31 July, 2021

The Hand-Held Panshot

A gritty docu-style look at the lives of young people, but what is rendered visible is, strangely, a void

Tribhuvan Tiwari
The Hand-Held Panshot

Palash Krishna Mehrotra’s friction-free prose takes the reader deep into the murk of modern urban India. We cruise about, snapping up every rat-flavoured, neon-scented tidbit that he presents to us, because he writes in the style of a documentary video.

Even though we probably wouldn’t know better either way, his Wheeler Dealer... sounds like an authentic person. We are told that Nandu the autorickshaw driver is “a hustler, an illegitimate supermarket on wheels, and a sleazeball par excellence” in the first paragraph. The man’s life is laid bare for us, in lurid, unsparing details. He is exposed to our gaze like a frog on a dissecting table: here he is, having sex with his wife at home, while being spied upon by the younger of his two sons; here he’s selling weed, porn and junk food to schoolboys and security guards alike; here he enjoys the services of a prostitute and there he insists that a respectable woman cannot stray.

The essays are presented with the same admirable detachment,...

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