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Posted at: Apr 15, 2018, 1:54 AM; last updated: Apr 15, 2018, 1:54 AM (IST)THE BIG SMALL TOWN: HOW LIFE LOOKS FROM CHANDIGARH BY AARISH CHHABRA.

Life in the languid lane

Many people call Chandigarh a soulless city, without roots or history. The author, however, writes about the uniqueness of the place. His essays deal with several topics — places, politics, the general humdrum of life and, above all, its people
Life in the languid lane
The Big Small Town: How Life Looks From Chandigarh by Aarish Chhabra. Unistar Books. Pages 187. RS 295

Aradhika Sharma

Anyone who has lived in Chandigarh even for a few years will make an association with many of the contexts and situations that Chhabra talks about in his book about life in the city. The collection of essays that constitute the book have been selected from over a 150 columns labeled, By The Way which he has been writing since 2013 in the local edition of a national newspaper.

Chhabra clarifies that the book is not about the architecture of Chandigarh, nor about its famous designer, Le Corbusier. Rather, he writes about the rhythms of the city’s life. Many times, people claim that Chandigarh is a soulless city — a city without roots or history. Chhabra, however, writes about the uniqueness of the place — exposes its beating heart and its romance; its callousness and its traditions. Thus, the essays deal with several topics — places, politics, the general humdrum of life and, above all, its people.

Chhabra’s strength lies in his empathy with regular people. He can spot both humour and pathos simultaneously in their situations. While writing a seemingly light-hearted column, he is likely to jolt the reader’s conscience by interjecting in it a searing truth, in the cloak of light humour. For example, when talking about the increasing dog menace and dog bites incidents in the city, he says: Love (that tender-hearted dog lovers have for canines) must trump everything else, including the overrated concepts of logic, reason and balance.

In the chapter, Swachh Bharat Andolan and That Man Called Satbir, he writes about a sanitation worker who died accidentally after inhaling toxic gases from a sewer. “His death was avoidable…if only the man had safety gear like a basic gas mask.” He demands that institutional responsibility be defined while raising questions about public health schemes and safety rules. In another chapter, he states “institutional responsibilities must never be outsourced to individual goodness.”

In the chapter, Surdas Must Take His Spot, he tells of a blind cigarette vendor who would set up his stall opposite the Sector 17 bus station at night. Baba Surdas, as he was called by all, had quite a following of loyal customers — among them, the author. As obsessed with earning an honest living, as he was with sex and sexual prowess, Surdas left his spot one night, never to return. It’s a piece full of wistful affection.

Chhabra is not scared to let his anger show. What emerges time and again in his collections is that he is unafraid to take a position and then expound on it — be it his stand on homosexuality, on riots and rioters or the easy access of drugs in the “land of chitta”.

The book is divided into six (self-explanatory) categories: Cityscapes, People, Society and Politics, Up the Hills, The Pak Love and the Misfits. In his very first chapter, he demands of the readers “Ask yourself, do you love her the way you used to?” He’s talking about Chandigarh. “The irony of Chandigarh is the irony of marriage. You marry for love that seems like bliss, but then care too little when you settle into domesticity.”

A challenging statement for the Chandigarh residents — perhaps just like his writings.

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