From tonsils to bunions and beyond

Book: One Foot on the Ground: A Life Told through the Body

Author: Shanta Gokhale

Publisher: Speaking Tiger

Pages: 252; Price: Rs 399

Waved into the antechamber of a labour room when the pain begins, what do you do? You do what’s been told to you. And when the gynaecologist, on his morning rounds, asks you what you are doing there, what do you say? “Having my baby.” Of course.

In another instance, she walks out of the MRI ‘tunnel’ laughing and tells the assistant technician, “That’s quite an orchestra you have there.”

Written by Shanta Gokhale, one of India’s most illuminating cultural commentators, a well-known writer, translator and also, the mother of renowned actress Renuka Shahane, this is a witty, well-written autobiography. The title couldn’t have been better considering the justification for the ‘one foot on the ground’ phenomenon she faced, many a time in life.

Rarely does one discuss autobiographies with one’s parents. However, because there was a mention of INS Hamla in the book and there is a tendency in the family to get emotional at the mention of it (thanks to their childhood and youth spent there), the reader had to. And to top it, mother quipped in, “That means I received a prize from the author’s first husband when I was in school.”

When you realise there is a connection like that, you automatically get even more interested. And thus, the reader sped up reading a book which started on a slow pace but with the years adding up, gained pace eventually.

Divided into 31 chapters and united by a body (no soul, please, for she doesn’t believe in it. Phew!), this is a must read for those who want to experience their own bodies under a new light (no generation-gap humbug involved if one considers that it is written by an 80-year-old lady).

“I’m evenly dark, inside and out. I can live in the Arctic all my life and still be this colour.” Saying that to an Anglo-Saxon (pink inside and out) takes a lot more than humour, especially when one grows up in a country that weighs worth on the basis of fairness (no matter how much we claim to have left that long back in our sophisticated, modernised journeys, it’s a thriving reality).

Brutally honest writing (‘many of my ideas for stories were conceived over the chapati rolling-board’), spiced with facts of the time, makes it a resourceful read.

Be it the Jai Telangana movement of 1969 or the Jai Andhra movement of 1972, or the way menus were decided for the get-togethers that the Naval Officers’ Wives Association (NOWA) regularly had, or the fresh perspective to the reader about the Babri Masjid issue — all of it has been described with great panache. There is also a mention of the Drug Price Control Order. Personally, it was like living history with a zestful person in tow.