Who, I wonder, does Ms. De write books for? Going by the content of Insatiable, it could be for the upwardly mobile ‘middle class’ (UMMC for short). This is the segment that is eternally, greedily, watching the celebrity brigade to see how they dress, how they live, what they eat… all in the hope of getting there some day, living the ‘good life’, that the celebs take for granted.
But, though there’s enough and more by the way of a good life, with champagne and female-crabs-with-roe lunches that continue till tea time, besides spa sessions at high-end salons and discussions on which biryani to order, etc. to whet their voyeuristic appetite, do the UMMC read? Do they actually enter a book shop, or scroll past the white goods and the accessories sections online to check on books and new releases? Perhaps they do, or copies of Ms. De’s books would not be sold. And sell they do, or why would they publish a book a year, every year. With most of them, now, on one single subject. She, her, herself. Brand Shobhaa. 2023 Edition
Of course there are also plenty of other Des marching across the book. Husband De gets a starring role, dealt with in a tongue-in-cheek, I-love-him-but-he’s-like-that-only manner. The children flit in and out, and De makes sure we know they are all brighter than the brightest, talented like few others and love the good life that only brands can give them even as they board planes and yachts and zoom away to far off places . Well, mothers will sing praises, every mother does today, and of course the siblings must indeed be bright and beautiful, but do we need a book to record that?
Praise filters down to everyone connected in any way to the author; so the hairdresser is the best; And the cook, the cleaner and the Garuda Puran spouting driver get their due by sheer dent of proximity.
And then, across the pages, everyone from Shashi Tharoor and celebrity chef Suvir Saran, from Cartier heiresses to Madhuri Dixit and MF Husain, Aamir Khan and Kiran Rao, Salman Rushdie, and Padma Lakshmi, ‘Prince’ Raghavendra Raghav ‘who’s on speed dial’ ‘…It’s one name after the other, one story after the other. Sometimes the vignettes are sweet, like Madhuri making many versions of tea to get it just the way MF likes it, in far off America, but much of it is a meet-and-tell that holds a whiff of clever networking.
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Where the book scores, rising beyond a put-together collection of thoughts, often connected to events like Ranveer’s bared butt, Gudi Padwa, Queen Elizabeth’s death or Rushdie being shot at is when De lets her guard down.
Then, there are glimpses offered to someone real enough to feel hurt or insecure. At such times we see a mother who longs for a tad bit more attention than her high-flying children; a woman who can be taken in by a charlatan jyotishi to part with 300 rupees, ‘the price of the popcorn’, and a 1,000 more still, (cheaper than the Chardonnay she downs to feel better). Such moments, though rare, are significant. Wish there were more of them.
Also, we could have done with more of the Shobhaa De brand of rapier-sharp writing. An absolutely delightful read is offered in a chapter that has her dismembering an ex-school friend whom she calls a ‘pretender’ with the ease of a chef cutting fillets of a pomfret. It comes early in the book, and is vintage De: witty, sharp, sly, and cutting. To be read for the craft of it, the sheer fun of it. Wish there were more of these.
And yes, there’s no denying it. De keeps the joi de vivre level high; her tone is buoyant and breezy throughout the book.
And while we are at it, this is for the UMMC guys and gals who do pick up this book. There’s an entire chapter where De responds to the questions she says UMMC types frequently throw her way… what does she eat, what is her skin and hair care routine, exercise secrets, etc. No spoiler here, so find out for yourselves. Maybe it’ll justify buying the book.
Check it out on Amazon.
(Sathya Saran was the editor of Femina for 12 years and is the author of Hariprasad Chaurasia: Breath of Gold, and several other books)