You’ve come a long way – Baby!by Monojit Lahiri March 8 2022, 12:00 am Estimated Reading Time: 4 mins, 44 secs
Monojit Lahiri reviews Shobha De’s Lockdown Liaisons and gives it a thumbs up!
First, a little background for non-Shobha De watchers: Ever since she pulled the trigger with Socialite Evenings (1989) and across the decades, right up to her most recent book, Lockdown Liaisons, Brand De has continued to attract two kinds of reactions ... Eeek & Wow!
Eeek comes from the serious, wrinkled forehead, culturally erudite literate type, forever involved in life-altering debates and discussions on books by the likes of Seth, Ghosh, Rushdie & their ilk. This constituency is prepared to kill anyone even peeping at material that is light-weight, fun, frivolous, spicy, provocative or daring to be unapologetically entertaining. In short, anything massy, not involved in the heavies and eagerly seeking popcorn for the eyes, the more chatpata the better, pull the flush!
Wow emerges from an army of raging hormone-driven enthusiasts, seduced by material that pulls out the stops to present a hard close-up of spaces where angels fear to tread! Areas, (interestingly) studiously avoided by the hypocritical and darpok writers willing to wound but afraid to strike! In short, form and content presented in chalu hinglish relatable and bindaas, riding on themes, subjects and storylines powered by treatment, that in Bollywood lingo, spells chakaas!
Hailed as “India’s Jackie Collins” in her earliest avatar, De has over time, moved on to tango with issues, causes and concerns that go beyond the kabaddi between sheets and re-invent her persona as a bold, fearless and frank writer, and Social Commentator, willing to risk her neck to decode lafdas (events, happenings, news-worthy stuff) that colour and engage the collective imagination. This she does with her trademark in-your-face style blending social comment and wit that is as entertaining as enriching. Along the way, it’s totally true she has made no bones about exploiting her good looks and provocative (oooi-ma) zingers to power her aura with her gigantic audience base.
Cut to the book Lockdown Liaisons. Words are all I have to steal your heart away, crooned the King (Elvis, not SRK or Kohli, dummkopf!) and De’s insightful stories capturing impossible, unprecedented, even surreal events, happenings and moments, through words, works like a surgeon’s knife; it cuts while it cures! Each episode indeed captures the “fragile zeitgeist of the pandemic” in compelling fashion, journeying into the heart and soul of every character, with rare passion, purpose and perspective.
The tone and tenor, voice and language are (for most parts) surprisingly accurate, believable and in sync with the soul of both the character and narrative, while presented in first person singular. Imaginative sympathy? Maybe, but no mean achievement, considering her background and station in life is a universe away from the life and times of most of the protagonists.
In a wonderfully engaging interaction with the reputed Kolkata-based Curator Oindrilla Dutt, De eloquently lays it on the line: “Right at the outset of our chat, Oindrilla had graciously said that despite the complex content, the book is an easy read. Thanks, but let me assure you, it was far from an easy write! Confusion combined with a desperate search for something – anything - that made even a little sense, led us to obsessively hang on to random slivers of information.” It is, undoubtedly, these bits of look-see-hear-feel aspects that powered, motivated, inspired and charged her creative batteries. In some fashion, LL was a book that organically came to De; she didn’t go to the book. It is said that loneliness lends an extra edge to imagination and this, in a seamless fuse with curiosity, hearsay, rumour and news, surely combined to form the leitmotif of this remarkable collection of stories.
While all the stories are insightful, absorbing and engaging, in their own respective ways, I have a few personal favourites. Heading the list has to be Lockdown Funeral, an amazing tale of a hollow, filthy-rich socialite wife, dumped by her husband and the assumption and reality that follows with a stunning ending and then follow: Vodka No Tonic, which has a super-cool comeback from a distraught and bullied wife that completely zonks the hubby, A Pressure Cooker Romance, a quiet, charming tale, where the pressure cooker’s whistle of our protagonist hints of a possible bonding between her and her hero-worshipping boss, Rasam & Weed where a young, married couple of different caste, are stuck in the boy’s ultra-conservative home where more weed and less rasam are their saviours, Stuck, the hilarious tale of a smart-arse cheating husband whose liaison suddenly goes horribly wrong and guess who gets him out of the mess?
Pick up a copy, pronto. It’s a great read about life during the pandemic of individuals and couples, young and old, privileged, whacko, aadmi sadak ka and how they grapple for mental and emotional space, of how adversity brings out the best and worst in human beings, many of whom believed that they were perfect, nothing could happen to them and the nightmare was happening at their neighbour’s home, not theirs, of challenge and change - vignettes of individuals whose secret selves carry undisclosed powers, close-ups of love, longing, loss and lamentation through real and imagined spaces - trysts with undreamt of destinies, of deep introspection and Eureka moments, of civilised savagery and incredible kindness, basically, close-ups and long shots of dramatic churn in the times of chaos, calamity and catastrophe…
As someone who was once a buddy of the author and continues to watch her journey with intensity, I can only say: You’ve come a long way, baby!