Archive for the ‘Contemporary Indian Writing in English’ Category

One Part Woman
Perumal Murugan | Penguin | Rs 399

Screen Shot 2015-01-18 at 11.50.53 AMFirst published in Tamil as ‘Madhorubagan’ in 2010, this heart-stopping tale from Tamil Nadu follows a series of twists in a life of a couple as they seek to conceive a child. Kali is a farmer married to beautiful sensual Ponna. People envy their union. Is Kali impotent, they wonder or is  Ponna barren? The two, beseech gods, undertake pilgrimages and do every penance suggested. Then in the festival of ‘The Chariot’ the wheel of life tumbles forward. Myth and ritual propel Ponna towards a night with a stranger in a forest and a loss that can’t be undone.

(The above review appeared in the Mail Today dated 4 December 2013.)

NOTE: Critically acclaimed writer and thinker, Perumal Murugan made news last week when he declared in a post on Facebook that “Author Perumal Murugan is dead. He is no God. Hence, he will not resurrect. Hereafter, only P Murugan, a teacher will live.” He made this statement after facing a sustained and ugly backlash from his community in Thiruchengode, Tamil Nadu, India. At the heart of the controversy is the book mentioned above.

The story, set in Thiruchengode some 100 years ago, agonises over a love of a man for a woman, their desire for a child and their eventual participation in a socio-religious carnival that offers a possibility of impregnation. In 2005 Amol Palekar’s film – Paheli (‘A Riddle’) – raised a similar issue by imaging a Rajasthan folk lore that had a ghost character impregnate a lonely wife. It raised tempers but did not escalate to the level protests against Murugan have grown. 

Clearly, political muscle lent to anti-Madhorubagan protests accounts for the ugliness that the writer is facing now. Silencing and hounding a writer cannot stop memories embedded and encoded in folk tales, songs, poetry, architecture or mythology. Not in Tamil Nadu, not in Rajasthan. It can only highlight how irrational and small minded we can be. Don’t kill the author. Kill prejudice.

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Bloodline Bandra
Godfrey Joseph Pereira | Harper Collins | Rs 350

Screen Shot 2015-01-11 at 9.16.17 PMThis is a story that belongs to late-1980s. A time when Bandra was a village populated with ‘Cat-licks’ who spoke a quaint version of ‘bleddy’ English. “I wanted to capture the sarcasm, the humour, the double entendre, the innuendo…its bloody brilliant,” writes Pereira. But this is only one part of the novel. The second part, details the ‘legal slavery’ of Indians working in New York. “Part II is a searing scream of anguish…of the Indians whose voices have been castrated by other Indians,” says Pereira. Honestly told, it’s a book that will thrill and chill you.


Beauty At Your Fingertips
Dr Nirmala Shetty | Westland | Rs 295

Screen Shot 2015-01-11 at 9.16.54 PMThe back flap tells us that Dr Nirmala Shetty is a renowned naturopath and that she has ‘officially’ attended to Miss India International and Miss India World contestants. Flip the book. Search acne. Adolescents should not burst pimples, says Shetty. “They should also avoid shellfish, prawns, cashew nuts, iodized salt, coffee, tea and sugar.” That’s quite a strange statement to make for teenagers. But then, Dr Shetty, we are assured, knows what she’s writing about. Her cure for acne includes Neem and mint leaves! What’s new about this ageless home recipe?


Whisper the Dead
Alyxandra Harvey | Bloomsbury | Rs 350

Screen Shot 2015-01-11 at 9.17.11 PMSecond book in the Lovegrove series introduces the reader to Gretchen, one of the three witches in Mayfair, London. Gretchen is a whisperer, a girl who can hear other witches in her head. Sometimes they make so much noise that her ears start to bleed. Gretchen, Emma and Penelope – are the three cousins whose job is to keep the terrible Greymalkin Sisters from rising again. In the first book, ‘Breath of Frost’, Emma had them bottled. She was the star of the story. Now Gretchen has to avert the doom. Fun read.

(The above reviews appeared in Sunday edition of the Mail Today, New Delhi, dated 4 January 2015.)

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Eating God
Ed. by Arundhathi Subramaniam | Penguin | Rs 599

Screen Shot 2015-01-11 at 7.48.47 PMThere is no better way to introduce this anthology of Bhakti poetry than to hear the editor, Arundhathi Subramaniam, brief us about it, “Bhakti poems offer sanctuary, companionship, illumination – signposts on what often is turbulent and uncertain journey. They are reminders of the human struggle to give utterance to that strange hunger for something that we seem perennially on the verge of apprehending – the mystery that…is totally foreign to us, but [with which] we are completely at home.” You’ll find many voices here – geographical, social, linguistic, psychological and historical. Each one sings a song.


