Spunky. Sassy. Straight from the heart. That’s exactly what one can expect from Shobhaa De’s writing. Seventy and to Hell with it, her latest book marks seven decades of De’s life. As she turns seventy her sharp analytical gaze turns inwards. She dissects, analyses, opines…starting off from the fact that she is now seventy, and what it means to her. De runs us through a gamut of topics and issues that have been an integral part of her life.
Seventy and to Hell with it: Seventy is NOT the new fifty
One of the basic and most honest premises in the book is that seventy is seventy. Unapologetically seventy. Shobhaa De makes no qualms about that. She does not try to sugar coat it by saying that seventy is the new fifty! Yes, we may have a romanticised view of age, but the body does not really respond that way. So, seventy it is. But, whoever said that seventy is not fun?
While the book is indeed all about Shobhaa De, nowhere does one feel that it is narcissistic. In fact, it is more of a conversation with readers. A friendly conversation where De sometimes evaluates her ‘take’ on life.
When De started writing she was known as a society writer. While her columns were always a tongue-in cheek look at the current socio-political scenario, her novels were a witty portrayal of the elite. However, her later works have been very personal. For instance, Speedpost was a collection of letters to her children. Shobhaa at Sixty, was also about age, but a little more external if one could say that! With her latest, she is at her reflective best.
A gamut of ideas
The book starts off with the idea of “space” and what it means to different people at different times. She takes on many different subjects including the social media jungle we find ourselves in, ageism, sexism, parenthood, relationships, politics and much more.
She shares her exasperation about social media when she says:
FB does not encourage the use of mirrors. It prefers filters. We all strive to present versions of our true selves, hoping to fool the rest. Since the pantomime is effortless and in most cases harmless, we carry on and on, our free hours consumed by an activity that is essentially hollow and futile.
Her opinions on parenthood have always been evidently strong and clear. For instance, she says:
I don’t understand the word ‘interfere’ when it comes to children. There is no such thing as ‘interference’. Either you are intimately involved in the minutiae of their lives or your children could be dead.
Amongst the different ideas that emerge from the book, what comes across most passionately is De’s love for the youth of today- her immense respect for the generation of today, and also a deep strong concern for rights of women. She has always been known to voice what she believed in and the book is no different. She is privy to, and empathizes with what she calls ‘the secret lives of women’ who constantly have to walk the tightrope. In fact she dedicates the book to “all female gladiators”.
What a waste that gigantic heap of ‘cant’s’ becomes over time. A futile and expensive waste of a woman’s best years- her best energies, talents, her most passionate feelings of love. If only women could discard all the ‘cant’s’ and embrace the ‘cans’.
In my opinion, Seventy and To Hell with it seems to be De’s most confessional work yet! De weaves in her unique perspective on life, with her witty and irreverent observations of the world around us. She uses interesting examples from our social and political scenario as well as anecdotes and instances from her vast circle of family and friends to illustrate many of her points. But perhaps at the end of it all, the underlying message that really hits the reader is that without the solid foundation of love, life does not have meaning!
Penguin Random House, 2017