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Seventy And To Hell With It. The title itself shows the bindaas attitude that Shobhaa De shows in most of her writing, though this book is a bit different.
Three years ago when I came face to face with Ms Shobhaa De at India Today Conclave, she seemed intimidating and yet approachable at the same time. Intimidating for she was a celebrity author famous for speaking her mind, and approachable for the lack of an aura of strictness about her. I had a brief eye contact with her, and finding it impolite to turn away I walked up to her and introduced myself.
I was all jittery inside; here I was, an aspiring writer, and there she was all cool and composed. I had read just about one of her books then ‘Sethji’ and I made a small talk about how she created her characters.
Soon someone walked up towards us and Ms De hugged and chatted away. In a way I was relieved because I felt inadequate to make any intelligent conversation. I was like a starry eyed kid and she was as old as my mother. I quickly excused myself.
I feel intimidated even now as I sit down to review her latest Seventy And To Hell With It.
Growing up, talking about fashion was considered dumb and destructive for studies at home and hence no ‘Stardust’ or other filmy magazine ever made it to our door step. In later years when I began reading novels, thrillers were my staple but I did overhear comments about ‘sex’ in Shobhaa De’s writing. So I stayed away from her books lest I annoy a parent.
Ms De has a reputation of being unapologetic in voicing her opinions about everything under the sun, of being a firebrand and fielding controversies. But the latest book by the outspoken author gelled with me on so many issues that I wonder whether I belong to a dinosaur era or she is as young?
Seventy And To Hell With It the new book looks back at her journey over the years. Shobhaa De doesn’t sound mellow as most seventy year old grannies do. She doesn’t lament about the depleted energy levels or waning of desires and neither does she propagate the thought of spending remaining years in service of God. Instead she pooh-poohs these stereotypical behaviours. And as she states ‘If you are a buddhiya, better to be badmash than a bore”.
The book is more like a journal entry where author reflects upon regular issues be it addiction to Facebook, the pretend it involves and being vary of trolls on Twitter. She talks about the feeling of dropping it all and running away to some place where for some time there would be no judgements and no rules. She talks about the loss of her mother, of pre-wedding jitters of both bride and groom, of facades we put up in relationships, of basic courtesies, of desires and sex. She reminisces of her spontaneous trips and of the controversies and threats.
I identified with quite some of her opinions.
Like when it comes to festivals. With event planners making the organizing of all traditional festivities easier and a tad bit expensive, the little preparations that were usually home-managed have become slightly impersonal. But says she and I concur “I still think it’s important to do it the old-fashioned way…go to the vendor, examine every diya and buy flowers from a flower seller at wholesale market”. The self involvement gives a whole lot of meaning to the celebrations taxing though it may be sometimes. But the love shows.
Office affairs are another no-no that ring true with me. Ms De opines very aptly “Know where to draw the line. Learn to traipse lightly over rough terrain in workplace. You don’t have to be cold or distant with colleagues. But neither should be in a zone that is intrusive.”
Her opinion on the need of ‘space’ by young kids these days is one which I whole-heartedly agree to. What is this space? Won’t closing doors to shut out the rest of the family lead to loneliness? Ms De doesn’t approve; what with increasing suicides or drug abuse. She writes “I don’t understand the word ‘interfere’ when it comes to children. There is no such thing as ‘interference’. Either you are intimately involved in the minutiae of their lives or your children could be dead.”
I do believe too that parents and children need to be open with each other and share their anxieties. Children need support and leaving them alone for this ‘space’ is not going to help.
She advocates no man or woman should stay in an unhappy relationship. If separation is inevitable it should be amicably resorted to. Her thoughts about being cautious in alcohol consumption at parties and never resorting to drinking alone find a ready supporter in me too.
“I sincerely think we are pretty terrific. When we are celebrating one of our colorful festivals, India appears perfect. I love my India.” Being a proud Indian that she is, her experience on one of the cruises to Croatia where her co-travellers were unaware of India as emerging super power in the world stung. She laments “I still wonder: How can such vast seventy-year-old nation, a country as diverse, as culturally inspiring as India, leave the rest of the world this cold?”
But with my little travel experience to foreign land, I disagree with Ms De. And I think that will rather please her to know that my experience was exactly opposite.
Born in and having grown with a free India, she reminisces and compares her childhood with freedom, stresses and privileges of kids today, of how journalism has changed over the years with writers more worried about marketing and hobnobbing with who’s who, of bid to change history in school books, of beef ban, of short fuses prevalent in the country, of charismatic Raghuram Rajan and her similar attitude as his, of monitoring social media, of changing political scenario and smug politicians.
The book is not preachy but it does subtly put out little nuggets of wisdom from a person who has seen both sides of the life…aspiring to make a place in world and a known face and voice of the country.
And as the marketing director of Veuve Clicquot India aptly told the press once “a perfect combination of boldness and elegance”, her latest is somewhat like her “Candid, vociferous, brutally honest; capable of influencing many a point of views and social fabric of the country”.
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