Sardarji & Other Stories
Khwaja Ahmad Abbas | Om Books | Rs 295

Screen Shot 2015-01-11 at 7.48.33 PM“The strength of your short stories my dear Abbas, lies in the fact that you have grasped the weakness of your characters amid their strengths,” wrote Mulk Raj Anand, the late doyen of Indian fiction in English, in the introduction to one of Abbas’ short story collections. Writer, journalist & screenwriter Khwaja Ahamd Abbas (1914-1987) is best remembered for his story, “Sardarji” and film scripts that include Naya Sansar, Jagte Raho, Neecha Nagar, Awara and Bobby to name a few. His short stories are being re-discovered now. This slim volume will entrance and move you.

Powers of Two
Joshua Wolf Shenk | John Murray & Hachette India | Rs 499

Screen Shot 2015-01-11 at 7.48.18 PMJoshua Wolf Shenk, an essayist, author and curator based in Los Angeles, USA, makes a persuasive argument that most creative individuals work in pairs. The idea of solitary genius or locating creativity in networks, he says is only one part of the story. The other less discussed and accepted reality is that John Lennon and Paul McCartney, Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, Picasso and Matisse and many others worked or engaged as pairs to create the world most memorable, life altering and incredible things. There is power in collaborations. Time we acknowledged this.

(The above reviews appeared in Sunday edition of the Mail Today, New Delhi, dated 23 November 2014.)

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Only Connect!
Ed. by Meenakshi Bharat & Sharon Rundle | Rupa | Rs 195

Screen Shot 2015-01-11 at 7.23.31 PM‘Only Connect!’ presents a mixed bag of short stories. Some good, some middling. Some ephemeral. It includes tales by Indian, Sri Lankan and Australian writers. The theme is technology and how it impacts people. What do these stories tell us? For one, people crave human contact. Texting, facebooking and emailing is artificial and misleading. On the other hand, too much proximity forces people to seek an alternative space that is accessible at a push of a button. Third, there is politics and surveillance, and our attempt to escape it. Readable.


Understanding India
Rohitashya Chattopadhyay | Sage | Rs 695

Screen Shot 2015-01-11 at 7.30.35 PM“Although this is an ethnography of media production, the central narrative of the book is structured around the issue of Indian identity,” writes Rohitashya Chattopadhyay in the introduction to the book. Can Indian identity be compartmentalized in an age of cultural hybridity? What are the reasons behind the mythic dimension of cricket-themed commercials? These and many other questions find their answers in this dissertation, which asserts that TV commercials connect consumerism with the nation-state and thus offer the viewer their country as a consumable product. Interesting.


Harley Loco
Rayya Elias | Bloomsbury | Rs 399

Screen Shot 2015-01-11 at 7.30.53 PMDaughter of a rich farmer and landowner émigré from Syria, Rayya Elias grew up in Detroit. While her parents were conscious of their migrant status, Rayya embraced America and drugs. In 1983, as a successful hairdresser, she arrived in New York and Lower East Side. Neglected by parents and brother, bullied by schoolmates and ridiculed by society around her, she sought escape in pot, boys, mescaline, acid and coke. Till she found out she was a lesbian and found herself homeless in Tompkins Square Park. Life changed. This is her story.

(The above reviews appeared in Sunday edition of the Mail Today, New Delhi, dated 9 November 2014.)

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Fire Under Ash
Saskya Jain | Random House | Rs 499

Screen Shot 2014-12-28 at 6.34.45 PMIt’s “an audacious debut” says the PR blurb from the publishers. Is it? What’s audacious about this debut? Nothing, if you ask me. Just a PR word. Saskya Jain’s debut novel about Delhi’s rich meeting aspiring middle-class Bihar is a look at the class and regional divide that continues to scar our country. Caste makes no appearance here. Delhi, New York and Patna do. Jain’s clever use of advertorial hoardings to capture the signature tune of changing India is arresting. As is her ability to chain her characters to the architecture that surrounds them. As for the rest, she has a story and she tells it well.


Skin Talks
Dr Jaishree Sharad | Random House | Rs 299

Screen Shot 2014-12-28 at 6.35.10 PM‘Skin Talks’ begins with several endorsements from the entertainment industry. The forward bears the signature of Amitabh Bachchan. The book takes you through the various regimens that help keep one’s skin healthy and beautiful. But the strongest pitch is made for Botox, fillers (hyaluronic acid) and derma lifts that are expensive and debatable. If you are the kind that relies more on skin doctors than home remedies, this book is for you. Whatever your age, skin type and characteristic, Dr Jaishree Sharad has an answer. Consult it, if you want. Risk, is yours.

