Shobhaa De is as old as independent India — all of 60. To celebrate this and other points of similarity, the author of 14 widely read books decided to write another.
Her latest offering, Superstar India: From Incredible to Unstoppable though is a departure from her previous racy titles. Described by her as a “passionate love letter to the most beautiful country in the world”, De’s book was launched at a city hotel on Tuesday.
Bollywood superstar Amitabh Bachchan, Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel and philanthropist Tina Ambani all put in an appearance.
In a conversation with Hindustan Times' Advisory Editorial Director Vir Sanghvi, De revealed that she was tired and upset with clichés such as “India is poor, India is backward”; her book in many ways is a response to such Western generalisations.
In what she refers to as her “big fat India book”, the popular columnist has chosen to record the cause and effects of what she considers to be “startling social change.”
She says: “This change has come because of an economic boom and for once, India is not feeling poor anymore. The change that one can see in young India is exhilarating.”
Self-sufficiency, she added, was the greatest upside. “The only ones undermining it are politicians who make statements like ‘the poor are eating more and it’s a challenge’. We need a society that is more inclusive,” she said.
Providing a further dose of realism, De subtly criticised New India's heady obsession with money — what she called “affluenza” — and mourned the breakdown of the Indian family.
“Ours is a society in a hurry,” she said, “the question of identity is often linked to having a lot of money.”
When asked by Sanghvi to give a one-liner that defined the Indian attitude toward sex, Dé said: “Indians are fascinated by sex but scared by it too.”
More controversially perhaps, she referred to Thomas Friedman's The World is Flat as a “naive” account and referred to Narayan Murthy’s seemingly humble lifestyle as a “construct” — “He would love to be the new Gandhi”.
The two things that Dé would have us feel after having turned the last page of her book — “Feel good about being Indians in India today” and a lack of fear when calling ourselves “patriots”.
In a speech that marked the official release of the book, Amitabh Bachchan started by seemingly taking a dig at his detractors. Initially heaping unprecedented praise on Mumbai, he then went on to continue with, “Political correctness now out of the way ...”
Bachchan also seemed to have taken umbrage at the fact that Dé's writing had been described as the efforts of a “distinctly female voice”.
Reminding those present of India's dismal child sex ratio, the star made a case for an end to the male-female binary.
He concluded his rather articulate speech by saying that he hoped that Dé's “shrewd predictions came true” and went on to add: “Finding the name of the author in a font that's bigger than the title of the book is surely a good beginning.”