Unimpressive words

Dad’s the Word: The Perils and Pleasures of Fatherhood, 
By Soumya Bhattacharya, Westland, R225

Soumya Bhattacharya so loved his words, that he gave his only begotten daughter a whole lot of them to fall asleep to.

That the child in question (her name is of no importance here) is dearly loved comes through often enough, though probably not when Bhattacharya describes an approach to parenting that involves taking breaks from beer and a cigarette to help her with tennis or the odd homework assignment involving adjectives.

At a few odd moments, his writing is almost pleasurable. ‘How much longer?’ he asks, for instance. ‘How much longer do I have with this?’ Then again, there are a number of other rhetorical (in other words, pointless) questions strewn throughout these pages, as are a couple of anecdotes that may liven up the odd dinner conversation with family members but simply curl up and die when put to paper.

Bhattacharya also expends much energy name-dropping a who’s who of modern British literature (Amis, McEwan, special Thank You to Barnes), art (Kandinsky, Picasso) and world cinema (Kurosawa, Bertolucci, Nagisa Oshima). The general impression one derives is of the writer as a man who reads the correct things, stares at the right masterpieces at the Musée d’Orsay and watches everyone who makes the Criterion Collection list. His daughter’s presence on these pages is marginal. It is his informed opinion as it were, that takes centrestage. This wouldn’t be as tiresome as it is if he were genuinely qualified to wax eloquent on art or literature. He isn’t.

Some may laud the book as testament to the powerful bond between father and daughter; one that is — as our conscience-keeper Aamir Khan has wept in public while informing us — all too often threatened in modern India. It could have been, were it to rise above the hackneyed nuggets of wisdom forced in between comments about great cinema and art.

As a compilation of columns, for that is all it is, this is at best more soufflé than substance. At its worst, it comes across as a vanity project destined to be a gift for his daughter when she turns 21. I suppose one ought to be happy she’s an only child. Siblings could have prompted the release of more exhausted prose from this otherwise engaging (when restricted to cricket, apparently) writer. ‘Any of you could have written this book,’ he points out on page 101. He’s probably right.

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