Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Mother Pious Lady - Santhosh Desai

A collection of Desai's take on the common mannerisms of a middle-class Indian and the country at large.

Simple, Witty


Favorite Quote:
(M S Dhoni) exemplifies an attitude that small town India seems to possess in plenty – The lack of fear of failure.
We never travel alone – we travel with our entire way of life and sometimes that has trouble fitting into an airline cabin.

I haven’t read Santosh Desai’s column in TOI. That resulted in my approaching the book with minimal expectations, and was pleasantly surprised at its contents. Sadly enough, the high expectations developed mid-way through the book fell woefully short by the end. To be fair, the book is as interesting, unique and colourful as its cover.
The chapters are divided into three sections – Where do we come from, new adventures in modernity and dilemmas of change, thus moving progressively to the bigger picture. Each chapter has, on an average, 10 topics, which are about 1-2 pages long. The author thus cleverly ensured that even if the reader strayed, he can pick it up from where he left off.
If you are a typical middle-class Indian who travelled by trains, watched doordarshan, travelled with family in scooters, played antakshari and enjoyed the street food, the book will be a catalogue of all these happy memories. Apart from making you nostalgic, Desai also adds his own reasoning to these incidents, which are equally a revelation and a spoiler. As an example of the latter, at the end of the chapter describing the civilised middle crease in the trousers, Desai concludes by saying:

When we crease our shirts and comb our hair, we impose on ourselves a discipline; we reaffirm that we belong to a group and that we abide by its rule. By doing so, we hope that the system will in turn abide by us. This, of course, does not always happen, but as long as we believe, hope lives.

While the sentence formation here is beautiful, I find it overstretching. In my case, the central crease is courtesy the local iron-wallah, and I usually don’t notice it. My pants, creased or otherwise, do not reflect my thoughts or hopes from the society. All the chapters in the first section draw similar parallels between what we did and what we expect, and to be fair, Desai hits the mark most of the times. It is his misses that stand out.
Section two becomes an amalgamation of the contrasting tones of section one and three. The chapters in this part focuses mainly on modern India, and youth Icons (from Rakhi Sawant and Shah Rukh Khan to MS Dhoni). However, where Desai was a passive intelligent narrator and observer in the first section, with larger issues in hand (media and politics mainly), he becomes either questioning or preachy. The passiveness and the objectivity were lost in his quest for being witty and sarcastic. For example, his take on Indian slums ends thus:

The slum is not the ‘other’ India and Dharavi is not an aberration. It is both a condemnation and a celebration of who we are. We need to own it, change it, admire it and hate it. We don’t need to ignore it. And if some Western director makes a film about it, we don’t need to fear it.

If Desai wanted to use this book as a medium to show his analytical prowess and reasoning power, he has succeeded. But I wish he had stopped when he was ahead, and not joined the hoard of gasbags who think that by raising the “right questions” and by vague & sage advices, the country will improve.

Its difficult to give a final verdict for this book. Parts of it are brilliant, and some are downright mediocre. However, it is ideal for a 15-minute-read-every-night before sleeping.


antbrain said...

Oh really? I thought he held that initial momentum going till the end.. Hoping for that 15 minute allocation some day soon :-)

P.S: Plz explain the reason for the choice of your favourite quote and pray prove my reasoning wrong :D

Archana said...


Archana said...

Yes, where Dhoni is involved, my heart skips a beat and all the words are etched into my mind! So, it naturally becomes a favorite quote!

Anonymous said...

Extremely apt and very nicely written...echos my sentiments to a large extent

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