Nestled between wrecked Mughal monuments and archaic design institutes is Delhi’s creative hub – Hauz Khas Village, a place & space for genius and pseudo alike. Armed eccentric and draped hipster is what sort of defines the Hauz Khas sensibility.
Somewhere in one of the pretentious cafes, around this part of town, Palash Krishna Mehrotra decided to get laid posing as an author. It seems worth the trouble as he is published now. He took up a subject that needed commentary and his book The Butterfly Generation is “part memoir, part travelogue, part social commentary” and is perhaps taking on too much at once.
Harsh? Well you should try getting by The Butterfly Generation. It gives professional hazard a new meaning. fiction
While I was looking for books that study India’s youth culture, Flipkart played a dirty trick on me, recommending what should only be available as a free to download e-book. Having said that, one has to give it to the author, who meticulously browsed and arrived at a subject that has not been explored as unambiguously. In Waseypur colloquial it’s a “keh ke loonga” book.
The Butterfly Generation is a tiring read mostly but manages a few ups.
Starting from the start, the introduction is weak, not socking you in the teeth or anything, just awkwardly drifting like an average student’s dissertation notes. For instance while referring to an annoying Delhi Landlord Palash goes:
“I manage to shake him off but not for long. He’s back in a couple of days with the same demand, ‘Let me in. There’s a rat in your room.’ I again try and explain that I’m writing and do not like being disturbed. Khosla doesn’t get it…”. YAAWN, the language seems like it is trying to accommodate a junior high audience.
A very large part of the book is profiling, creating an exaggerated version of characters he bumped into. Independent small town girls, junkies, ponny tailed photographers and other such stereotypes.
The concern; these liberties don’t make the characters more interesting, they just make them seem fictional. This is tricky for us as youth marketing folks who wished to steal insights.
Our quest is not entirely in vain though, as there are some scattered around, such as
-Mother’s are more understanding and supportive of a young person’s adventurous life plans
-Youth travels to bigger cities more to seek independence than for reasons often highlighted as career related
-Young Indian women love their jobs. They prefer being slaves at work. Air-conditioned liberation Vs noisy kitchen exhaust is a no contest.
The only times the author comes into his own is while he is writing about music. Perhaps his work at Rolling Stone’s given him those bearings. I was particularly startled when one his characters played ‘Sigur Ros’ in her car. Till then I was under the impression that at least in Delhi, mine would be the only car boast-blaring “the nothing song”. Wait a minute, do I know this girl?
The other small wins are these anecdotes that skin the flesh off our hypocritical Indian self, such as the ones about our obsession with white skin. Be it Julia Roberts shooting in town, or no admission at Colaba hotels.
What worries me throughout the book though is the lack of momentum. Just when you’re getting used to a story, Palash decides to diverge into random Airhostess academies and call centres. What is obvious though is that he’s gone and spoken to people. Perhaps he hung around with some maal to lure the easily amused. But there’s something there. So you do not come out of the book not having learnt anything. For instance I now know that Versova is the heart of the Indian film industry. The fact that there is a Rajesh Khanna Park. The book could very well be called 101 useless facts about urban India. The author realizes that writing a good book isn’t enough to be adjudged cool, so he humblebrags about being a St. Stephen’s and an Oxford Alumni. The most juvenile statement that he makes is when he turns brave and expresses his personal angst against “dimwit fundamentalist politicians” which seems hollow because all he seems miffed about is non availability of beef, which for a self proclaimed nomad should be a piece of cake.
Having been born in the 80’s myself, by the time I had my first hard on, India was a liberalized economy. So I sort of missed the socialist late 70s and 80s, what colour TV or Doordarshan and its programming meant to the young then. The author being a bit older lived through the one channel constraints and moved into The MTV Grind quite in his prime (whatever that was). So one does come out more knowledgeable about Eurotops, “a bizarre show of mostly disco pop, obscure bands from Sweden, Norwa…” but it’s the matter fact yet not dead pan enough language that makes the irrelevant even boring. Through the book I went looking for a sense of humour but in the end I realized the joke was on me. If only he could have put youtube links because clearly painting a picture wasn’t his thing except when talking of his musical preferences, which if he ever reads this, he must take as a compliment. I mean if you were burning Stone Temple Pilots, Radiohead and Soul Asylum back in the day, sincerely you had some going for you.
All in all, I think Palash has done his chances of making Hauz Khas Village Hall of Fame no harm. He’s probably getting plenty of action from the south campus girls, not to forget free entry into Rock Shows and Comedy nights. But I’m not reading his next book if he writes one.