Mother Pious Lady (Making Sense of Everyday India)

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Item Code: NAF759
Author: Santosh Desai
Publisher: Harper Collins Publishers
Language: English
Edition: 2010
ISBN: 9788172238643
Pages: 380
Cover: Paperback
Other Details 8.5 inch x 5.5 inch
Weight 350 gm
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Book Description
Back of The Book

A new India is visibly emerging from within the folds of its many pasts. This new India needs to be seen with new eyes, free from the baggage of yesterday’s characterizations. This is exactly what Santosh Desai, one of India’s best-known social commentators, does in this warm, affectionate and deliciously witty look at the changing urban Indian middle class.

Writing as an insider, from personal experience, Desai cuts through the chaos and confusion of everyday India both yesterday and today, and suddenly, we begin to see things clearly. Holding a mirror to our iner selves, Desai makes us see what drives us, what makes us tick, what makes our hearts beat, and how our mindsests and attitudes are changing, even as the past never quite leaves us. And Desai does so in short masterful essays, written with great humour and sensitivity. A big book about the small things that truly matter.



Everything in India is capitalized. Ours is without doubt the land of the swollen cliche. We live in Grinding poverty with which we cope with a sense of Cosmic Fortitude. We are on Our Way to Reclaiming Our Rightful Position in the world but are frequently undone by our slumdog status. People travel to India not to find a country but to find themselves. We are a Timeless Civilization and an Impatient Uncaged Tiger. India is the receptacle of all extremes and accommodates in the commodious canopy every adjective invented.

The India that I grew up in was all of these things, but it has always seemed to me that most things written about India have tended to focus on the extremes. We have either the India that decants its deep wisdom on unsuspecting passers-by in surprising ways, or we have the India that asks you to look inside its wretchedness to find some glimmer of a universal truth. We have also had enquiries into Middle Class India, but most of these have been efforts that look inside from a safe and indeed superior perch outside. These are critiques of the middle class by people who are both fascinated and deeply repelled by it.

My effort in this book has been to examine Middle India from within. I have grown up in a middle class family; my father worked as a civil engineer in a public sector company, an occupation that ensured that we travelled from town to town, arriving when there was nothing there and leaving as things began to get comfortable. I studied in nine schools in all, across seven towns, and went to college in three different places. To me, the essence of growing up as an Indian, if there is such an essence, is really in understanding what it takes to actually experience India in all its trivial everydayness.

What follows is an analysis of changing India as seen through its daily life. The truth about things is often locked in the smallest actions it engenders. It is what we do without conscious and deliberate thought; it is when we behave naturally and with reflex that we give away who we really are. We have been shaped by the small things that made up our past - the silly jokes that made us laugh, the knowing winks that we shared, the places we scratched and the footwear we left outside the door. The pleasure of the second ice gola, the white sheets reserved for the men of the family, the railway reservation form that could accommodate only six names at a time, the agony of knowing that it was the fifth song in Chitrahaar, the cool touch of mandir steps, the dolorous singing of Mukesh songs, the resoling of Bata shoes, ducking under a chain to enter a bank, getting photographed in Himachali costumes on Mall Road. What do all these things mean? How do they sit together in developing an Indian way, this not being the Grand Indian Way but the way that we lived India?

The symbols of yesterday are being replaced with a whole new range today. We have the remix song and Vegetable Manchurian; apartments with names like Ridgewood Greens and Chancellor Hills, designer bindis, reality bahus and nighties that are worn daylong, computer horoscopes and arranged love marriages. Modern India has its own artefacts that help us excavate the present even as it unfolds.

Instead of seeing these signs only as amusing and heart- warming symbols of middle class life, what if we were to discern the underlying pattern that they reveal? In doing so, we look at India not as an abstract noun but as a verb. We look at what lies behind our doing the things we do.

The idea of this book is thus to piece together a story about changing middle class urban India through small fragments of its everyday life both yesterday and today. The result is a patchwork quilt of sorts where individual essays are knitted together to provide a larger picture which, while it holds together as a single piece, makes no bones about the fact that it is composed of little scraps of observations that have been sewn together. And since I am writing through the filter of my own experiences, the book carries with it in-built biases.

The book makes liberal use of the word 'we' when describing middle class India. Now, I am acutely aware that there are many Indias and that the diversity of India cannot be collapsed into a single undifferentiated 'we'. Instead of describing the Indian middle class as such, I have chosen to use the first person, because this book has been written from the inside.

Understanding India is an occupation of considerable complexity. Especially today, when a new India is visibly emerging from within the folds of its many pasts. This new India needs to be seen with new eyes, free from the baggage of yesterday's characterizations. As it is, we live in a world of instant judgements. I am not here to criticize or commend a class or group. Indeed, I think that statements like 'the middle class needs to understand its responsibilities' or that the 'educated need to display more gender sensitivity' are the kind of utterly useless bromides we can do without. I am not here to change the world or, for that matter, offer a way in which India can make the next century its own. There are abler minds pursuing this question; my purpose here is to understand what is happening.

