Mother Pious Lady by Santosh Desai


The great Indian Middle class is that layer of society that no one bothered about till a couple of decades ago. People in this layer did not fall in ‘have-nots’ and hence did not attract any sympathy. And at the same time, they did not have the luxury of ‘haves’ so they did not make any economic sense for the others to target them. They lived in their own world where they had enough for their basic needs but nothing for their desires. Then came the famous economic reforms of the early 90s and it changed the Indian middle class forever.

People in the upper echelons of the society probably always had everything. And for the people in the lower rung, things have still not have changed much except probably a mobile phone in the hand. But the middle class suddenly had more resources than they were used to. They could now afford to buy houses at a much younger age. Cars almost at the beginning of their work lives. Clothes and shoes without waiting for a wedding to happen in the family. Psychologically, for people who grew up in the 70s and early 80s, the change was tremendous. While their growing up was in the era of scarcity they landed up in the era of abundance without really making a proportionate effort.

They embraced the change. But also had to deal with their roots that lie in another age. As a class, they also became the focus segment for many product and service offerings. They were not used to and had to learn to deal with this sudden attention.

In this book Mother Pious Lady, the author makes random observations about this Indian middle class. Sometimes nostalgically about the things that we cherished while growing up. But have either been lost or are on the verge of being lost like postcards, a phone connection or a black & white television set. He looks at the making of this class during growing up years with extended families and games that entertained us. He talks about their obsessive need for value for money spent. Often leading to re-use of stuff for multiple purposes. He slowly looks at how we encountered change. And finally how the change has changed us. He talks about our identity evolving from being family based to being profession based. And from being a local or regional one to a global one.

Mother Pious Lady by Santosh Desai

If you belong to Indian middle class, you will relate to everything that the author talks about. You will feel nostalgic. And would feel someone narrating your very own dilemmas and situations. He covers the personal life, family events, socio-economic change, professional environment. And just about everything that touches our lives on a day-to-day basis. It is like a chronicle of lives and times of Indian middle class in two decades surrounding the turn of the third millennium.

The book Mother Pious Lady is a collection of small articles that the author writes for Times of India. I have been an avid reader of his articles. And enjoy his simple insights that most people overlook due to media glare pointing elsewhere. While you enjoy an article a week, when it comes to a 380-page book, you expect a bit more depth. You expect some of them to be woven together as there are repetitions and you hear him saying the same thing again and again. The articles become predictive. And as soon as you get thinking on the topic, its over. You move on to the next one. I would have expected some more analysis of the observations that he has gathered and documented over a period of time.

While the topics have been categorized, they are too broad. And in my opinion lack depth that we expect from a book. At the very least there could have been a pre or post summarization of the topic categories and the insights thereof.

You can probably enjoy this book Mother Pious Lady, more by not reading it back to back but keeping it on your bedside table and randomly pick up something to read when you have 10-12 minutes. Small vignettes like format can give you something to think about or smile about for some time.

Santosh, I think you can do a much better book, not that this one is bad, but given the kind of observations and insights that you have, my expectation from you is better than this. Maybe another book…

Buy this book – Mother Pious Lady Making Sense of Everyday India by Santosh Desai at Amazon India.

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  1. i have been reading your blog since 8 month and found quite good & inspiring one particularly 149 book reviews….

    A great Indian middle class people have become a hot topic thanks to 1990's policies….

    a review is quite balanced one and give reader a clear picture….

  2. I've recently finished reading this book and in fact I liked it so very much and even could relate to some stories with my own life 🙂

  3. I picked it up from a book store just because it was from Santosh Desai and it seemed like a fun book, read a couple of lines but gave up soon. I think I will go with your suggestion and keep it for 'parallel' reading. Your selection of books is quite nice, and I am picking up 'Celebrating Delhi' by your recommendation! Nice blog, by the way.


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