The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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90 and still spitting venom

New Delhi, Aug. 17: The big do wasn’t just a socialite evening.

Adman Suhel Seth was there, of course — but then, when is he not' The surprise of the evening, however, was in the number of people who stepped out of their book-lined studies today to wish the Grand Old Man of India — some still call him the Dirty Old Man — a happy birthday.

Khushwant Singh, who turned 90 on Sunday, celebrated the occasion with what he does best — he released a new book, called Paradise and Other Stories, debunking superstition. “You may or may not like it, but that’s me,” he said, referring to his no-holds-barred attack on charlatans of all kinds. “I have got the venom out of me.”

As get-togethers go, this had all the ingredients the writer-columnist would have approved of: wine, kebabs, quite a few beautiful young women, a couple of good speeches peppered with humour and anecdotes and actually a gathering of people who had read — and appreciated — Khushwant Singh.

The Prime Minister’s wife, Gursharan Kaur, was there, as was their historian daughter, Upinder Singh. The elusive writer, Vikram Seth, was there as well. And there was the ancient history chronicler, Romila Thapar.

The book release, organised by the publishers, Penguin Books India, at the Napoleon in Le Meridien, was to have coincided with his birthday on August 15. But, as Penguin’s Ravi Singh pointed out, that didn’t happen because August 15 — being a day that marked India’s independence — was a dry-day. And just how could one celebrate the Scotch-loving Sardar’s birthday without the right libation'

But the truth, if it can now be told, is that August 15 is not really the D-Day. Singh’s daughter, Mala Dayal, says that her father didn’t quite know when he was born. “Somebody in the family said that he was born in the end of winter, but his mother said: ‘What nonsense, it was sometime during the rains’,” Dayal said. And since nobody had the right date, the family decided that August 15 was as good a day as any other.

The book release — along with the 90th birthday celebration — was meant to have been a surprise for the good Sardar, if he can be called that. But Singh took so long in penning his manuscript that his family got worried.

“So finally we had to tell him about his surprise birthday to hurry him up,” Dayal said.

It was a happy evening. Aveek Sarkar, Penguin Books India managing director, described Singh as an outstanding raconteur. “But behind the Sardar jokes, there is a serious man,” he said.

But Singh — his beard, with some outside help, still jet-black — is not going to hang up his quill. His new book, he promised the gathering, will be all about love and romance.

And that, if we are to believe him, is a subject he knows well.

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