Drawing room deliberations
Aradhika Sharma

Superstar India From Incredible to Unstoppable
by Shobhaa De. Penguin. Pages 442. Rs 350.

Superstar India From Incredible to UnstoppableWELL, we can’t say that the book is boring. It’s not. But it is a bit disappointing. Is it supposed to be a social commentary on India as it is today and has evolved over the past 60 years? Is it a series of columns that have been put together after having reworked them? Is it a book of memoirs of Shobha De Superstar, as she turns 60, coincidentally with India?

After all the hype and glamour, one was waiting eagerly for the book. Perhaps that’s been its downfall. One believes that if Penguin and De had not hyped it as a serious book, the readers would not have felt so let down. As it is, one ends up asking, "So what’s the big deal yaar?" However, as a hot seller, and it looks like that was the game plan of the publisher and the savvy Shobha, one guesses, it’s going to make the cash registers go crazy!

The book reads like the transcript of conversations in an upper middle class drawing room, with opinions flying over glasses of expensive wines and caviar. Lots of opinions about India, what she is, the directions she’s headed in, her superstar status, her squalor, the Mumbai-ness and the Indian-ness of the people who live in it.

And all the while we get to know all about the elevated and wealthy social status of Shobha. She has a Merc; check. She rubs shoulders with the international cream de la cream; check. She wears a Cartier watch; check. Goes on vacations to the most glamorous hot spots; check.

That is not to say that it doesn’t make her an adequate enough observer of India. Let’s give her that. It’s just that the series of observations that she has made have nothing new that any Indian would not know. More so, the Indian who reads Shobha’s columns has already read it all before, maybe in a more precise format. Because the columns are just about 400 words, right? The sections in the book read like extended columns. And if the reader reads them in that spirit, then she won’t be too dissatisfied. But if she is expecting an Amartya Sen, then, well, she will soon be disenchanted.

In fact, writing about a society as multi-cultural as our nation’s is a huge challenge, and it takes courage to take on the task. In the different chapters, Shobha has written about beggars, the stressed-out kids, sex, women’s position in the ‘new’ India, Bollywood, festivals, the Indian English used so nonchalantly (entry from backside, etc.) the jhollawala tribe, caste that still holds its fatal sway, the fascination with TV and soaps and loads of other sundry topics. In fact, she flits insouciantly from one topic to another. Somewhere or the other, the reader starts getting tired of what sounds alarmingly like a tirade. She feels like putting the book down and reaching for the remote, or going for a walk; or just getting another book.

In fact, the best way to read the book is to read it in bits and parts. After all how many columns can one read at a sitting? Shobha’s style is of course polished, sparkling and well-honed after the scores of columns and 15 books that she has written. And that is the saving grace of the book. The tirades become acceptable because of the raciness of style they are presented in. The titles of the chapters exemplify this "Parde ke Peechhe", "On the Face of it", "Mere Paas Ma Hai", "Myself Shobhaa De. What is Your Good Name?" "Meet my Mrs."

The cover of the book has the beauteous Shobhaa on it. Makes a glamorous cover for sure. One just wonders that the book is about Superstar India, then what is the writer doing on the cover?