Book review: Mid-life crisis? Keep the humour alive

Sunday, 25 July 2010 - 3:48am IST | Place: Mumbai | Agency: DNA
The Great Depression Of The 40s is a humourous and insightful take on a modern-day couple, their lives, jobs and relationships

Book: The Great Depression Of The 40s
Rupa Gulab
Penguin
214 pages
Rs250

Age is not just a number, no matter how desperately you want to believe otherwise. You may have a youthful mind and vibrant personality but your body will eventually remind you that your ‘age’ is the real deal. In The Great Depression Of The 40s, Rupa Gulab brings out the angst, confusion, loneliness, sadness and the perks of being 40-something.

Forty-three year-old Mantra, a columnist and food writer in Mumbai, decides she’s had enough when her editor yells at her for giving a third-rate restaurant a bad review. She quits, hoping to enjoy an early retirement, finally start writing the book she always wanted to, and maybe even learn bungee jumping while she still can. She’d also spend some time with her husband Vir. After six months of absolutely no desire to have sex, Mantra was getting worried.

When she visits her gynaecologist, he confirms that her symptoms are not those of menopause. He advises her to get a pap smear to test for cancer, and porn to excite her into having sex.

But only a week after being unemployed, Mantra realised her retirement wasn’t going as planned. Her driver, who she suspected belonged to a fanatic political party, “looked down on her because she was a woman”. Reshma, their surly cook recommended by Vir’s cardiologist, gives Mantra dirty looks every time she steps into the kitchen because she openly criticised Reshma’s bland cooking. Her neighbour Samira refuses to leave her abusive husband, and instead, pesters Mantra to recommend her to a colleague who’d put her in the high society section of the paper.

Besides, Mantra has to counsel her sister-in-law Anjali, who is falling in love with her ex-boyfriend, though her trusting husband adores her. Mantra advises her to “grow up and get real, dammit. If you have to leave your husband, leave him for a man you can see yourself growing older with.”

Mantra’s reflections are witty, cynical and brutally honest. When her sassy driver becomes obsequious in front of Vir, Mantra admits she was a “wimp” who felt too guilty to “hit out at people who are weak or economically disadvantaged”. When Vir moves into the guest bedroom because he can’t deal with a “sexless” wife along with the stress of being accused of financial fraud at work, she cries. Later, she mocks her self-pity.

The Great Depression Of The 40s is a humourous and insightful take on a modern-day couple, their lives, jobs and relationships. The sub-plots progress quickly and Gulab holds the reader’s attention. However, the pace suddenly changes towards the end.

While most of the book spans one summer, the last three chapters race ahead an entire whole year, with barely any of the detailing that, as a reader, you’ve grown accustomed to. Barring a few phrases that have been used too liberally (the author displays a particular weakness for “waxing eloquent”), Gulab’s tongue-in-cheek style of writing keep you amused. She wants you to give in to your fears about growing older and mock those fears at the same time. The trick — or the Mantra way — is to keep the humour alive.


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