Home truths

Home truths

Home truths

Being a typical Indian, I warmed to this book — Indian Essentials — at first sight because of its sheer bulk, giving me more than its price, more than I can indeed read. Also, I can now do the traditional thing and name-drop this book into conversations and come across as hundred percent literate, well read and that too in English. Oooh, I can do all things Indian with this book on Indianness! Alas, the publishers had the same idea. They did an Indian on me — by collecting big names and giving them tried and tested ‘Indian’ themes to harp on, by giving me — the reader — home truths that I already knew and lived by and coped with on a daily basis.

To be served pissed-off veteran voices, albeit piping hot with spiffy headlines, on matters this mundane is to be taken on a thoroughly Indian ride. Really, need we be re-introduced to our motherland in this bland, bland way? Anthologies are the buffets of books; one can read the new rabble-rousers along with the old, established rogues.

So here it is — the first post-modern delectables on all things desi, our version of the French amuse-bouche — free starters to amuse the mouth, but do we, let alone our mouths, have a sense of humour? A book like this with its very premise, its bearing, its demeanour, presentation, the nudge-nudge and wink-winks promises much wit. Kick-ass opinions, satire and spoofing, in short all that’s missing in the sombre diatribes in our national dailies and monthly mags, we expect in just such a package. Not that there is no glint of mischief whatsoever, but the send-up sometimes seems unintentional. Like when columnist Bachi Karkaria writes about our famed ‘chalta hai’ attitude to things that do not concern us directly, she aptly goes missing from the bio pages provided at the end to illustrate her point — sab kuch chalta hai.

The way we are

Most articles inform but entertain only occasionally as they take up saris, sports, spirituality, street-food, apart from politics, pilgrimages, babalog and the Great Indian Family. Thankfully, sexist whispers are kept at bay. ‘Indian men can take comfort in a 1993 study published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology which found the average depth of the human vagina to be 3.63 inches. It was also found to be 100 per cent stretchable. This indicates that any penis over 7.3 inches is a waste of meat,’ consoles Samrat in an article on — shshsh — sex. Indrajit Hazra’s piece on public peeing, titled naughty and nice as Going Against the Flow, takes up the male hobby of spitting and relieving themselves everywhere, but with less levity than expected.

Three potentially addictive pieces are Samrat’s Hum Log, the Sex Log, Srividya Natarajan’s Gold’s Fools and Jerry Pinto’s Talking Bollywood. The first delves deep and dirty into our moral hypocrisies, the second lays bare the gilt in our bling and the third, of course, talks drolly of Sharmila Tagore and Rajesh Khanna. These take the content and form debate firmly into the latter’s lair. When the substance is new age and subversive patriotism, style has to play imp.

The by-the-way adds charm too, like Seema Goswami’s Tradition in Six Yards gives some insight into the Indo-Pak variances through the sartorial and Talking Bollywood gives a glimpse of English being our aspirational language while purportedly channel-surfing Hindi films. Manjula Padmanabhan counsels commuters. Travelling is a bummer if you are a woman alone; as any Bharatiya naari knows, to live dangerously, just journey solo.
 Natarajan lists ways to gather gold; chain-snatch, become a biscuit bandit, join chit-fund schemes or snuggle up to a smuggler. Our abode is also deconstructed brick by verbal brick. ‘Go to any colony. Squeeze past the cars parked exactly where it says No Parking at Gate. Survey the balconies festooned with laundry dripping on passersby, the facades mural-ed with the streaks of brown from balcony flower pots watered not wisely but well. Edge gingerly upstairs decorated with paan-Indian art. Don’t bother to ring for the lift; someone has left its door open, so it’s stuck on the seventh floor,’ says Karkaria, painting such a vivid picture of our housing conditions that you are almost there, standing in front of the elevator, finger raised to press the inevitably defunct button.

Perhaps there is no other such collection in the market to rival this in its attempt to demystify, take apart the inner mechanics of our middleclass mentality and if someone demands a dash of humour, it is perhaps over and above paisa vasool. As Karkaria, who divides our national indifference into the Que Sera Sera Waltz, the Selfishness Salsa and the Laissez Faire Lambada, says, we must accept by shrugging karmically. It is not in its overview that the book falls a bit flat; on paper, this is a perfect plan — to gather current social commentators to scrutinize our souls, to encapsulate, to put in nutshells, to be sage, to dispense wisdom.

But in the printing of it, the pieces tend to drone on, to edge into dull, collect lint. But, hey, what do you know — I am just being this typical Indian bent on being cranky about a book I got as a freebie. And I am now going to do the Indian thing with it — hand it over to some unsuspecting soul who gifts me a set of hankies his late mother left behind in the Great Indian Art of Gift Recycling. Please invite me home, I have the perfect present for you.