Suralakshmi Villa

 

Title: Suralakshmi Villa

Author: Aruna Chakravarti

Publisher: Macmillan, 2020

Links : Amazon

 

Two days went by. On the third, Ayub drew up at an ancient stone ghat slippery with moss and lichen.

‘Why are you stopping at this God-forsaken spot?’ Muneera exclaimed. ‘We’ll get nothing here.’

‘The next ghat is two and a half miles away. And it’s already past noon.’

Suralakshmi, Pratul and Tara looked around. All they could see was dense forest without a sign of human habitation. The trees had crept right up to the bank. Yet there was a wide stone ghat which, though crumbling in parts, had obviously been impressive once.

‘What is this area called?’ Pratul asked.

Book Review by Kajoli Banerjee Krishnan

usha

 

Title: Boys from Good Families

Author: Usha K.R.

Publisher: Speaking Tiger, 2019

 

It was twenty-five years ago that Usha K.R. stepped into the literary world with ‘Sepia Tones’ that won the 1995 Katha Short Story Award. Her first novel Sojourn was published in 1998. Her subsequent novels The Chosen (2003), A Girl and a River (2007) and Monkey-man (2010) have been critically acclaimed.  A Girl and a River was awarded the Vodafone Crossword Prize in 2007. Amongst her other short stories are ‘Elixir’, that appeared in Boo, An Anthology of Ghost Stories and ‘The Boy to Chase the Crows Away’ that was shortlisted in the Best Asian Short Stories 2017 by Kitaab.

Usha’s fifth novel Boys from Good Families traces the story of Ashwath. Living with his parents and sister Savitri in ‘Neel Kamal’, their family home, he grows up within a conservative household in the city of Bangalore during the 1970’s and 80’s. Ashwath finds his parents rigid in their beliefs, expectations from them and his extended family dreary and claustrophobic. A romantic at heart and somewhat undecided about his future, he enjoys exploring the city and its surroundings, watching films and starts to fall in love with a remarkably capable and charming Thippy.

This phase abruptly comes to an end when his parents come to know of his affection for Thippy who lives with her family in the outhouse of ‘Neel Kamal’ and is considered a social unequal. They throw out Thippy and family.

Book Review by Mitali Chakravarty

Suralakshmi Villa

 

Title: Suralakshmi Villa

Author: Aruna Chakravarti

Publisher: Panmacmillan, 2020

 

In these troubled times, where exclusivity seems to be the norm, Suralakshmi Villa, a novel by Sahitya Akademi winner, Aruna Chakravarti, seems to rise like a tsunami with its syncretic lore spanning different parts of India—Delhi and Bengal, especially the hinterlands of Malda — and flooding the narrative with gems of not just culture and fantasy but also feminist and progressive concerns.

Developed out of her short story of the same name on the advice of Ruth Prawar Jhabarwala, an eminent author and the subject of Chakravarti’s PHD dissertation, the story is narrated from various perspectives. It is an interesting technique as the story rolls out different aspects of the development of women and society across almost half-a-century — from post-independence to the pre-internet days.

The first introduction to the Villa in the book is given by the youngest generation — Joymita, an avant-garde journalist. The story coils around generations of Indranath Choudhary’s clan or should one take a non- patriarchal stand and say — Suralkashmi’s family? Suralakshmi was the middle daughter of the man who build separate houses for each of his five daughters and named them after the girls. Suralakshmi was perhaps the most unusual of all the sisters and therefore a good protagonist for any novelist. Was she a feminist or did she live by her beliefs? We have to read to discover.

Chakravarti, in Jorasanko, her best- selling historical novel, took up the concept of abarodh, a kind of purdah that was practiced among women in Bengal prior to the late nineteenth- early twentieth century. In this one, she pauses a little on abarodh but introduces women who have already moved out of the confines of the purdah and have a right to decide their lives, though the less-educated and impoverished have difficulty in finding their independence. She says in an interview: “Like all my other novels Suralakshmi Villa focusses on the lives of women. It is about two sets of sisters. The first belongs to a wealthy, modern, enlightened, household of Delhi. The other, a goatherd’s daughters living in a slum in Malda, comes from the dregs of society.  But close inspection reveals that there is not much difference in their lives and fates. There is emotional violence in one world…both physical and emotional violence in the other.”

