Very rarely does one come across Indian writing in English which can be categorised as satire. Writing in Hindi has had its share of brilliant satirists over the years. There is Srilal Shukla who wrote Raag Darbari, a tremendously funny take on the Indian village. Harishankar Parsai, who has written essays which will make you smile over and over again. And of course, there was Sharad Joshi who among other things also wrote the superhit serial Ye Jo Hai Zindagi.
Sadly, Indian writers in English have stayed away from writing good satire. But this is set to change, with blogger-turned-author Arnab Ray’s May I Hebb Your Attention Pliss, whose satirical take on a variety of issues, from terrorism to Mithun Chakraborty (or Prabhuji, as Ray likes to calls him), is highly entertaining.
The book is worth buying just for the two chapters on the sexual frustration of Indian teens growing up in the 1990s. From the days when sex in films used to be limited to the heroine falling through ice and the hero saying “ab isse jism ki garmi deni padegi,”(Manmohan Desai’s last directorial venture Ganga Jamuna Saraswati released in 1988 featured Amitabh Bachchan and Meenakshi Sheshadri in such a scene), to Indian males collectively discovering desibaba.com in the late 1990s, to the Friday late night flicks on Star Movies (Lake Consequence and Summer Lovers being the most repeated ones), to movie theatres displaying the poster of one movie outside and screening a totally different adult movie inside, Ray captures it all.
Chapters on ‘How to Start Your Own Management Institute’ (which takes pot shots at we all know who without naming him even once) and ‘Your Guide to Making a Fortune in Television’ are hilarious.
Ray’s take on the movie Gunda, starring Mithun, will have readers in splits. Sample this dialogue from the movie: “Mera naam hai Ibu Hatela, ma meri chudail ki beti, baap mera shaitan ka chela, khayega kela?” On Shankar (played by Mithun), the lead character in Gunda, Ray writes, “Shankar is able to rise above his own desire for revenge to heroically risk his life for sworn enemy Bulla’s illegitimate daughter, the one Bulla referred to lovingly as ‘haseena ka paseena (my darling’s sweat)’.
What spoils some of the fun for diehard fans of Bollywood and music trivia are a few factual errors that have crept into the book. Atul Agnihotri did not star in Pardes, it was Apurva Agnihotri. Akshay Kumar’s first film was not Raj Sippy’s Mr Bond, but Pramod Chakravorty’s Deedar. Mohra was released in 1994 and not 1996. And the song “iskool ke tem pe aja gori dem pe (during the school time, oh fair girl, come meet me at the dam)” is not a Bhojpuri song but a Nagpuri song. Nagpuri is a dialect of Hindi spoken in the Chota Nagpur plateau.
Also, the book could have been a couple of chapters shorter. The chapter on Ray’s wedding gets boring towards the middle of the book. All said and done, if you grew up in the late eighties and the nineties, this is a book you should not miss.