Book Review By Himakar Tata: The Cheerless Chauffeur And Other Tales!

In his book “THE CHEERLESS CHAUFFEUR…”, Chinmay Chakravarty captures the different facets of the lives of middle-class Indians through 34 short stories. The humorous title of each story is indicative of the subtle and wry humor characteristic of the writer. Each story is a throwback on issues dominant in the India of the 1980s and 1990s. During that period technology was transforming lives in metropolitan cities. However, the social norms continued to remain mired in the India of 1970s.


The stories “THE RAIN DRENCH”, “YOU ARE INVITED (1 & 2)” are reflective of the hesitancy that came in the way of free interaction between men and women in the public. The 1970s was also the period when you had “leaders discussing poverty with glasses of expensive wine in air-conditioned rooms”. Many of the avowed radicals during their student days “left the left” in the 1980s (“A CIVILIZATION”).


It was also the era of shortages with “dirty-rich people in dirty-costly apparels waiting for freebies”. “THE MUNCHING WAYS OF A MISER” is also elaborative of this syndrome of scrounging. The woes and insecurities of a middle-class tenant are highlighted in a humorous style in “THE SPIT- FIRE” & “MILORD-O’LANDLORD”


The stories echo the transition that the Indian society was going through in 1980s & 1990s. With traditional societal norms having not yet faded away completely, this was also a time when men were still caught in a “Hamlet like indecisiveness” with regard to their adulterous flings (“FRAMED”).


The practical wisdom of a housewife is very evident in “PINNED DOWN”. Unlike her husband, she does not get overwhelmed by the hush- hush technological secrecy behind a “PIN” (Personal Identification Number). She has the perspicacity not to lose sight of the utility of a simple pin. “THE BLUFF OF THE HAZARDOUS KIND” unveils the shrewd negotiating skills of a housewife in undoing the damage caused by the emotional outbursts of her husband. “OUT OF THE CLUE” & “THE DUEL” put the lady of the house in a commanding position cornering a man for his off the cuff remark & having the last word.


Chinmay is very current in updating us on the flip side of a family cooped together, 24x7, in their home during the lockdown periods of 2020 & 2021. “BANANA BREAKOUT” cautions you on the qualitative limitations of ordering bananas online (despite its logistic ease). It recommends that even a man with the greatest “virus phobia” should step out in the open to buy bananas. It would reward his wife with that much needed valuable 15 minute “personal space & own time”.


“THE VIRAL VETO” dwells on the great debate sparked off during the lockdown on eating outside. “AN ELABORATE CONCOCTION” reveals as to how to circumvent shopping queues during the relaxation of curfew hours. “TALES, TELLTALES & TAILSPIN” sends your head in a tizzy over paranoid Indian TV Channels creating storms in tea cups in their rat race for their TRP ratings. “DECIBELS OF DESPERATION” highlights the impact of pandemic restrictions on the deals and power structure within a middle-class housing society.


The restlessness and woes of rail travelers owing to late running of trains is depicted well in “THE CONNECTING TRAIN”. Ironically, in “A CURIOUS CASE FOR DELAYS” the author justifies the relaxation in the demanding norms for punctuality. He indulges in a “perfectly timed time killing” at the airport. “BECAUSE I NEEDED TO BUY” also reflects the unpredictable fastidiousness of a commuter in his choice of the trains despite alternative options being available. “LESS ORDER ON THE SUPERFAST EXPRESS” reflects the psychological triumph of a cynical rail traveler, who has developed a thick skin towards all the antics of the railways. He also has the chutzpah to treat a railway coach like his very bedroom with all the informality. “THE DISCERNING COMMUTER” dwells on the scramble for a senior citizen train seat of a commuter fast “approaching the life landmark” of senior citizenship.


The street smart tactics of ordinary men and the mind games played by them  are described in details in “WELL DONE SENOR” , “THE LONER”, “TWO STRANGERS AT IT”, “ THE HAUNTED PAJAMA”, “THE BURPY BLUES “ & “ A PUNCH IN THE LURCH”


The need for innate horse sense to provide most unlikely solutions is illustrated in “THE PECULIAR MYSTERY OF A PARCEL” & “THE CHEERLESS CHAUFFEUR”


“THE BLOATED MUSICIAN” unmasks the hollow pretentiousness in some men. “BROWN SUGAR AND THE OLDEN RAGE” shows how   hypersensitive men can be. “THE ROUGH CUT” convinces you that it is impossible for one to please everyone.


My favorite story is the “THE THAMES POND QUADRILOGY”. Its fast-paced conversations are realistically reflective of motor mouthed salespersons trying to intrude into our private finances and burn deeper holes in our pockets. In “CREDIT CONTROL ROOM” the fast-talking credit card salesperson ultimately has her own way by not giving any chance to customers to respond.


The sales talk in “THE COST OF CREDIT” brims with sweet assurances by the credit company that it would be a noble and wonderful thing for the card holder to die in order to leave “benefits” for one’s family! “CASH ON THE CARDS” unveils the slow ego massage given to the unsuspecting customer. In “THE VIRTUAL TRAVEL PACKAGE” it is the turn of the customer to outwit the salesman by reeling out the extra hidden social & hidden costs!!


All in all, the wry humor, delivered in a laidback manner by Chinmay Chakravarty, makes you shrug off your middle-class blues to look at the lighter side of life!!


Himakar Tata, a postgraduate from the Delhi School of Economics, has been the literal globe-trotter traveling extensively throughout his service career and after his voluntary retirement, always following up with his travel stories published across various newspapers, periodicals and his social media accounts. His stories are always enriched with exciting and beautiful photographs. He hails from Vizag and is a member of Ram Mohan Roy’s Brahmo Samaj. We thank him heartily for this review as our valued Guest Writer.


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