Book Review: The Lost Generation

‘It’s all a part of the change. Like my son says,”It is the age of computers, learn it.”. And as much as I want it to be otherwise, I can hardly tell him it’s the age of handwritten letter.’

– Dilip, The Letter Writer of Bombay, Part of The Lost Generation

The Godna Artists of Jharkhand, The Genealogists of Haridwar and The Bishti Wallahs of Calcutta, what do these people have in common?

They are all parts of The Lost Generation, some of the oldest professions in India which are now extinguishing day by day. Professionals leaving behind their kids, some of them who still want to indulge in the family legacy, and others looking for greener and better pastures.

The Lost Generation: Chronicling India’s Dying Professions by Nidhi Dugar Kundalia is a book that shares with you stories of 12 individuals, who have carried forward these dying professions of India and hope to see their children carrying forward the same. The Lost Generations takes you to those nooks and corners of India where such professionals still lurk and work. The book introduces us to the remnants of India which were once a part of daily life of our ancestors.

The Lost Generation is divided into 12 sections, each describing a profession. The book opens to the Godna Artists of Jharkhand, where a Malhar, the tattoo artists uses needles, sometimes thin bamboo sticks to engrave tattoos. Tattoos can either be a status symbol or to celebrate each life stage of a child growing up among Godna People.  The second chapter covers Rudaalis of Rajasthan, women who are professionally trained to cry at someone’s death because Rajput married women are not supposed to cry and beat their chest in public. Some of them even live in a harem and surviving on bread crumbs of some influential Rajput families. The third chapter covers Genealogists of Haridwar, Pandas. Pandas are  traditional Pandits who keep books of a family, kind of a ledger describing family trees of a specific clan. It is something which is not uncommon among Hindu folks to visit the Pandas of their specific clan in Haridwar when someone dies in the family or when someone is born. The fourth section talks about Kabootarbaaz of Old Delhi, Ustaads who train pigeons of different varieties to fly in races and win. And similarly, Storytellers of Andhra, Street Dentists of Baroda, Urdu Scribes of Old Delhi, Letter writers of Bombay keep on emerging in The Lost Generation, engulfing you into their love for their profession and sadness after being aware of the fact that one they will be extinct.

The Lost Generation is a book that will keep you hooked! When I read it, I could relate to it. Because I have come across some of the people mentioned in the book. My family has a genealogist in Haridwar, my first job was in Old Delhi, Daryaganj where from my office terrace I used to witness Pigeons being trained by Kaboortarbaaz every evening. My father loves Urdu scribes so I have visited a workshop also. I have even seen professional Ear Cleaners who sit near New Delhi Metro station in their red caps.But never I thought that these professions were dying until I came across this beautiful book. These are not just mere dying professions of India, these are legacies from the time of our ancestors. And people mentioned in the book and their stories will leave a mark on your heart.

The Letter writer of Bombay overlooks the lies a sex worker makes him write to her family back home.The Professional mourners or Rudaalis, fake tears to earn their bread. Nidhi’s writing is flawless and I was totally engrossed in the stories. A unique book, I would love to read a world series now from her!

The Lost Generation is a must read for everyone, something which you should really buy right away and devour into!

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