Category Archives: Reviews

A jihad against Jihad

Maajid Nawaz was in thrall to extremist group Hizb al-Tahrir, a path that led to torture in an Egyptian jail. In this extract from his forthcoming book, Radical, he describes how he was recruited to the Islamist cause.

HIDEOUS HINDUS Massacre Muslims’ was the rather offensive title of the leaflet. I still remember that title. That one leaflet has changed the course of my life in ways probably unthinkable for its anonymous author. It laid bare the behaviour of the Hindu extremists in what was a shocking and deeply inflammatory episode.

At this point in his life, Osman, spurred on by the likes of Public Enemy’s Professor Griff, had taken an interest in politics. He followed the ‘Intifada’ that had been going on against the Israeli occupation of Gaza and the West Bank, and the role of Yasser Arafat’s PLO. This struggle for Palestinian liberation, and the crushing Israeli response, complete with tacit American support, had long been a running sore in international relations. In the context of my story and so many others, it was undoubtedly a factor that justified the Islamist narrative of victimhood.

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Don’t Ruin Your Figure, Love: On the Origins of Love

A writer who starts with a theme and then hangs a story around its neck will land in trouble unless she is telling it from inside-out. By humanising the characters. Kishwar Desai has strong views about surrogacy. She has exposed certain truths about a well-oiled medical industry that has bypassed ethical issues to provide couples with a baby that is ‘biologically’ their own. But the shocking indifference of medical bodies like the Indian Medical Association and the Medical Council towards such corrupt, unethical practices is not mentioned.

The novel fails to navigate the difficult zones of disappointment, despair, social expectations and family values that envelop the issue of infertility. This lends a disappointing flatness to the story. The feisty protagonist goes all the way to London, posing as a woman in need of a sperm donor, god help her, but we do not feel any empathy towards her or any of the others.

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Churning the Earth: The Making of Global India

In Churning the Earth: the Making of Global India, economist Aseem Shrivastava and ecologist Ashish Kothari interrogate what is unarguably the question of greatest consequence for our times: does contemporary globalisation, as a “definitive prescription not just for a certain arrangement of economic affairs, but for a way of life”, offer solutions to the impoverishment of billions of people, and for unborn generations and non-human species?

This immensely significant and compelling book—one of the most important in recent years—maps painstakingly the political economy of both the socio-economic consequences and environmental impacts of the current growth path. The picture emerging from this densely argued treatise is bleak and harrowing—a picture of greed, inequality, suffering, and the reckless, irresponsible destruction of the planet’s resources.

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Heady cocktail

Gender violence and politics make a combustible combination.

This is the story of how a woman’s humiliation changes her life taking her from ignominy to the highest glory but not without extracting a pound of flesh. Shruti Ranjan, a journalist pays for her husband’s sincerity at work by getting brutally raped by a local goon. The doors of justice don’t open for her and, to add to her trouble, she is ostracised by her relatives.

Helping hand

But Shruti finds an unlikely helping hand in Sharad Malviya, an astute politician who gets her to contest the Lok Sabha elections on his party ticket. Shruti’s life goes on a never-imagined curve with Sharad standing by her throughout; even helping nail her rapist Salim Yadav by getting his mother to testify about Salim’s lifelong brutalities. Shruti wins the election and Sharad becomes the Home Minister. With a powerful companion by her side, Shruti’s political star rises; she even becomes chief minister of Bihar.

On the other hand, Shruti’s relationship with her husband (an IAS officer) breaks down irretrievably. She is burdened by the guilt of seeing her supportive husband break down under personal and professional pressures stemming from her rape and political ascent. However, there is little she can do about it; as she is battling increasing professional demands and snide remarks about her ‘relationship’ with Malviya.

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Untold story of the rural woman

If India lives in its villages, what a shame then that the Indian rural woman has been consistently — nay, deliberately — sidelined in the feminist and postcolonial discourse. One may search in vain the literary canon of South Asia to find any trace of her history since feminist consciousness has generally been dominated by the urban middle-class woman. There is a crying need to reclaim this lost territory, the voice of the voiceless. Jaiwanti Dimri’s Images and Representation of the Rural Womandoes exactly this. It protests the apparently systematic neglect of the rural woman’s experience in the literary canon. It investigates, with great specificity, the image of the rural woman projected in eight post-independence woman-authored novels — two in English and six in regional languages. Selected from different social and geographical locales, the fictional representation in these novels is examined in three categories, familial, social and cultural constructs against the background of “(i) subaltern consciousness, patriarchal benevolence and, (ii) feminist postulates of identity and subjecthood.”

Dimri maintains that the social or cultural specific image of a woman is not an unintended, innocuous act but is always determined by domination and subordination. What is most disturbing is that in such a construct the entity ‘rural’ or ‘urban’ is homogenised and treated as if it were one unit ignoring the wide chasm that divides the two entities .

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Review: We Sing The Sorrow Of Helmand

Conflict debases, destroys, deepens otherness. This novel exhales the anguish of tragedy.

With its story of the stand-off between a crippled Afghan girl who identifies herself as Antigone come to bury her dead brother, and American soldiers raw from counting their own dead post a surprise storming of their outpost in Kandahar, The Watch is Sophocles’ timeless tragedy in a modern key, exploring the catch-22 that is the intervention in/for/against Afghanistan (and even before that, Iraq and Vietnam), its “featureless landscapes, futureless deathscapes”.

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Review: Farther Away by Jonathan Franzen

Jonathan Franzen meditates on marriage and mobiles in these largely brilliant essays.

I’d heard that the title essay of Jonathan Franzen’s new collection was about his punishing experiences on a rough and tiny island. Some of what happened there is by now well known. The inhabitants of this island welcomed him by printing the wrong version of his novel Freedom, necessitating the pulping of its entire first print run. Read more…

Bhog and Other Stories

Bhog and Other Stories
By Ankur Betageri
Pilli Books, Bangaluru, 2010
Hardback, 108 pp., Rs. 260
by Zafar Anjum

In Ankur Betageri’s debut collection of short stories, Bhog and Other Stories, the last story, Malavika, is about a Bangalore-based materialistic girl. The eponymous character, Malavika, is befriended by the narrator—a writer and a friend of the young college-going student. The writer shows that Malavika is confused about life.

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Riddle of the Seventh Stone

We like ambition in people. In India, children at a very young age are often asked by doting relatives what they want to become when they grow up: a doctor, an engineer, a lawyer, a scientist, a pilot, or a business executive. Indian parents take great pride in showing off the precociousness of their offsprings when they are able to set an ambition for themselves and rattle it out with an impressive perspicacity in front of their relatives at weddings or dinner parties.
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Paper Boat by Rajat Das

When I was asked to review Rajat Das’ debut novel (Paper Boat, Flame of the Forest) I approached the offer with skepticism. Why? I had little experience of reading a novel as long as 800 pages. Believe me, I have considered Vikram Seth’s A Suitable Boy many times in libraries and bookstores but that novel’s heft has always come in the way of my reading pleasure (and I prefer doorstoppers from Ikea). Man, don’t get me wrong. I love Seth, I love that Golden Gate man. What a charming writer! But I am happy having read his From Heaven Lake.
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