Skip to main content

"The Opium Toffee" by Khushwant Singh || A love story that transcends violence, oppression, addiction, and guilt

Woven around the turbulent Punjab of the 1980s and London and Mumbai of 1990s, The Opium Toffee, in spirit, is a love story. Shabnam Singh, a supermodel from India, chances upon the boyfriend of her teenage years, Ajit, in London, begging in the streets. What is most surprising about this encounter is not just Ajit’s decline, but that he had gone missing almost a decade earlier from Chandigarh, and was presumed dead. During the process of rehabilitating Ajit, Shabnam unravels the story of their past, in the process bringing to light tragic events involving violence, drug abuse, oppressive patriarchy, and malevolent politicking.

The author’s keen eye for details makes the fields of rural Punjab, the schools and houses of Chandigarh, and the opulence of luxury London hotels come alive in vibrant colors. After living through a realistic portrayal of the pastel-hued world of young romance juxtaposed against times that were getting more and more unpredictable with each passing day, through Mr Singh’s highly visual prose, I found it easy to overlook the slightly Bollywood-like beginning when Shabnam identifies Ajit through a song he used to sing in his school days. Even here, one cannot but praise Mr Singh for his ability to bring scenes to life as the reader turns pages.

Shabnam Singh’s open challenge to the rampant patriarchy, her rise to glamour and fame against all odds, and her capacity to love and forgive make this more Shabnam’s story, than Ajit’s. And this is where the author is the most successful as well – despite the morbid times a large part of the story is set in, the author is able to tell a compelling tale of triumph, bravery, large-heartedness, and, above all, forgiveness. The book, therefore, leaves the reader with a feeling of redemption and peace.

Another note that I would like to add to this review is about an inspiring initiative Mr Singh undertook while this book was being published – he made The Opium Story go green. He approached the Hoshiarpur Literary Society, who in turn collaborated with the Punjab Forest Department, to plant 1500 saplings to offset the release of greenhouse gases that happens during the publishing process. Click here to find out more.

The book is soon being made into a web series. This is the third of Mr Singh's books to be adapted to  visual medium. Other books by the author that are being adapted are Maharaja in Denims (historical fiction based on the life of Maharaja Ranjit Singh) and Turbaned Tornado (biography of veteran athlete Fauja Singh). Mr Singh is also the author of The People's Maharaja (authorized biography of the former Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh).


Popular posts from this blog

10 Tips for Writing a Good Travel Post

Many of us have read travelogues by Bill Bryson ('Down Under' about Australia is my personal favorite) and William Dalrymple ('The City of Djinns' about Delhi has won a million Indian hearts). No doubt these are extremely well written and very well-researched travelogues. I love Bill Bryson's wit as much as I appreciate William Dalrymple's depth. But this article is not about them. This blog post is about those short travel posts that appear on various blogs adding to a wealth of authentic information available about travel destinations worldwide. I have come to trust these blog posts more than I trust travel agents, 'Places to see' posts on tourism websites, and, I am sorry to say, even the painstakingly compiled travel guides published by reputable travel companies. How many times have you visited a place at a popular tourist destination and been completely disappointed by it? Or you have missed going to a beautiful, 'must visit' place because

Book Review : "The Moonsmith Gulzar" by Shailja Chandra

The Moonsmith Gulzar: orbiting the celebrated words by Shailja Chandra My rating: 5 of 5 stars I have always been fascinated by how accessible Gulzar's poetry seems to be and yet there are layers and layers to unravel before you can begin to understand it. Shailja Chandra's "The Moonsmith Gulzar" inspired me to initiate my own inquiry as a scholar of poetry. The "simplicity" of language in Gulzar's nazms can be very deceptive. And one needs either years of focused study or a mentor to structure one's research. And just like Chandra looks at Gulzar as a mentor to decrypt the mysteries of the Cosmos, I look up to Chandra as my mentor to start my own inquiry into Gulzar's poetry. The word "Moonsmith" would literally mean someone who creates new entities from the Moon. Or it may mean someone who shapes the Moon. So who is it? Who motivates the Moon to change its shape? That is the "Moonsmith". That is the Sun. That is Gulzar.

Poem - I am your past

  I am your past, not the kind that hits you with a blast of wistful nostalgia when you dip the coconut cookie into a sweet sea of chai - your mamma's way, you realise, has become yours now. I don't bring an unexpected smile to you with the memory of a silly antic, a stupid joke. I am not that clown of a friend, the one of whom no one remembers much, except the jokes. I won't cradle you with the memories of a love cherished, though unowned, one that lingered, till it finally faded. And then nothing could bring it back, not even the warmth that being loved so fills you with.  You keep me locked in nested boxes. You know that I am not a threat because pasts can't hurt, at least not in any tangible way. You fear me, yet keep me close and when you feel inadequate, you peek at me with a smug smile. But, I came at a cost. First published on Red Fez  in May 2022