Sunday, 3 June 2018

Book Review #100 : The Perils of Being Moderately Famous

Title: The Perils of Being Moderately Famous
Author: Soha Ali Khan
Publishing house: Penguin Random House India
Pages: 207
Price: Rs 299

In the book’s first chapter, ‘Big Shoes, Small Feet’, Soha (meaning star in Arabic) speaks of people sometimes knowing her as ninth Nawab of Pataudi and brilliant cricketer Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi and versatile actress Sharmila Tagore’s daughter or Saif’s sister.

The book, containing 9 chapters, begins by saying that if you bought/borrowed/shoplifted this book in the hopes of finding out the secret behind Kareena’s glowing complexion or what Bhai really meant when he talked about nepotism and eugenics, then unfortunately this is not the book for you. Here she mentions, to her credit, that she is content to bask in reflected glory while seeking out her unique destiny. Her self-deprecatory humorous streak shines through in a comparison of her paternal grandmother’s rigid daily routine as compared with that of her own on a non-working day.

Writing about her father, she mentions how if he went shopping in London for a pair of socks, he would buy just that, without falling prey to consumerist temptations. After a car accident, he said, “I lost sight in one eye but I didn’t lose sight of my ambition.” Even after he’d retired and was hospitalised, surrounded by tubes, masks, drips, pills, syringes and doctors he refused to make a fuss and was always polite, ever-charming – making every technician feel comfortable, despite his own discomfort.

In ‘Wakeful City’, in something most people can connect with, she candidly mentions how financial jargon of investment banking can be akin to googlies. She adds that for bankers SLB is Securities Lending and Borrowing and not Sanjay Leela Bhansali, just as PC is P Chidambaram and not Priyanka Chopra.

About the 2005 floods in Mumbai, she recollects how she was stranded after her car stalled on SV Road and how warm total strangers were in going out of their way to give her directions, offering drinking water and the use of their phones. At one point, when she sat shivering on a stationary BEST bus, two women across the aisle glanced at her and whispered to each other, making her think of getting off the bus. But one woman said, “It has to stop sometime, don’t worry.” Here she candidly admits that they were not judging her, she was judging them. She ended up chatting away amiably with two women for two hours and for those two hours they were comfortable companions of circumstance. This bond with the city, its people, their resilience and compassion made her keen as per her own words, to do Tum Mile, the 2009 love story set against this very deluge.

A disturbing recent phenomena she flags attention to, is of how people misuse social media to revel in hate and troll people they have never met and know nothing about. In this context, she cites two examples of the time she was targeted on Twitter for having expressed regret over former RBI Governor Raghuram Rajan announcing his exit in 2016 and then on another occasion when she had worn a sari.

About relationships, she opines that many seem to survive only on the surface, with an emphasis on having fun and living in the moment. It is too tedious to share our deepest feelings, too hard to commit to being there when things get too tough, too demanding to learn from our mistakes… so much so that people have stopped really knowing each other or impacting each other’s lives. It is more of an existence and less of a life, a life more empty than full. And love is not the absence of irritation, conflict or disappointment. It is hard work and there is always room for improvement.

This breezy read with reader-friendly text font sizes is based on her personal experiences and has warmth, candidness, humour, offers insights and features never-seen-before images of her family, childhood and her daughter Inaaya. It is hoped this book will help clear up people’s misconceptions about her and add to her fans in the days to come.

Only Soha Ali Khan should write a memoir. Because what other woman, even on the peripheries of contemporary Bollywood, would get away with writing that her husband frequently "does something that makes me want to get up and punch him in the face." This follows a sentence where she is half-admiring, half-mocking husband Kunal Khemu’s arms which are so sinewy that she can see his muscles flex when he types something into his phone.

Most chapters in this book have the easy quality of early 2000s personal blogs. And if ever Khan had a noble mission in writing this memoir, it is frequently sidelined by her desire to make a joke. Frequently the jokes are about herself. Like discovering as a full-fledged adult but half-baked Bengali that the Kolkata journalist who referred to her mother as Sharmila Thakur was not wrong; she was just not using the anglicised version, Tagore.

Perhaps it’s because Khan is not selling anything right now that the book has this bright, genial and extremely enjoyable quality.

Soha has written crisply about her life so far. Knowingly or unknowingly, she has made sure that the readers do not get bored of her anywhere in the book. This kind of regulation comes in writing only when people are comfortable in their shoes.

I am in awe of Soha’s writing skills. I don’t know if she can ‘flirt’ with the camera or not, but I do think that Soha Ali Khan can trifle with words. In about 200 pages, she has written on genres like travel, cricket, cinema and romance giving a glimpse of what all she is capable. Though she might not be very popular, undoubtedly she has lived a life full of stories and adventures.

I really wish though that the cover of the book was more appealing. The land we live in does judge a book by its cover and it’s time that Indian publishers take notice of this.

It is, a well-written book as well. It doesn’t bore you with unnecessary anecdotes, everything has a purpose. Soha talks about her grandparents, parents, brother, husband and her new bundle of joy with utmost candidness. With an extremely fluidic writing style, which is simple enough to understand but doesn’t score low on finesse.

I would recommend this book to all those readers and non-readers too who just want to read and spend some time in reading book written with sheer honesty. It is enjoyable.

RATING – 4.8/5

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