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The keys to a guilt-free life: Good cook, good driver and good husband

Lalita Iyer | Updated on November 23, 2019 Published on November 21, 2019

Comfy ride: The author tends to take affluence for granted   -  ISTOCK.COM

No Regrets: The Guilt-Free Woman’s Guide to a Good Life; Kaveree Bamzai’; Harper Collins; Non-fiction; ₹299

Kaveree Bamzai’s handbook for modern women is not meant to be a self-help book, but is nevertheless brimming with advice

When No Regrets: The Guilt-Free Woman’s Guide to a Good Life was up for pre-order, my Twitter timeline was awash with tweets for and from author Kaveree Bamzai. As a fangirl and follower of Bamzai, I was excited; the book was being touted as a handbook for the modern Indian woman. There was plenty to learn from Bamzai; after all, she was “the first woman editor of India Today”and has had a successful 30-year career in journalism.

Bamzai categorically states that NoRegrets is not a self-help book. It is an intriguing claim, for advice pops out of every page, most of them from her many illustrious friends. Businesswoman Arianna Huffington tells women to follow her mantra of setting aside time and space “to recharge” at the beginning and end of each day. Director Farah Khan advises women to not make children the sole purpose of their lives. “Moms, take it easy. Don’t give in to social pressures,” she suggests. Tennis star Sania Mirza too joins the chorus. “Women are good at multi-tasking and they must use this talent to expand their working capacity through better time management,” Mirza says.

If all that wisdom was not enough, Bamzai offers some of her own. And she shows she is quite the planner. “Plan for the week rather than for the day,” she says. “Reclaim your commute. Read audiobooks, listen to podcasts, meditate, catch up on your sleep, especially if you are being driven...”

Bamzai draws from multiple sources, from Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women to the series Fleabag. She quotes liberally from the works of Hillary Clinton, Margaret Atwood, Naomi Wolf, and even Jairam Ramesh and Devdutt Pattanaik. To her credit, she does not counsel from a moral high ground, but as a peer who has also tripped and fallen. However, Bamzai’s voice fails to be that of a friend or confidante because she hardly allows herself to be truly vulnerable. What we get are glimpses, like when she speaks of her father’s death or the troubled relationship with her teenaged son, but these are drowned among other voices fighting for real estate on her pages.

Bamzai also tends to take affluence for granted, and makes it clear that the secret to a happy life is, in fact, fairly simple — a good cook, a good driver, and a good husband. Since most working women in India cannot aspire for a cook-and-driver life, and a “good husband” remains a nebulous territory, it can be safely deduced that a happy life is very likely beyond the grasp of many.

And if any one of the three keys to good life fails, so does the good life Bamzai has prescribed. In the chapter on work-life balance, Bamzai writes, “And of course when the cook has gone AWOL and there’s no fresh food to eat, who has to come home early? Yes, you guessed it, it’s the woman again”. Having grown up in a household where men have always cooked, such presumptions made me squirm. At one point, Bamzai says: Women of all ages end up eventually like their mums. Such reductivism is disappointing.

Bamzai’s essays on anger, faith, pain, loss and health are poignant, but even they appear to be opportunities lost. In the chapter on anger, Bamzai says, “Nurture your anger. Look after it. Listen to it. And articulate it.” She reveals very little about her own relationship with anger, instead draws from Rebecca Traister’s piece on the history of female anger.

What No Regrets attempts to do is help women navigate the challenges of work and home. What it is, though, is a calibrated, templated, hashtag-driven, marketing genius of a book with plenty of clichéd bites from celebrities.

While celebrity inputs might be a good marketing peg, what it lacks is the author’s consistent and authentic voice. A reader might want to skip over the celebrity pointers and get to the real meat, but finding the author’s voice in this cacophony is like looking for a needle in a haystack.

The book does offer a few tender moments, such as when Bamzai talks of pain. But she, again, refrains from personalising it. Instead, we get snatches from Joan Didion’s essays and allusions to the series The Marvelous Mrs Maisel. I would have liked to read more about Bamzai’s relationship with her pain, her body, her cook, perhaps about friendship (because this is ultimately a collaborative book with friends). But those do not come by.

On the bright side, because Bamzai is a voracious reader and consumer of streaming content, the book has left me with a fairly long reading and to-watch list.

Lalita Iyer is an author and journalist based in Mumbai

Published on November 21, 2019
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