To be honest, I’ve never been a fan of short stories and most of my exposure to this genre came from the ‘required reading’ as a student. And even then, I often relied on Sparknotes instead of reading them for myself. After reading Life Over Two Beers by Sanjeev Sanyal, I’m beginning to get a sense of why that was. Those short stories were generally from a bygone era, dealing with issues and places of a bygone era. And somehow, before you could plunge into them and acclimatize yourself to the context and start making sense of things as they were, it was all over.
That’s a problem I did not face with most stories in Life Over Two Beers. Walking around in Hauz Khas Village, hanging out at Oly Pub, being aggressive on Twitter, coming across a new mobile application which you think is the best but causes collateral damage in the long run, are the sort of things that are well-entrenched in our psyche. That, coupled with the writing, offered a smooth reading experience. Sanjeev Sanyal came across as a very keen and balanced observer of life, delivering sharp punches and deep insights with utmost equanimity.
Having been an avid reader of Sanjeev Sanyal ’s non-fictional works, I was curious to see what was in store. What I admired the most was that there wasn’t a fixed template or theme that all stories followed. The diversity of imagination stood out clearly, and that for me was the most admirable factor. However, I do not think that is the key takeaway from the book. One cannot simply ignore the satirical take on the Khan Market Consensus, exposing its absurdity.
The Khan Market Consensus has been attacked by all of us for its dishonesty, its hypocrisy, its fraudulence, its entitlement, and so on. We love to hate it. But with this book, Sanjeev Sanyal teaches us to laugh at it too. Because, apart from being dishonest, hypocritical and entitled, it is supremely ridiculous. Somehow, apart from a select group of Twitter handles and meme-making Facebook Pages, we often forget that apart from exposing and dissing the Khan Market Consensus, it is to be laughed at as well.
The book reminded me of a film I had watched in a French class in high school. It was about the playwright Pierre Beaumarchais, and how his Figaro plays made fun of the French aristocracy and government. His exposing of how ridiculous the entire system was, is supposed to have played a key role in enlightening people and sparking off the French revolution. In today’s India, the revolution at a political level has already taken place. However, the same cannot be said about the media, the intelligentsia, pop-culture, social work and a few other spheres. A small group holding ideas and loyalties (and placards sometimes) which do not resonate with people at large, wields considerable influence. Perhaps the kind of humor this book offers is exactly what we need: a non-toxic way of dealing with and quelling the toxicity that is pedaled.
And this is why Life Over Two Beers, despite centering itself around technology and hangout places which might disappear many years down the line, will remain immortal. It will, much like the Figaro plays, be remembered for shedding light on how ridiculous the Khan Market Consensus used to be. It will be remembered for providing a comical insight into how certain editors ran their magazines, the red Bindi that some con-women sported, the media companies which served political interests, and an age where fact-checkers were forced to remain incognito while mediocrity was flashed in abundance on television debates.
I cannot end the review without mentioning one of the poems featured in between the short stories- Exile. What a particular community has to live through day in and day out has been captured vividly. The verses, which reminded me of Pink Floyd’s High Hopes, are overwhelming, and brought a lump to my throat. I’m not quite sure why, but I had to mention this poem in my review. Life Over Two Beers is a page-turner, and one that will be read for many years to come.