Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Politics Of Sleaze

 By Anuja Chauhan for India Today


Shobhaa De is to sordid reality what Yash Chopra is to designer romance. He makes things way more wispy, dreamy, mushy and epic than they could ever be. And she makes things way more gritty, slutty, grimy and slimy than they ever could be. And here she is writing at her slimy best.
So we have Sethji-head of the absp, a crucial coalition partner in the government, a toad of a man who scratches his groin whenever he's thinking hard, and has "warts, moles, discoloured patches, infected hair roots, summer boils and a pink stain on his groin that is steadily growing". Then there's his luscious toad-kissing daughter-in-law Amrita, who is "so hungry for power that she would gladly change her FIL's soiled adult diapers to achieve it". In this surreal, parallel De-scape, whenever Sethji gets it on with Amrita (which is often), she finds herself, inexplicably, sexually aroused. Maybe this is because Amrita has a wimpy husband dealing with borderline impotence? She also has a bed-wetting nut job of a brother-in-law whom she finds attractive, except for the fact that, when the book begins, he has just brutally raped a 'pahadi' girl and become a major embarrassment to his politician father, who is facing some kind of crisis in the party (it's never clearly explained what the crisis is) while also trying to get a big highways contract allocated to his industrialist pals.
Amrita is put in charge of putting everything right, which she proceeds to do, with the help of a fixer with a fixation for pretty servant boys and a Bollywood producer-cum-slick lawyer ex-lover called MK. The baddies (as in enemies of Sethji) are Mumbai based, and led by an ailing, religious old man who wears saffron, calls bandhs, and has two loser sons. Any resemblance to people living or dead is entirely coincidental.
Shobhaa De
Author Shobhaa De.
The book zips along at a great pace, it is genuinely unputdownable-and, rather in the style of Joseph Heller's Catch 22, a new (sleazy) character gets added on in each chapter. There is Simran the starlet who has bushy armpits; there is a mummy-obsessed industrialist called Jaiprakash, who can't get over the fact that his mother had an affair with her own nephew; and there is a maalishwalla called Himmatram and a maid called Phoolwanti. There is kidnapping, murder and gratuitous amounts of sex and violence, as Q from the Bond movies would put it. There are also (slightly forced) quotes from Kautilya at the begining of every section, spouting crooked Sethji-type wisdom, and seeming like statutory anti-tobacco warning of sorts. "The arrow shot by the archer may or may not kill a single person. But stratagems devised by wise men can kill even babes in the womb." When the dust finally settles, it's a happy ending of sorts, even though a few major characters wind up dead.
De works hard at making Sethji slimy (even citing Sitaram Kesri as her inspiration, who, God rest his soul, had a face only a mother could love). And the book's biggest achievement is that, at the end, you can't help applauding the old man when he comes up tops. As for Amrita, who, as the book ends, "is planning to make Delhi nestle in the palm of her hand", she may well feature in a book of her own soon-titledBhabhiji, perhaps.