Under my byline

Dé dawns on India

Posted in Books by Rrishi on 7 May 2008

Sixty years of Shobhaa and independence

Superstar India: From Incredible to Unstoppable
Shobhaa Dé
Penguin
xii + 456

How dare you write about India? Literally — where does one find the audacity to take on such a daunting task? Where, for goodness’ sake, would one start?

No such doubts for Shobhaa Dé. She starts with herself, and sticks with the subject. She can do this in a book purportedly about India because this is her 60th year, and also the 60th year of our independence, so the book is a category-jumping sort of autobiography of Dé and “her” India.

It consists of an apparently boundless series of short vignettes, divided into chapters with such Dé-esque titles as “Am I a Tight-assed Schoolmarm?”, “Indians are Sex Machines”, “Mere Paas Maa Hai”, “Who’s afraid of Mayawati? Well… nearly everyone”, “Netagiri, Goondagiri, Gandhigiri”, and so on.

Now, this kind of thing is not new, either for the reader or for Dé herself. But put the whole lot of anecdotes and Shobhaa Dé’s exposition together and the effect this time is novel and, surprisingly, quite serious.

Dé has an unusually sharp and observant reporter’s eye for how people live and behave, whether socialites or slum-dwellers. She writes of what she’s seen, and what she thinks about it — and even if it’s mainly old hat (men and their mothers, corruption, India-China, young people, women, sex, money, urban living…) it is refreshingly straightforward, common-sense opinionising. Better than the op-ed page.

Nobody gets older without gaining something — particularly the right and duty to complain. Historians, economists, spiritualists and foreigners telling us about ourselves is all very well, but we also need an idiosyncratic and sceptical but (thankfully) not cynical voice like that of Dé.

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