India: An Inside Story
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24 Nov,2012 08:47 IST

India: An Inside Story

Chitra Narayanan

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India: An Inside Story

The Liberals by Hindol Sengupta Harpercollins India pages: 336 Price: Rs 350

For long, we have had outside-in reflections on India. A whole bunch of expats and foreigners has tried to capture the myriad moods of the country. Many like Mark Tully, with his No Full Stops In India and Non Stop India, have managed to get under the skin of the country. But, thankfully, now the insiders have begun writing down their takes — the Shashi Tharoors, the Pankaj Mishras, the Gautam Bhatias. Hindol Sengupta’s The Liberals belongs to this genre.

Affectionate, amusing and accurate though some of the expat accounts of India were, there still was a missing element. India, after all, has that elusive je ne sais quois quality — the strangest of quirks and delicious ironies of existence — that only those inside the system are privy to and can capture.

Especially very middle class stuff. Things like schoolchildren rubbing chalk on white sneakers to whiten them, which many of us did as kids. Or the faint feeling of discomfort that a trip to the salon to get a facial induces among the middle aged middle class — feeling it was good money being thrown away, and yet an odd excitement at the thought of getting pampered.

Sengupta captures many such details. His is an urban middle class view of life around us, one that comes from living, studying, breathing, working here, being part of the system. And also from being part of the generation that has seen both sides of the liberalisation divide, from the days when luxury meant travelling First Class AC on trains to the days when airconditioning in every single room at home became routine.

This is a clever book in many ways as by telling his own story as well as recounting the story and feelings of his parents (who are an absolute delight), Sengupta manages to give a breezy view of the sociological and economic changes that have swept through the country post-liberalisation.

He is not only the protagonist of the story, the middle class boy who zips through a mass communication course at Jamia Millia Islamia, and shows you do not need to have a Doon School, St Stephen’s background or celebrity parents to conquer television channel newsrooms, but also the eavesdropper who is there everywhere, observing the little vignettes that make up life.

Written in a lively, self-deprecating style that has you chuckling — for instance, the scene where he goes to interview Askhay Kumar wearing a pink flowery shirt because that is what he thinks entertainment reporters wear — the book has a compelling and refreshing honesty to it.

There is no intellectualising, no sermonising — only a lively capture of life in Delhi, Kolkata and Mumbai, three cities where Sengupta has lived. It’s a very au courant book. It is India as it is now, post-liberalisation, post-Internet, a rapidly changing consumerist nation, well beyond the million mutinies. So often when we see a wry droll take on Facebook or Twitter, our instant reaction is — oh, so true! Well, Sengupta’s take on India has you saying exactly the same thing.

(This story was published in Businessworld Issue Dated 03-12-2012)

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