The way we are
Reviewed by Aradhika Sharma

Indian Essentials
Penguin. Rs 450. Pages 526.

Indian EssentialsTHE reviewer has decided that she’s going to follow Jerry Pinto on Twitter or whichever social network he is on, since the time he had her chuckling over his little compilation of terms most Indian, which comes in the form of an extra booklet along with Indian Essentials.

That’s a cunning trick, by the way, because the size of Indian Essentials can daunt the reader who is now used reading only about 30,000 words, give or take a few. But the slim little book grabs you and when you put it away singing Vicco Vajranti Ayurvedic cream, twacha ki raksha kare antiseptic cream, (Because Jerry Pinto, henceforth, the reviewer’s Twitter hero, asks the reader to, you see), you reach for Indian Essentials, hoping that its going to do the glossary justice. The view is a bit lop-sided, I admit, but the glossary is so vastly amusing that the expectations rise.

And the reader is not disappointed. Dare she go non-intellectual and say that the book is "lovely?" There! She’s said it! It’s a lovely book, amusing, touching the core and revealing the reality of the pure Indian spirit, but sweetly, gently, with humour and compassion. The Indian love for tradition, the hypocrisy, the family feeling, the smoke curtains around sex, the NRI phenomena, Bollywood, cricket, marriage `85 everything is dissected, put under the microscope, thoroughly examined and then sewn up neatly by the authors of this anthology.

The list of authors packs quite a punch. All heavyweights in their respective fields, they have varied views, experiences, and spheres of influence. That’s why each piece, though the surmise(s) is not new, is treated with a fresh perspective. For example, in Hum Log, the Sex Log, the writer, Samrat, writes about the obfuscation of sex issues in India, but with what different angles! He covers everything from the immensely popular porn website Savita Bhabhi to ‘Ask the Sexpert’ sections of magazines answering questions in their half-baked manner; divine procreation in mythologies, and the ‘V.D, Sex specialists’ who promise that the suffering man will regain his "virility and masculine vigour". The article is no-holds-barred irreverent and rip roaring hilarious!

Equally funny and incisive is the article on NRIs—Republic of Enaristan written by Sanjay Suri—which is certain to appeal to all the long suffering, based-in-India relatives of the NRIs whom these ‘foreign relatives’ deign to visit during the summer vacation. Oh, the chords that it strikes! The truths that it tells! The reviewer has many NRI relatives and ‘Enaristan’ almost had her falling on her knees and thanking Suri for having written this to vindicate the years of their visits. Especially funny is the 101-point checklist at the end of the article that is the "citizenship test for Enaristan in Britain".

In fact, the article is about the identity dilemma of the NRI but the Indian relative is going to read it with glee!

There are 20 authors who’ve written for this book. Geeta Doctor compares the Great Indian Family to a patchwork quilt whose intricate, but contrasting, patterns are bewildering and appealing at the same time. Chalta Hai is Bachi Karkaria’s exposition on the apathetic Indian habit of remaining indifferent to some of the most terrible injustices and inefficiencies. Jerry Pinto writes about Bollywood as an industry, as a form of popular culture and a "parallel language that lies just under our tongues".

In, Devdatt Patnaik talks about the Indian fascination for the tirtha yatras or pilgrimages to holy places, when families will undertake the most arduous journeys for earning a place in heaven and Namita Gokhale’s Matrimonial Nation, examines funny matrimonial advertisements we read in newspapers and online.

Apart from the authors mentioned, the book includes writings by Indrajit Hazra, Soumya Bhattacharya, Srividya Natarajan, Manjula Padmanabhan, Vikram Doctor, Arvind Krishna Mehrotra, Pratik Kanjilal, Renuka Narayanan, Anand Sahay,Vidya Subramaniam, Punita Singh, Ira Pande and Seema Goswami. Every author and social commentator brings his/her consciousness into the book as they elucidate the one thing that, to them, is quintessentially Indian.

The book is an absolute jewel. And while the reviewer is recommending the book — highly — but she’s not lending her copy to anyone, so don’t even ask otherwise she’ll just say that her "aunty borrowed it!"

Hum to aise hain bhiya!