If you are part of the left liberal English educated elite, this book is not for you.
This book requires prior reading; books capturing both sides of the ideological divide or Op Ed pages and blogs representing the right and the left. Failing both, following social media battles (which sometimes end up containing more wisdom than curated tomes) will also help. This book rarely mentions specific real world places, people or events – leaving it to the knowledge and conscience (“vivekbuddhi”) of the reader. The book is a collection of free standing stories, making it a light and easy read. Many of them aimed at our ‘pseudo-intellectuals’. If you are firmly on the Left, ideologically and paradoxically, part of the elite too, you may not enjoy this book much, since it liberally pokes fun at this section. Most of us are not, thankfully.
The author – Sanjeev Sanyal – is an extremely well read person and is also the author of books such as The Land of Seven Rivers and The Ocean of Churn. By profession, he is an economist. He is well travelled too, in India and beyond. These attributes have certainly widened his worldview, and allowed him to appreciate the various shades of human thought, opinion and behavior. It is this that gets reflected amply in the book.
The first essay “Used Car Salesman” is about how a poor salesman makes it big by pulling the right strings in the cocktail circuit and having just the ‘right’ knowledge about some rather otherwise useless topics! Coming to social media, we have ‘The Troll’ – in which an anonymous twitter handle makes life difficult for not – so- anonymous journalists. Many anonymous twitter handles and journalists can identify I believe with the ‘protagonist’ and ‘antagonist’ of the story. The title of the book itself is lent by another story within the book “Life over Two Beers” – a witty take on what is actually a very serious topic – corruption amongst NGOs and the Left’s tacit support. Then there are stories ostensibly aimed at Bengal’s leftist bhadralok – ‘The Bench’ and ‘The Intellectuals’. Both being rather amusing takes on how the Left, with its brute dominance in intellectual circles, has only resulted in creating self congratulatory echo chambers. There is sarcasm galore as the group of so-called ‘intellectuals’ seek validation from a faraway foreign university!
But not all the stories are about lampooning the Left. There is a poignant story of a man stuck with a government project that goes nowhere several decades after it has been started. Another is about a person who dupes his friend into shelling out lakhs by posing as a friend in serious debt. Third is about a small time journalist and his collection of books. Also thrown in is a story about corporate world gaffe which quietly gets swept under the carpet. These wonderful little stories resonate with us on a daily basis. This definitely happens to be the USP of the book – of people, places and events that the reader can relate to, in spite of them being only subtly hinted or fictionalized. Of course, for that one needs to qualify for the first two lines of this review.
There are around a dozen stories in the book, with a few poems thrown in. I have covered most of them in this review. ‘Life over Two beers’ is a delightful collection full of satire. Sanjeev Sanyal has delivered yet another best seller ; a light and witty read indeed!