The book is organized in three sections - we begin our journey in the not-too-distant past in pre-liberalization India, moving then to examine the changes we see around us before posing some questions about the dilemmas of change. The chapters within each section are loosely arrayed around broad themes, the purpose being to provide some structure for the reader while leaving enough freedom for the book to be read in a non-linear fashion.




  Acknowledgements xv
  Introduction xvii
  Section One Where Do We come From?  
1 Our Chitrahaar Selves 3
  The Dhania Factor 5
  The Great Indian Journey 9
  Stainless Steel Memories 12
  the postcard Remembered 15
  Sharing Scarcity 18
  Remembering the Summer Holidays 22
  Mere Paas Ma Hai 25
  The Dignity of Ultramarine 28
  The Civilizing Crease in Our Trousers 31
  The Dying Window 34
  In Praise o the Unannounced Visit 37
  Mother Pious Lady 40
  An Ode to the Scooter 44
  Decoding the Auto rickshaw 47
  The Appliance as Installation 50
  The Doctor in Films 54
2 Vehicles of Escape 57
  Of Piththoo, Rummy and Antakshari 59
  The pleasures of Vividh Bharti 62
  How Many Times Have You Seen Chupke Chupke? 66
  Of Takira, Crazy Boys and Osibissa 69
  The Great Indian Honeymoon 72
  The Power of Street Food 75
  The Song of the Inarticulate Heart 78
  Deconstructing the Hindi Film Hero 81
3 Rules of Hierarchy 85
  Hierarchies Unlimited 87
  The Driver's Moll 92
  The Meaning of the Slap 95
  The Dynastic Urge 98
  The Badge of Disorder 101
4 Disclaimer Indica 103
  The Stomach Has Its Reasons 105
  The Meaning of the Thali 109
  The Pickle as Cultural Distillate 112
  Right, NO? 115
  Scratching the Itch 118
  Bound by Sound 120
5 The Patterns Within 123
  Ritual Reality and the Indian 125
  Indian Traffic as Metaphor 128
  The Rationality of Indiscipline 131
  Understanding Hypocrisy 134
  the Power of the Imperfect Solution 137
  The Disinterest in Punishment 140
  Section Two New Adventures Ind Modernity  
6 Loosening the past 147
  The Moral of Drinking 149
  Sunita on the Beach 152
  United We Dance 155
  Minced Punjabi Chic 158
  The Death of the Baritone 161
  Father Amitabh 164
  Irrigating Our Roots 167
  Outside the Closet 170
7 The Headiness of Mobility 173
  Life as Arena 175
  The Disappearing Pigtail 179
  Scooting to Freedom 182
  Setting Free the Old 185
  Looking Back at the Maruti 188
  No Rungs in Their Ladder 191
  The Militant Mask 194
  The Wonderful World of the Indian Nightie 196
  Money as Energy 199
  The Freedom of Army Daughters 205
8 The Badges of Modernity 209
  Terms of Endearment 211
  Greasy Modernisms 214
  English Imaginations 217
  Home Truths 221
  The Western Toilet as Sign 223
9 Changing Outside In 227
  The Remix Remixed 229
  Salman Khan and the Rise of Male Cleavage 231
  SRK- Brand Abassador for the Market 234
  In Gentle Praise of the Saas-Bahu Sagas 237
  Of Genuine Fakes and Fake Genuine 240
  The great Indian Laughter Phenomenon 243
  The Currency of Celebrity 246
  Suburban Escape 249
  City Stories 252
  Cricket Hysteria 255
10 Changing Inside Out 259
  The Joint Stock Family 261
  The Logic of the Arranged Marriage 264
  The Woman, Exteriorized 267
  The Fear of Women 270
  The Imagined Scarcity of Opportunity 275
  The Paranoid Parent 278
  Retrieving Space slyly 281
11 Media Smoke And Mirrors 285
  21-Inch India 287
  The Limits of Debate 290
  Opinion as Truth 293
  The Effects of Language 296
  The Bias for Extremism 299
  It's the Form, Stupid 302
  Section Three Dilemmas of Change  
12 Not Everyone Is Invited 307
  Blinded by Language? 309
  The Flyover as Metaphor 312
  The Revenge of the Speed breaker 315
  The Power of Inflation 319
  What We Don't Want to know 322
  The Vanishing Village 325
13 The Politics Of A New India 329
  Medieval Democracy 331
  Sympathy for the Haves 334
  Lathis in Uniform? 336
  The Youth Quota 339
  Between Tokenism and Symbolism 341
  The Mind of the Terrorist 344
  Reading the Political Poster 347
  The City Name as Cultural Property 350
  The Death of Vulgarity 353
  The Pub as Sign of Freedom 355
14 Dreams of Grandeur 359
  Racism and Brand India 361
  An Abstract Salute to the Indian Soldier 364
  Of Wealth and Want 367
  Global Dreaming 370
  Shame Without Guilt 373
  A Million Matchsticks Now 376
  Postscript 379


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