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Prickly, provocative: How to Make Enemies and Offend People

By Rosamma Thomas

Book: How to Make Enemies and Offend People; Author: G. Sampath; Publisher: Penguin Viking; Pages: 206; Price: Rs.399

“How to Make Enemies and Offend People” is, the publisher will tell you, non-fiction. But wade into the book a little bit and you’ll realise that the publisher has it quite wrong: G. Sampath weaves little yarns, many of them around his beloved wife.

Reading the first few pages, you know that marital squabbles could only be retold thus when the marriage is an old one, on a deep and firm foundation. This first section is actually quite endearing.

The book is dedicated to “The Freedom of Speech and the Right to Offend”. It begins with the domestic sphere, and then extends outwards in little loops till it extends to quite the whole world.

“How to Make Enemies” is really not about hatred or enmity at all – it is flippant and tongue-in-cheek, mocking and absurd; from weighty matters of state to ordinary human anatomy, Sampath has a take on them all.

So absurd is it that this is not a book to be read cover-to-cover in one go, for that would be just too much. Dip into it a little, read something else, and then return for another bout of “getting offended”.

All the offence Sampath will ever cause will be with words – those are his tools, his weapons. They shield him from his occasionally menacing wife.

This book is a loose compilation of columns written over several years. It is a pity that in putting these together, his editors have not done Sampath the small kindness of noting, when a date appears in the text, which year is being referred to – “I made this discovery one morning in July this year.” and the reader is left wondering which year.

Sampath’s is a mind accustomed to leisure – so he can think up the most marvelous scenarios, and imagine solutions to problems that humanity has long wrestled with, with little success. Why might traffic jams be desirable things? And “How Gross is Your Gross Domestic Product”? Or have you ever considered that Ajay Devgn might need a bra?

Sampath finds economics erotic, and when he writes of it, he must mind some parts of him: “I might get sucked into a needless sort of asset inflation and end up forcing my fiscal tool into premature quantitative easing.”

Satire is quite his forte. “The ten qualities of a model employee” should be ideally pasted on office walls: A list of 10 things that define a model employee, one who never seeks leave or a raise, ends with: “The model employee dies the day he is due to retire. If he dies earlier, he does so after serving a three-month notice period.”

This is a book hard to sum up. “Unity of effect”, that one trait Edgar Allen Poe would hold necessary for all great works of literature, this 200-page book turns upside down. Heaping absurdity upon absurdity, whether dealing with the Radia tapes or with food writing, the author revels in dwelling on impossibilities and leading readers down blind alleys. Read, for sheer delight.

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