Saturday, 22 July 2017

Book conversations: Afternoon Girl


Afternoon Girl: My Khushwant Memoir
Amrinder Bajaj
HarperCollins 2013









I must honestly admit right at the beginning, I bought this one on a whim - a) because I am a big Khushwant Singh fan, and b) because it was available at a discount on Flipkart.

There, off my chest...

Now for the content.  There is something about books that you do not expect much out of that pleasantly surprise you in the end.  Afternoon Girl is one such neat little gem.

The invitation to be a fly-on-the-wall witness of Bajaj's somewhat clandestine, sometimes disharmonious, but always engaging association with the grand old man of Indian literature grips you as soon as you start reading it.  I found myself going back to it with eagerness as soon as I could find some reading time.

Besides, there was an additional serendipitous allure for me in this book.  The peculiar trait that I share with the author: doctor who harbours literary ambitions.  Bajaj's candid admission of her struggle as a doctor who wants to be an established writer, her dismay at being rejected by several publishers, and her outpouring of literary woes in front of Khushwant Singh kept me riveted.  

These revelations also reassured me, as I have experienced similar woes myself after I decided to take up writing in addition to doing medical work.  At last I have found somebody who has gone through the pain of trying to appease the selfish mistress that is medical career, while (vainly) attempting to put pen on paper.  

As for the revelations, the graphic details of her personal life and the ribald jokes she shares with the grand old man may not suit everybody's sensibilities.  But as Bajaj explains, they sell.  And I am not judgmental, so that's fine.  

The grand old man certainly did not mind.  If anything, he always relished the earthier side of life.  I have always been in awe of Khushwant Singh's ability to boldly disclose the details of his lurid affairs with, and the profligate lifestyles of the rich and famous.  

The famous Khushwant Singh penchant for wine, women, sex and death is underscored once again in this work.  It is amusing to read of his interest in Bajaj's 'solitaire collection' even as she pampers him with gallons of Chivas Regal! 

Nitpicks: samples from the handwritten letters, and a few pictures of the author's meeting with Khushwant Singh and the several book release events she attended would have enhanced the appeal of the book.  

Also, since Bajaj repeatedly wished for Khushwant Singh to live for a 100 years, a postscript describing the master writer's last moments, and Bajaj's reaction to his passing away agonizingly short of 100 years would have been the icing on the cake.

As it is, Girl is a naughty, humorous, heart-warming account of a writer's encounters with her muse. 

I am mildly envious of Bajaj as she got to savour the grand old man's company: a dream come true for any writer.  

But at the same time, I am massively chuffed for her - a fellow doctor-writer!





Image source: https://www.harpercollins.co.in/360/9789350297070.jpg