Many days in the life of middle-class India
Mother Pious Lady: making sense of everyday india Santosh Desai.
Mother Pious Lady, Making Sense of Everyday India, provides a fantastic insight into the daily life of the middle-class Indian. ‘Where Do We Come From’, the first section, a collection of pieces on our ‘Indian’ roots, will have you nostalgic before you even finish the first page. The first piece talks of ‘Chitrahaar’, a name that an entire generation grew up with, among others. It talks of the way we travel, our anxieties, our pride in being economical and many other things. Some of these may be familiar, some not.
As someone who grew up in small town india, I identified with most of the pieces, however, someone who grew up in a metro like Mumbai may find the hilarity slightly forced and insubstantial. The pieces are however, thoughtfully written and cut to the very core of our existence as Indians. Articles such as ‘Mera Paas Ma Hai’ and ‘In Praise of the Unannounced Visit’, are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to an understanding of our society and the various roles played by the people that make it up. Humorous and cynical, the articles force you to take a look at your childhood and growing years from a different view point, that of the ‘masses’.
‘An Ode to the Scooter’ and ‘Stainless Steel Memories’ are great examples of the desire of the Indian Masses for upward ‘class mobility’ and eloquently describe this phenomenon. ‘Indian Traffic as Metaphor’ and ‘The Power of Street Food’ are pieces that attack the other end of the spectrum, with an analysis of what makes Indian traffic and Indian street food the ultimate symbols of ‘India’.
‘New Adventures in Modernity’, the second section, deals mainly with the changes being ushered into society, some easily, same facing great resistance from the middle-class.
The first piece, ‘The Moral of Drinking’, is the perfect illustration of this change, as it describes how we have gone from the wide-eyed horror of alcohol to asking guests if they would like a drink. A slightly more obscure example is well related in ‘The Disappearing Pigtail’. It is in stories like the disappearing pigtail that the author excels, as the pigtail (hair braided into a long tail) itself is hardly viewed as a symbol of repressed feminism elsewhere. ‘The Western Toilet as Sign’ and Salman Khan and ‘The Rise of Male Cleavage’ are also bolder strokes on the canvas that beautifully describes change in a manner yet unexamined.
‘Dilemmas of Change’, the third section, is perhaps the hardest hitting of all. It deals with how the changes have affected not just the upwardly mobile urban Indian, but also a much larger section of the society, and not always in ways that are good. ‘The Flyover as Metaphor’ and ‘The Power of Inflation’ are fantastic articles that describe this conflict clearly. ‘The Vanishing Village’ is also particularly poignant in this regard and makes the reader wonder whether one has been blind in ignoring the obvious.
All in all, Mother Pious Lady, is a brilliant collection that describes the turbulence Indian society has gone through over the last few decades. The articles are varied and talk about all the mainstays of Indian society, be it caste, religion, politics, cricket, Bollywood or music. The book brings out the changes in these arenas, in abbreviated form, and this is what hits the reader really hard, as contemplation of these changes are not something most of us do on a daily basis. Eloquently written, the humour is engaging and makes the book a must read for every Indian.