Book: Life Over Two Beers And Other Stories
Author: Sanjeev Sanyal
Pages: 232; Price: Rs 250
First a little backgrounder to the author – Sanjeev Sanyal is a juggler. He is the Principal Economic Adviser to the Indian government; the co-founder and Director of GIST – a think-tank that is a pioneer in the field of environmental accounting; Oxford Rhodes Scholar; a fellow of the Royal Geographic Society, London; adjunct fellow at the Institute of Policy Studies, Singapore; and a senior fellow of the World Wide Fund for Nature. He is widely regarded as one of Asia’s leading economists and was a global strategist and managing director until 2015 of a leading international bank.
Sanyal had last year spoken of how certain economists often fail to adapt their forecasts to a changing economic backdrop through an example of ‘How Dogs Always Catch Frisbees’. It is this wit and wry sense of humour that’s at play here. He proves that bankers can be funny too and can laugh at themselves (or he is the exception to the rule!). A much needed trait in today’s world.
The author after penning a few successful non-fiction works has now tried his hand at short stories with Life Over Two Beers – a collection of mostly satirical stories on modern India. From social mobility to corruption in NGOs, from social media and trolling to sexual harassment at the workplace, he has discussed it all. And has managed to slide in three poems also into the mix.
Be it the first story ‘The Used-Car Salesman’, which is about a — you guessed it right — used car salesman, but the twist is that he becomes the cynosure of Delhi’s posh circles by using his sales tricks to fool people. Sanyal is always mocking the common social attitudes and clichéd characters we see all around us. It is like PG Wodehouse meets Jaspal Bhatti.
While some may have a problem with the lack of insight into the characters, be it how they look or the reasoning behind their actions, the stories will work for many because of that very fact. It allows one to use one’s imagination. In ‘The Intellectuals’, for example, Sanyal parodies Kolkata’s pseudo-intellectuals whose conversations on issues, be it Obama or football, are stratospheric and vague. Now, many people will want the details of the conversations for a better understanding of the characters, but by not giving us that, Sanyal allows us the liberty of not being restricted to his idea of the individuals or conversations, but creating our own ‘intellectuals’.
Another interesting story is ‘The Conference Call’, which shows how handicapped we have become because of tech and how it can be misused. The title story in this collection shows the disillusionment and corruption prevalent among NGOs via a marketing executive who wants to make a difference, but can’t.
The short stories also reveal that the author’s bedside table will be full of Saadat Hasan Mantos, Rabindranath Tagores, PG Wodehouses and Ernest Hemingways. And this influence has been acknowledged by Sanyal as he has repeatedly said that this is an homage to many of them. Like the cover is clearly Wodehousian, and the theme of lonely men is a salute to Hemingway.
Time and again Sanyal has said that the art form of short stories is dying and he wants to revive it. I won’t be so pessimistic, but short stories are a form of literature that I love and the more the better. And while doffing my hat to the author, I would say that it’s safe to say based on his first attempt at fiction that his CPR seems to be working and the art-form won’t die an untimely death.