Book Review | Of Feluda, dry days': A whimsical look, but serious too

Though the slim volume is thick with cultural cross-references, it is the pop culture stardust of Bengal, Hazra's motherland

By :  Shuma Raha
Update: 2024-06-15 07:29 GMT
Cover image of In Praise of Laziness
Sometimes quirky, sometimes philosophical, almost always witty, In Praise of Laziness and Other Essays by the journalist and author Indrajit Hazra is an off-beat lollapalooza that offers many wonders. The writer’s penchant for word play, his fascination with words and their etymology, his wide-ranging scholarship which sparks through his ideas and propositions that are both serious and frivolous, pack quite a punch. It’s a bit like watching a juggler do his thing with a multitude of strobe-lit balls.

Take the title essay, In Praise of Laziness. A riff on Bertrand Russell’s essay, In Praise of Idleness, Hazra’s ode to indolence traipses from an epic meditation on the gargantuan sleeping habits of Kumbhakarna — the brother of Ravana in the Ramayana — to a hat-tip to the character of Floyd, the slacker-incarnate in the Hollywood film True Romance (1993), to an etymological deep-dive into that exquisitely expressive, almost onomatopoeic, Bengali slang word, ‘lyad’, or the state of laziness.

Though the slim volume is thick with cultural cross-references (Rimbaud to Bruegel, Homer to Holmes, and so on), it is the pop culture stardust of Bengal, Hazra’s motherland, that informs many of the pieces. In Felumenon, a Bhadralok Franchise, which dwells on Feluda, aka Pradosh C. Mitter, the fictional sleuth created by Satyajit Ray and beloved of generations of Bengali children and adults, Hazra argues that the character epitomises the Bengali bhadralok (gentleman) as he once used to be: a person of intelligence, integrity, knowledge, and, also, one who disdained material wealth and equated it with greed. That the Feluda industry continues to be the phenomenon that it is, churning out films and television series 32 years after Ray’s death, is because, Hazra says with a touch of Felumaniac romanticism, they evoke “the Bengali as he was, not is, but hopefully will be.”

Other subjects get the Hazra treatment: A speculative rumination on the adult lives of Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn and Sukumar Ray’s Pagla Dashu — those free-spirited madcap boys whose romps remain frozen in the pages of their boyhood; the joys of an electric blanket in Delhi’s winter; the rewards of staying indoors; India’s alcohol-mukt “dry day”… There are times when his sentences groan under the weight of the cultural, historical and polemical references that he brings to bear on them. But, clearly, Hazra embraces the complexity. As he says, he wants his language to be clotted, “ropey”. So who are we to disagree?

In Praise of Laziness

By Indrajit Hazra

Simon & Schuster

pp. 168; Rs 399


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