By Mitali Chakravarty

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A versatile woman of arts and letters, acclaimed and celebrated, Aruna Chakravarti’s writing has been acknowledged by awards like Vaitalik Award, Sahitya Akademi  Award and Sarat Puraskar. Chakravarti talks of interactions with greats like writer Sunil Gangopadhyay and actress Sharmila Tagore to discuss her books and translations in festivals. Her books are often a protest against social ills which linger beyond the past. Her first novel  The Inheritors ( 2004, Penguin)  was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize and her third, Jorasanko ( 2013, Harper Collins) received critical acclaim and also became a best seller. Daughters of Jorasanko ( 2016), a sequel to Jorasanko, has sold widely and received rave reviews.  Her translated works include an anthology of songs from Rabindranath Tagore’s Gitabitaan, Saratchandra Chattopadhyay’s Srikanta (which won her the Sahitya Akademi Award) and Sunil Gangopadhyay’s Those days, First Light and Primal Woman: Stories. Chakravarti was the  Principal of a prestigious women’s college of Delhi University for ten years. She is an academic, creative writer and translator with fourteen published books — three novels, one book of short stories, two academic works and eight translations.

22fa274f-4a0d-4c09-8935-35685fae7e7eChakravarti’s latest work, a novel titled Suralakshmi Villa, published by Pan Macmillan this year, will be her fifteenth book. The launch scheduled for 25th February, 2020, in Delhi’s  India International Centre will have a panel discussion on the book by eminent academics for half-an-hour followed by a multi-media presentation of an excerpt from the book created by the author herself. In this exclusive, Chakravarti talks of why and how she writes and more.

 

Since when have you been writing? What inspires you to write?

I used to write prolifically as a child. Poems and stories would pour out of me in a joyous, unthinking stream and I loved the feeling it gave me.

Things changed when, after joining the English Honours course in college, I was introduced to the academics of literature, taught the principles of criticism and how to distinguish good writing from mediocre. I became disillusioned with my work. I found it wanting on so many counts.  I felt I was useless as a writer. Self- criticism is good but, in my case, it verged to the point of negativity.

I stopped writing altogether.

There was a gap of twenty-five years before I picked up the courage to write again.

To answer the second part of your question my juvenilia reflected whatever I was reading at the time, mostly poems and stories written by English writers, and was hugely imitative. But my adult work is derived directly from living experience. It is from the world around me that I draw inspiration.

Book review by Gracy Samjetsabam

paper lions

 

Title: Paper Lions

Author: Sohan S. Koonar

Publisher: Speaking Tiger (2019)

 

Sohan S. Koonar is a physiotherapist by training but his love for story-telling has bagged him the Judges Choice Award in the Toronto Star Short Story Contest and the first Burlington Library Literary Excellence Award. His self-published novel Karam’s Kismet got mentioned in sixteen dailies and periodicals in the US. He is a founder of a multi-clinic company and an inventor of international patents too. Koonar has lived in four continents — Asia, Africa, Europe and North America — and spends the year in his family homes in Canada, Italy and India. Paper Lions, published by Mawenzi House in Canada and Speaking Tiger in India, is a novel that explores the rich culture and history of Punjab and its role in the coming of age of India as a nation.

Paper Lions is an epic multi-generational saga of Punjab. Koonar draws on a vast canvas to present a picture in pre- and post-independent India. The novel is a five-part story of what transpires in the inchoate state of Punjab from 1937to 1965. Raikot, located a few kilometres from Ludhiana, is the locale. While the narrative revolves around  three main characters — Brikram, Basanti and Ajit — and  their families, it also weaves a yarn of rural Punjab in those times.

The book explores a myriad of characters — some from nomadic tribes, such as the Bajigars and some are just villagers — the dairyman, the matchmaker, the astrologer, the Giyani (Sikh wise men), the politicians, the publicists, the head of the cattle yard, the bootlegger, the snake-catcher, the Brahmins, the school headmaster and more. The characters reveal the customs and mindset of the people based on caste and clan, their religion, and the trials and tribulations that time and history brought forth.

Book review by Namrata

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Title: The Prospect of Miracles

Author: Cyrus Mistry

Published by: Aleph Book Company, 2019

 

The Prospect of Miracles revolves around the life of Pastor Pius Philipose or rather, his death. Interestingly, in this long-awaited novel, author Cyrus Mistry’s primary character is a dead man. His seemingly natural death is perceived as unexpected to his adorners while his wife experiences the opposite. The rest of the story is about what everyone including his wife think of him.

Mistry — the novelist, needs no introduction. His novel Chronicle of a Corpse Bearer won the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature in 2014 while his other works have also won many awards and accolades. However, it must be noted that this is the first time, he has moved beyond writing about the Parsi community. Almost all his previous works revolved around the culture, with primary characters also being Parsi. His early works were clear reflection of all his observations of growing up as a Parsi in Mumbai. Few years ago, he moved to a non-descript location in South India which seems to have largely inspired him to write this story.

Set in Kerala, the story has the fragrances of that state neatly wrapped within. From lush cardamom farms, to the coconut trees swinging in the air. From the delectable flavours of the local delicacies cooked in coconut oil to the festive celebrations throughout the year — this story has it all in the backdrop while the core story unravels for the reader. While talking about the culture and traditions of Kerala, he also talks about the oppression and the staunch belief system prevalent there.

