks to you, tells you a story, and explains as a teacher through his works.
For one who has only heard of dirty jokes of Khushwant Singh (which he claims he knows all that exists in the world!) or have over the years formed an opinion of him should read 99 just to taste the excellent variety that exists in the cuisine of one of India's finest writers and public intellectuals, Khushwant Singh.