The Taste Of Words
Ed. & Transl. by Raza Mir | Penguin | Rs 399

Screen Shot 2014-12-28 at 6.35.21 PMIt’s a treat for poetry fans. Raza Mir, a management teacher at an American university, has put together an anthology of Urdu poems that he has translated into English. It’s a quirky collection that starts with Amir Khusro and ends with Gulzar. It includes many well-worn verses as well as some new sharp voices such as Ishrat Afreen’s:

Mera qad
Mere baap se ooncha nikla
Aur meri ma jeet gayi”

(I grew taller than my father/My mother had won.) Whether you know or don’t know Urdu, this ode to Urdu tehzeeb (culture) is going to charm you.


(The above reviews appeared in Sunday edition of the Mail Today, New Delhi, dated 2 November 2014.)

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My Paper Half
Shrishendu Mukhopadhyay | Niyogi Books | Rs 195

Screen Shot 2014-12-28 at 6.01.55 PMTranslated from Bengali by Soma Das, ‘My Paper Half’ tells a story of young unemployed youth who lives off others to feed his stomach. Upal, the protagonist of this slim novel, first published as ‘Kagjer Bou’, owes allegiance to no one. Not even his conscience. He is a thief, a floater and a cad. But is he the only one? His college friend Subinoy, a gentleman about town, is no different. Neither are the women that appear on the pages of this slim novel. Mukhopadhyay says, life is about insatiable hunger. A hunger for love. A hunger for violence. A hunger to be. To live.


Success Mantra Of BrahMos
A Sivathanu Pillai | Pentagon Press | Rs 395

Screen Shot 2014-12-28 at 6.02.11 PMThis book by defence technologist, Dr. A Sivathanu Pillai, details the journey that went into the making of the made-in-India anti-ship missile we all know as BrahMos. Jointly developed by India and Russia, BrahMos is capable of striking targets at sea and land. “I consider this book a valuable narration to young scientists, technologists, techno-managers and the youth who aspire to excel in this competitive world,” says Dr APJ Abdul Kalam in the introduction to the book, who as Director of DRDO, gave the programme the impetus it needed.

Left-Wing Extremism and Human Rights
K.V. Thomas | Sage | Rs 995

Screen Shot 2014-12-28 at 6.02.21 PMFormer Director of IB, Ministry of Home Affairs, K.V. Thomas takes on the role of civil liberties groups in Andhra Pradesh to suggest what can be done to defang LWE in the country. Citing the example of AP, the writer, argues that government should rope in NGOs to deliver ‘social goods’; reinvent the ‘development paradigm’; encourage ‘better relations’ between NGOs and civil liberty groups; train police force to respect human rights guaranteed under the Constitution; solve land reform issues; and, create a comprehensive plan to wean away marginalized societies from LWE. Doable? Doubtful.

(The above reviews appeared in Sunday edition of the Mail Today, New Delhi, dated 19 October 2014.)

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The Planner
Tom Campbell |Bloomsbury| Rs 450

Screen Shot 2014-12-28 at 5.14.03 PMMany young people join the government sector with the idea of contributing to society. But when they find themselves at work, as Tom Campbell’s character the 32-year-old James does, they feel that somehow life is not what it seems. James’ friends appear to be happier and more successful. He envies them and tries to change – by planning a new life for himself. Located in London, the writer explores the nagging anxieties that dog men in capitalist society. This book will resonate with those who leave their government jobs to join corporate world in India.


Leadership: The Gandhi Way
Virender Kapoor| Rupa| Rs 195

Screen Shot 2014-12-28 at 5.22.52 PMGandhi is always fashionable. He figures on our currency notes, looks down on us in school and government lobbies and offices, and of late, he has been invoked in government scheme kicked off by Prime Minister, Narendra Modi. Virender Kapoor, a self-professed thinker and inspirational guru points out how Gandhi can be relevant in liberalized industrial India. Some of his tips include: an emotional appeal always works, leaders must practice what they preach, diplomacy is a form of non-violence and last but not least, find yourself a guru, someone who’s wiser than you.


Back in Time
Andaleeb Wajid| Bloomsbury| Rs 250

Screen Shot 2014-12-28 at 5.25.31 PMAimed at young adult reader, ‘Back in Time’, written by a Bangalore-based writer, Ansaleeb Wajid, is part of trilogy in which a teenaged girl, Tamanna travels back in time to the 1980s to discover reasons for the way her life is in 2012. In the second book, Tamanna finds herself back in 1980s and becomes privy to dark secrets that emerge as she interacts with her new found boyfriend, aunts, grandmother and strangely, her mother and father before they get married. A delightful, fast read.

(The above reviews appeared in Sunday edition of the Mail Today, New Delhi, dated 5 October 2014.)


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