Reading Cyrus Mistry’s work is like walking through years of patriarchy prevalent in our society. Clearly reminiscent of one the many characters from Anita Nair’s literary gem Ladies Coupe, this book promises to leave a reader perplexed. With a complex array of characters and a non-symmetrical plot line, Mistry invites you in a world which is so similar to the real world and yet so different.

Reviewed by Rheea Rodrigues Mukherjee

(Sourced by Bangladesh country editor, Farah Ghuznavi)

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Title: Dust Under Her Feet

Author: Sharbari Zohra Ahmed

 Publisher: Tranquebar/ Westland, 2019

 

The particularly enchanting quality about Sharbari Zohra Ahmed is her ability to make under-discussed historical eras come to life while still holding potent resonance in the present era. Dust Under Her Feet, Ahmed’s debut novel, measures how much and how little we’ve changed both in South Asia and on a global scale, by drawing us into a rather cinematic setting.

The novel subverts our collective imagination of the 40s in India, a decade that was largely defined by the lead-up to Independence and the death of the British Raj. Our protagonist, Yasmine Khan, shows us a micro-culture of the second World War from her point of view. She has us compellingly engaged with the U.S army presence in Calcutta. The novel is set against the backdrop of the Chinese-Burman-Indian Theatre that evolved when the United States went in support of the Chinese against Japan.

Calcutta, because of geographical proximity, was critical to facilitate resource trade. The Allied forces built the Ledo Road that connected India to China, to deliver supplies, and a significant portion of the workforce was American. In fact, the road also came to be known as the Man-a-Mile road because of the number of American casualties during its construction. The Ledo road played a large role in facilitating the movement of US troops from India through Burma and into China during the early 40s.

beast.png

Title: Beast

Author: Krishna Udayasankar

Publisher: Penguin SEA

Year of publication: 2019

Pages: 320

Price: SGD 20.90

Links : Penguin Random House

About: When mythical creatures commit a real crime, who gets to be the judge? It was always the same dream, a dream that began with darkness and blood. When Assistant Commissioner of Police Aditi Kashyap is called upon to solve a gruesome triple homicide, she is dragged into the terrifying world of the Saimhas — werelions — who have lived alongside humans, hiding amongst them, since ancient times.

 

usha.png

Title: Boys from Good Families

Author: Usha K R

Publisher: Speaking Tiger

Year of publication: 2019

Pages: 472

Price: Rs. 599/-

Links: Speaking Tiger

 About:  Thippy, the beautiful ‘girl from the outhouse’. Ashwath, only son of a feudal family of landowners. A love that could never be blessed by Destiny.

Disillusioned by his family’s rejection of his love for Thippy, stifled by its traditions and conservative ways, Ashwath leaves Bangalore for a university town in America’s Midwest. It is 1981, and the American economy is booming. Ashwath enjoys the three C’s of success: a condominium, a car and a credit card. But a decade later, when the market crashes, he sees the other side of the American dream—joblessness, dingy one-room tenements, and loneliness.

Casting its shadow over it all is Neel Kamal, his family home in Bangalore, now a piece of prime real estate. Ashwath is compelled to return after twenty-five years to lay claim to his inheritance. He finds that he has returned to a city changed unrecognisably by new wealth, a family who are strangers to each other, and a home that is now a contested piece of real estate, valuable enough to kill for. His childhood love has been transformed into the reigning deity of a new age ashram. His attempts to meet her lead to a violent spiral of events.

Book Review by Koi Kye Lee

No Illusions Front Cover

Title: No Illusions in Xanadu

Author: Ruby Gupta

Publisher: Bloomsbury India (2019)

No Illusions in Xanadu is a murder mystery novel by Ruby Gupta, a professor working in Dehradun Institute of Technology, India. This is her eighth book, having published seven others comprising of fiction and non-fiction books. No Illusions in Xanadu is the second book in her mystery and crime series featuring a dapper detective, Professor Shantanu Bose.

Life in Mumbai came to a standstill when the handsome, charming and legendary Bollywood superstar Rajvir Kapoor was found dead in his study room. He was shot to death on the 30th floor of his swanky new home, Xanadu, named after the hi-tech home of Mandrake the Magician, one of the first super-heroes of the early twentieth century popularised by comic strips of the same name.

Rajvir’s body was discovered by his domestic help, Rose, who then called his wife Pallavi. A popular television host, Pallavi was at a meeting discussing her new talk show with India TV channel when she was informed of her husband’s death. Masking her shock after the telephone call, Pallavi quickly excused herself and rushed home. As she regained control and composure in her luxury car, Pallavi remained skeptical as she had seen Rajvir alive a few hours ago. Both of them had hosted the grandest party in Xanadu where the country’s elite – celebrities, business associates, family and friends – were in attendance. Xanadu, compared by the author to the Ambani home, was the place to be!