To Yuwei Pan, a regular fix of Chinese novels on her smartphone makes her daily commute a pleasure. But these aren’t just normal stories. Chinese e-books are often serialised; readers wait for the latest chapters of a story, much like viewers catch up with the newest episodes of Game of Thrones.

They also provide an interactive reading experience, where readers and writers can discuss and co-develop the plot. “I turn to Kindle for serious books, but I go to Chinese online literature for imagination, fun and freedom,” Pan says.

Title: How I Became a Tree

Author: Sumana Roy

Publisher: Aleph Book Company

Pages: 236

Price: Rs 599

To buy: http://www.amazon.in/How-Became-Tree-Sumana-Roy/dp/9382277447

Review by Apala Bhowmick

 

The book, part memoir part non-fiction, paints an intimate picture of the author’s relationship with plant life – she spies a papaya tree swaying in the storm from her bedroom window and looks down at her fingers to realize how her own body mimics the movement of the leaves in the wind when a gust of air blows her hair onto her face. After an earthquake that shakes her house to its foundations, her legs tremble all day in nervous despair anticipating the painful effects such tremors might possibly have on plants. Teeming with references to a spectrum of texts ranging from O Henry’s The Last Leaf to Sorensen’s Seeing Dark Things: The Philosophy of Shadows, she nimbly avoids the trap of opaque academic discourse. Her voice, instead, is compassionate, sensitive, and she manages to engender an exposition situated perfectly at the twilight zone between Philosophy and Botany, approached through a rapturous route densely populated by fascinating literary and historical texts.

She quotes extensively from D. H. Lawrence’s works dealing with trees, as also from poems by Nitoo Das and Subodh Gupta. She delves dexterously into various diary entries by Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay from the late 1920s as well as into his novels Aranyak and Pather Panchali, to investigate the connection between forest life and creativity, and to uncover the mythic origins of the notion of the forest as a place for spiritual serenity and supernatural magic. She wittily interjects that “‘losing oneself’ is a terribly romantic, even elitist idea,” and confesses to having been a “happy victim” of an actual such instance inside a forest herself even in this day and time, which she categorizes as the “post GPS” age.

by Usha K. R.

The Ministry of Utmost happiness; Arundhati Roy; Penguin Random House India; 2017; pp 437


Arundhati Roy’s debut The God of Small Things (TGOST) was a dazzling first novel, part-autobiographical, a story of childhood innocence destroyed by a combination of deeply riven social mores and the machinations of a disapproving family. The novel won the Booker Prize in 1997, and it announced with a starburst that a major literary talent had arrived.

The Ministry of Utmost Happiness is Roy’s second novel, appearing almost twenty years after TGOST. In the interim, Roy has written about the many grassroots movements and mass agitations in India, using her considerable polemical skills in arguing for the marginalized, the lost causes, consistently taking anti-establishment positions.

It seems but logical that Roy who has always held that her fiction and her essays are part of the same persona, should marry her skills and venture upon a polemical work of fiction, and that for its content, nothing less than the contemporary history of India will do. This is a novel which takes up, with righteous anger, a swathe of causes, from the “soft” social issues such as the plight of the hijras, or that of beagles dumped on the road by unscrupulous testing labs complete with tubes dangling out of their sides, to the “larger” political events and causes, including caste discrimination and violence, the Bhopal gas leak, anti-Sikh violence, the Gujarat riots, the rising saffron tide and cow vigilantism, the anti-corruption stir at the Jantar Mantar led by “old-man-baby-voice”, he of the “gummy Farex baby smile” — Roy’s sharp wit, observation and felicity combine in her pithy epithets for political figures — and finally the burning cause at the heart of this novel – the ongoing political unrest in Kashmir.

Let’s get down to brass tacks. Why do you write?

Because I cannot dance like Nureyev, paint like Mehlli Gobhai, sing like T M Krishna but I can sometimes write from somewhere inside me that is me.

Tell us about your most recent book or writing project. What were you trying to say or achieve with it?

I have just this minute finished translating Jevha Mi Jaat Chorli by Baburao Bagul, from the Marathi. I hope to build another small linguistic bridge with my translation which is called When I Concealed My Caste and Other Stories.

Describe your writing aesthetic.

I just wish there were something aesthetic about it.

Who are your favorite authors?

I am a different person at different times and each of these persons has a different favourite author. There is a Jerry who loves Agatha Christie and there is a Jerry who loves Vladimir Nabokov; there is a Jerry who needs a fix of Adil Jussawalla’s poetry and there is a Jerry who can mainline Moby Dick. There is the Jerry who would have loved to meet Charles Schulz and the Pinto who thinks Art Spiegelman is the mouse’s whiskers because the cats were Nazis. This is not a question that this Jerry, the one writing to you now, feels he ought to answer for there will be so many others shouting him down minutes later. (They’ve begun. Yes, P G Wodehouse. Yes, Coetze. Yes, Lessing. Yes, Pamuk. Yes, Rushdie. Yes, Ghosh. Of course, Kolatkar and Ezekiel. And Ranjit Hoskote and Arundhathi Subramaniam. Then there’s Sei Shonagon and Basho. Not to forget Wyslava Szymborska and Hergé. And the guy who wrote the Sermon on the Mount and the Lord’s Prayer? How’s that for concision?