Sanjeev Sanyal, the author of Land of the Seven Rivers, returns to enthral readers with a collection of unusual stories. His latest book, Life Over Two Beers and Other Stories, a collection of 14 short stories and a few poems, takes a satirical look at the twenty-first century India. Written with Sanjeev’s trademark flair, the stories crackle with irreverence and wit. An implication to current technologies, social media debates, recent scandals and certain social types, he has mocked our times, our social attitudes and even himself through his book published by Penguin. His characters include a Mumbai housewife, a Delhi socialite, Singapore based traders, NGO do-gooders and even pretentious journalists.
He counts it as a record of times just like how Arthur Conan Doyle recorded the late Victorian England, Tagore recorded the early 20th century Bengal and Narayan recorded the mid-20 century India. In some way, short stories are more true to their time. Unlike a novel, which can create its full universe, a short story can’t.
A Rhodes Scholar, Sanyal is currently the Principal Economic Advisor in the Ministry of Finance for the Government of India. He also writes columns, articles and official reports, not to mention parts of the annual Economic Survey. Earlier, he has written The Indian Renaissance, Land of Seven Rivers and
a version for children called The Incredible History of India’s Geography and The Ocean of Churn.
“You will see the impact of upward socioeconomic mobility as well as the response of the old elites to the new entrants. One theme that runs through the book is that of social and intellectual openness,” Sanjeev says, adding, “My stories are derived from personal experience to the extent that they are placed in locations and cities that I know well. Many of the conversations in the novel are based on real conversations that I have heard in Delhi’s Khan Market, a bar in Kolkata and so on.” The book is targeted to the general reader, especially the 18-35 age groups, and is meant to be a light read. Sanyal has tried to make the settings, characters and situations relatable. The book is full of everyday things that an average person may have personally experienced — Mumbai’s suburban trains, Kolkata’s Rabindra Sarobar, Delhi’s Rajinder da Dhaba, etc.
He uses literature to express his ideas. “If anything, I dislike the use of complicated sentences and flowery language. I prefer using simple language and short sentences to express my ideas. If an idea has depth, it can be expressed simply,” explains the author. When asked why he chose to write short story fiction, he explains, “There has been a bit of revival in interest in the art form globally in the last year or two, and I hope to contribute to bringing it back in this part of the world.” In the story The Troll, a presumptuous blogger faces his undoing when he sets out to expose an internet phenomenon. In the title story, a young man loses his job in the financial crisis and tries to reset his life over two beers. In The Intellectuals, a foreign researcher spends some memorable hours with Kolkata’s ageing intellectuals. From the vicious politics of a Mumbai housing society to the snobberies of Delhi’s cocktail circuit, the stories in ‘Life Over Two Beers’ get under the skin of a rapidly changing India and leave you chuckling.