Khushwant Singh was the oldest writer of Delhi and after his death the mantle has fallen on a select few, among them ex-diplomat Pran Nevile who, at 95 plus, has woven out some wonderful stories. A selection of them, Passionate Players, has been brought out by Bookwise (India).
In it one gets to meet courtesans like Lal Kanwar, who stole the heart of Emperor Jahandar Shah, grandson of Aurangzeb, and was given the exalted title of Queen Imtiaz Mahal.
Later came Begum Sumroo of Sardhana, who entertained the rich and mighty at a “kotha” in Chandi Chowk as a teenager and ended up as the child-bride of the Austrian soldier of fortune Walter Reinhardt “Sombre”, which became “Sumroo” in local parlance. She was followed by Rani Jinden, the sexy and shrewd 17th wife of Maharaja Ranjit Singh.
There are yarns also of nautch-girls, who entertained the cream of British society right up to Simla. Singers and actors like the legendary K L Saigal, Pankaj Mullick, Master Madan, melody queen Kanan Devi, Khurshid, the astounding Tamancha Jan, bulbul-voiced Suraiya, Noor Jahan, the star-light singer Mallika Pukhraj, Geeta Dutt and a gem called Jahanara Kajjan.
Seeking equal attention are the escapades and sexcapades of the Raj, with the help of an ace pimp called Fazal of Lahore. There are other intriguing characters also like Japanese Geisha girls and master-jugglers awaiting scrutiny on the matrix of forgotten history.