Shobhaa has her day
De makes no bones about expressly stating her opinion - her books have explored raunchy themes with such graceful cunning that their long-term affect is always superbly welcoming.
Feisty, clever and – at times – abrasive, Shobhaa De has penned a plethora of electrifying books which, in their unorthodox appeal, have astounded critics and readers alike. The shock value of her work is as rich as her thoughtful renderings of Bombay, Bollywood, child-rearing, marriage and national pride. And yet, her writings have always been viewed skeptically on account of their sheer originality. On the other extreme, the element of subversion that is dominant in her work has always made one wary of her.
It is this incongruous treatment of her novels that has baffled me ever since I picked up Socialite Evenings. I constantly wondered why the book was mauled in the press. Clearly it was a powerful – if not entirely satirical – depiction of reality. Why else would it be selected as course material by the School of Oriental and African Studies? Moreover, I have frequently pondered over why a treatise as fundamentally realistic as Starry Nights was censured for its brutal honesty. Perhaps it is too risqué for a target group that is prone to delusions of a utopia. Or, it just doesn’t have the substance of a top-rated novel.
Notwithstanding the reasons for the cynicism that surrounds her work, we find that De makes no bones about expressly stating her opinion. This can be substantiated in the light of her well-known debacle with the self-centred Soonam Kapoor and also serves as a viable justification for the devastating reviews her earlier works received. The fact is that Shobhaa’s wisdom is neither hyperbolized nor immensely dull. Novels suspended between the two extremes are always victims of terrifying publicity.
Shobhaa’s books have explored raunchy themes with such graceful cunning that their long-term affect is always superbly welcoming. For instance, as I transitioned from the startling sordidness of her first novel to Second Thoughts, her most understated of fiction novels, the scope of her literary aspirations grew ultimately clear in the sphere of my mind: De was intrinsically challenging societal norms with a laxity that symbolized their outmoded nature.
Now – over five years later – it is captivating to see that she has become far more prolific a writer than she was earlier. Having recognized her flair for non-fiction, Shobhaa has authored hard-edged manuals on marriage in context, the progressive India and its globalized identity. She has also strived to penetrate the teenage demographic through her entertaining fiction novel S’s Secret. But of late there is much brouhaha surrounded her upcoming novel Shobhaa at Sixty which purportedly offers insight into the spiritual rejuvenation of those lost souls who feel weighed down by their age. The concept appears extremely promising and is indeed an indication of her maturity of perspective and compelling sense of judgement.
One can only hope that the novel is as well-rounded as its publicity. After all, striking an attractive pose for a book jacket does not guarantee that a book will be judged according to its cover.