Insatiable- My Hunger for Life by Shobhaa De (HarperCollins India) marks the writer’s 75th birthday. Not starting off the title of her book with the letter “S” like she usually prefers to do, is just one of the departures from convention. Another is that the book is filled with juicier descriptions of food than people and their eccentricities! Not that its anything to complain about, because food is indeed, as can be seen from the book, a metaphor for life….and a life well-lived!
Insatiable is a concoction that has what one expects out of an authentic Shobhaa De work- honesty, unfiltered views, a celebration of family and friends and love and food…and all those little things that are indeed the big things in life.
Inspired by her old-world analogue calendar that travels with her everywhere and anchors her day and schedule, the chapters take on the names of the months of the year. The book is thus a reflection of 2022, made more poignant by the fact that it was a post-pandemic year, a year where a lot had changed and a fresh perspective had emerged.
The memoir gives a peek into the life of De and the breadth and depth of her days. As a reader, what inspired me is the variety that adds spice to her life- friends, family, food and travel! At 75, watching her connection with the zeitgeist of our times, her rootedness to the middle-class values and life that have been integral to her upbringing, her effortless balance between all the worlds she juggles, and her enthusiasm for life are truly inspiring.
It is quite evident that her children form a major and integral part of her life. “Proximity- both emotional and physical matters – and how!” she writes in the book, as she talks about adult children living in proximity. Those who have read her book “Speedpost” which was dedicated to her children would be familiar with members of “The Brood” as she labels their collective. “The Brood functions as a collective. It’s a tumultuous, fraught equation given how opinionated and outspoken all of us are. We are one another’s gurus, therapists, counsellors, sounding boards, anti-depressants and occasionally double up as cans of Red Bull,” she writes in Insatiable.
Another statement in the book clarifies the values and beliefs’ she has about her involvement in the lives of her kids. “Staying out of children’s lives is a very western concept. I can’t do it. I’m often told by them that I am an ‘over-involved’ mother. Hello! What nonsense! How can a mother be under-involved? Or how does a mother calibrate exactly how much to involve herself without making invisible barriers and upsetting her kids?”. The retrospective and introspective thoughts she has of them now as she looks back at decades of parenting makes for an interesting read!
Descriptions of food, and food as a metaphor are abound in the book and many articles talk about that already! But another favourite essay that resonated with me was the one on M.F. Hussain with whom De shared and very warm and close bond.
Readers may also want to read previous autobiographical works after reading Insatiable- My Hunger for Life. De’s first autobiography was titled “Selective Memory”. Not one to shy away from revealing the beauty and the problems of getting older, the reader may also find it interesting to read Shobhaa at Sixty and Shobhaa: Never a Dull De, and Seventy- and to hell with it…all of which are again autobiographical works.
Insatiable is more reflective and for those who look for it, there is deep meaning and wisdom as well between those pages. De’s trademark wit and sarcasm, with flashes of nostalgia and introspective bits, and food-talk seasoned with hinglish makes Insatiable a special delicacy for De fans!