So one cannot help but compare parts of, “The Liberals” by Hindol Sengupta to Pavan K Varma’s, “The Great Indian Middle Class”, however that is just those very small parts. The rest of the book is nothing like it. The reason I start my review with this comparison is that both the books have their roots in the Indian Middle class.
“The Liberals” is in part a meditation on the nature of things in the country over the last decade or so or maybe a little more and at the same time, it is a travelogue covering three metros of the country and the mentality that prevails.
When I say mentality, I do not mean in the loose sense of the word. It is evident that Sengupta has done enough research and more while writing the book. He sort of gets into the skin of the middle class so to say and gives us the true picture, ensuring that the writing doesn’t get too technical or boring.
Hindol Sengupta’s book is a slice-of-life of a majority that populates India – of how they live, their way of thinking (sometimes veering into generalization, which I could also ignore in parts), the so-called, ‘herd mentality’, the new “Keeping up with the Joneses” or the Joshis in this case, and most importantly – their reactions to situations and the economy.
The book is not a heavy read, as I thought it would be when I started it. It does speak of the economy of the country, but does it very cleverly, looping in the core of the book: The people.
Hindol has very sharp and accurate observations and those in part come from his upbringing as well, which is also spoken about a lot in the entire book. For instance, how he prays in English. On the surface it probably seems of minor importance, but then again the roots of this activity might not be that simple.
He speaks of the new hope that generated itself with the increase in the so-called, “per capita income”. Of how the middle class went from dreaming to affording and the new-found affluence and its impact on day-to-day living. Those were the parts that I could connect to the most. I guess at some level children of the 80s can definitely connect to this as we grew up with the beliefs and ideologies of our parents, that were transferred to us, till we adopted new ones.
The cities described and talked about only serve as a loose prototype of the Indian middle class. I am sure there is more to that, but then again it could also be the size of the book that demanded only limited cities to feature and be spoken about. At times, I did get a little bored of the writing, as it crossed over to being repetitive in parts, and yet the new chapter ensured I was shaken off by that feeling.
“The Liberals” does not speak of anything new. The concepts and ideas and events are universal to probably every Indian. What is new though is of course the author’s point of view, the anecdotes (which you and I can relate to), the way he has structured the book and but of course the writing. I would urge you to read the book only because to a very large extent, it is a mirror to the times gone by, to what we are living now and probably how we would be in the future.