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    From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 9, Issue 08, Dated 25 Feb 2012
    CULTURE & SOCIETY  
    BOOKS

    What about the rest of us?

    Palash Krishna Mehrotra is too focussed on one social clique to notice all the other young Indians outside it, says Samhita Arni

    Palash Krishna Mehrotra

    Butterfly effect Palash Krishna Mehrotra

    Photo: Tarun Sehrawat


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    The Butterfly Generation

    The Butterfly Generation
    Palash Krishna Mehrotra Rupa 272pp; Rs 450

    HALF OF India’s population is under the age of 25,” states the blurb on The Butterfly Generation, the latest in the epidemic of ‘India’ books. The generation here is the one between 25-35, and Palash Krishna Mehrotra claims to offer a “compelling, no-holds barred portrait of young urban Indians today”.

    The first and most gripping section, One-on-One, describes a young India where cocaine and MDMA are available at every party. For the most part, a self-centred, frustrated and hopeless generation emerges in these pages — high on some drug like Mehrotra, who tells us how he often forgets his keys and breaks into fights with his landlord. There are girls who “sit naked on Sitars”, photographers who dodge Sunday morning visits of muscle-bound heavies sent by creditors. Mehrotra’s world isn’t one I and many others of our generation are familiar with. Perhaps we go to different parties. Perhaps it’s because his Delhi of disaffection is a far cry from my Bengaluru — a city of many young entrepreneurs on the make. This aspect of young India is entirely absent in this book. Likewise, most of Mehrotra’s characters live apart from their parents, yet what is often defining and pivotal for many in our generation is the decision to continue living with our families.

    Mehrotra tries to expand his sample size in the second section, Wide Angle. He explores the reality of young people working in coffee shops, fast food outlets, and as servants, and intriguingly analyses the phenomenon of ragging. But the chapter Inside the Sari proves to be a major roadblock — where his observations on urban women’s changing sexual codes are drawn merely from a few issues of Cosmo, Femina and Women’s Era, and from listening to a sex-talk radio show — and not, it seems, from talking to any actual women. He claims only to try to comprehend young Indian women rather than ‘unravel’ them, and so quotes what he calls (perhaps ironically, but this is unclear) “gems of profundity” from Women’s Era such as: “With dual working couples, and less time to have sex, [couples] will make love more intensely… Extra-marital sex will also get better and more challenging due to social accountability… All these connections will lead to a better sex atmosphere for the sex lives of couples.” Mehrotra’s vision is one of rampant infidelity, where “subterfuge [is]… a running theme”.

    Being ‘liberal’ is his other important concern. “We are not born liberal,” he states. “We choose to be so. We choose to emerge from the cave and see things as they are. Few manage this journey.” Mehrotra, it’d appear, is one such soul. He seems to assume that being liberal is a good thing, yet the ‘liberal’ generation he depicts is characterised by substance abuse, promiscuity and infidelity. Is this what it means for a young Indian to be ‘liberal’? Our society is often characterised by an increasing intolerance; Mehrotra himself refers to the Sri Ram Sene’s attacks on young people in Mangalore. And yet, his Young India is exclusively a liberal one — he doesn’t try to depict, or seem to be concerned with, young Intolerant India.

    Mehrotra’s prose, particularly in the first section, is tight and evocative and makes for some compelling descriptions of a small social clique. But he often doesn’t have the distance to be objective about himself, let alone others. His descriptions can be compelling, but his conclusions are problematic and not always credible. This book offers, at best, an intimate portrait of a particular social clique, but is by no means a definitive portrait of the generation it claims to help the reader understand.

    Arni is the author of Sita’s Ramayana and co-editor of Out of Print


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    From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 9, Issue 08, Dated 25 Feb 2012
 

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