It's always good when a book gets embroiled in a controversy, it makes for more attention and publicity for both the book and the 'libellee'. The book in question is Siddhartha Deb's 'The Beautiful and the Damned : A Portrait of the New India', the title needing a subtitle to differentiate it from F.Scott Fitzgerald's original.
Written as a series of essays that cover encounters with many people across five different walks of life: 'Management guru', IT engineer, red sorghum farmer, ironworker and barista, these are the lives that usually go on quietly, mostly given short shrift by journalistic writing purporting to describe them as part of the' India Shining' meme, or subsumed to the premise that all is really rotten in the current state of India.
Deb's writing is from the angle of the novelist, peering into their day-to-day travails, with an eye and a penchant for personal interjections and assumptions about what he sees. He is less judgmental and more level-headed chronicler, weighing impassionately both the good and bad that he sees.
Some comments and descriptions are so insightful that they strike a very personal chord. In the chapter on the red sorghum farmer.
" But when I asked Rajamma who would run the farm after him, his smile faded into a wry look. His son would not return to the village life. Even his grandchildren, when they visited from America, grew restless after the initial few days of excitement."
That's my father's and my generation to a T.
Or this observation, from the IT engineer in Hyderabad, talking about his decision to move back to India from the US.
"'India is a high context society,' he explained. 'It is a place where people interact with each other in many different ways. But in America, people work on the basis of interest groups. People are together for a reason, like work, and the interaction focuses on the reason for being together. It doesn't get deeper than that. So, for example, we used a maid service in the US, but we learned that it's not like in India where the maid would expect my wife and me to sit and chat with her. The American maid would think me transparent if I did that. But I also felt uncomfortable having another person in the house without interacting with her, so eventually I learned to put my Walkman on when she came in to clean."
But the most interesting person who is mentioned in the book deserves special attention not only for the incisive portrait that Deb has drawn, but his reaction to the publication of the book. Arindam Chaudhuri, whose Wikipedia page is curiously hagiographic, was so incensed by the essay as to sue Caravan magazine, Google, and Penguin. (Ruchira, you are forewarned.)
"The Indian Institute of Planning and Management (IIPM) has filed a Rs 50 crore defamation suit against the Caravan Magazine, its proprietors Delhi Press, author Siddhartha Deb, the publishing house Penguin Books India, and Google India.
At issue is a February 2011 article, titled “Sweet Smell of Success: How Arindam Chaudhuri Made a Fortune Off the Aspirations – and Insecurities – of India’s Middle Classes,” and excerpted from an upcoming book by Siddhartha Deb to be published by Penguin. The piece takes a critical look at director Arindam Chaudhuri, his image and the business practices of the IIPM. (The article has since been pulled from publication due to a court order)"
The U.S. edition has the original article in full, but the Indian editions had it excised. AC has powerful friends indeed, and a talent for insinuating himself into the forefront of events that will give him a hefty dose of publicity. (See here for an example of him inserting himself into the Anna Hazare phenomenon- He is speaking in Hindi, extolling rather shrilly the praises of Anna and denouncing corruption.)
I wonder who will play him in the Bollywood movie. Or perhaps no one there will dare to adapt the article into a screenplay, given his reach.