February 21, 2020
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Manual For La-Di-Dahlings

None's better qualified than Shobhaa De to write on the subject, and these truths dare

Manual For La-Di-Dahlings
Abhijit Bhatlekar
Manual For La-Di-Dahlings
Spouse: The Truth about Marriage
By Shobhaa Dé
Penguin Rs 250; Pages: 287
Shobhaa Dé is eminently qualified to write on man-woman relationships and the pitfalls of matrimony. Her latest St Valentine’s Day gift to her innumerable admirers is a box of mithai with her motto: "If at first you don’t succeed, try, try, try again." Her first try was marrying into the wealthy Kilachand family. The second was a short-term affair with a firangi that did not lead to the altar. She briefly mentions the first but overlooks writing anything about the second. Then she met Dilip Dé. Though no casanova, he was a shipowner, lived in a luxurious flat, had a weekend bungalow in Pune, another on the seaside resort of Alibaug and a couple of chauffeur-driven limousines. He was also divorced and on the lookout for a nice-looking replacement. Shobhaa’s dil began to dhak dhak. She tossed her long, jet-black hair covering a part of her fair face with a gesture she has made her trademark (later copied by the likes of Nalini Singh) and said dil tera, ghar mera. So they tied the knot and have lived on cloud nine of matrimonial bliss with their brood of six children—hers, his and theirs.

Shobhaa has had earlier incarnations. She first shot into fame as a columnist for a film magazine tearing apart the flimsy reputations of Bollywood stars. Between her and the late Devyani Chaubal, they legitimised the use of vocabulary used by Bombay’s bindaas school and college-going chhokras and chhokris. It was a mixture of Gujarati, Marathi, Konkani and Portuguese made as palatable as the city’s pao-bhaji. It has come to stay—no lafda about it. Her next phase was to write a series of novels including Socialite Evenings, Sultry Days, Starry Nights and Sisters. She lauded the joys of illicit sex and adultery. She earned the dubious title of ‘Queen of Porn’. However, each one in turn made it to the top of the list of bestsellers. In some ways, both these past phases of her career as a writer can be found in her latest book lauding the virtues of suhaag, blissful matrimony. Every chapter has an English title and a Hindi subtitle taken from some Hindi film or popular song—Touch and Go, Aa gale lag jaa; White Lies, Jhoot bole kauva kaate; Spelling It Out, Yeh dil mangey more; Fight or Spite, Tu tu main main. Every chapter has a grandmotherly recipe reminiscent of books like the Hidayat Namah Biwi and the Hidayat Namah Khawind on how to keep a marriage going. "An intelligent marriage is one that evolves, adapts and changes constantly," she tells us. When misunderstandings arise, "Make love. There’s no better way to prove to your partner that all is forgiven. Good, healthy sex, as frequent as possible, is the basis of a long-lasting marriage.... There are ways of re-animating desire for sex: get your partner to massage you with aromatic oil and take a shower together.... Bad breath (halitosis) can be very off-putting, so avoid pyaaz (onions) and lahsan (garlic).... How you get about it is entirely your own business: what others call kinky is perfectly ok if both parties are consenting be it oral, anal or whatever. You can do it even when the wife is in an advanced state of pregnancy," Dé writes. "Though doctors say it’s okay to indulge in penetrative sex throughout pregnancy, I’d say be cautious at all times. A tongue can be used for more than just talking...." Now that women have become more open about their needs, Dé is often asked, "What happens when I am in the mood and he is thanda?" She tenders advice like a practising marriage counsellor.

As the Dés age gracefully, some of Dilip’s religiosity has infected Shobhaa. She added a second ‘a’ to her first name—as did Jayalalithaa. For what reason she alone knows but it is well known that Dilip is into reading religious texts. Shobhaa was most touched when he sent his "Dearest wife" an extract from Hindu samskaras on marriage. It read, "Marriage, a permanent and stable union. Marriage is not a temporary contract to serve the momentary physical demand or to enjoy good company for some time and then to lapse at the slightest inconvenience. It is a permanent union which stands various vicissitudes in life only to grow stronger and more stable." His patron deity is Saraswati, the goddess of learning. He already had Lakshmi installed in his home as a permanent guest. Shobhaa Dé has added a third icon in their happy home: it is herself as the paradigm of a Sati-Savitri, the ideal wife.

Shobhaa is also convinced that like her earlier works of fiction this one, which is down-to-earth and factual, will also make it to the top of the bestseller list. I am inclined to agree with her because it is exactly the kind of book that India’s middle classes like to read.

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