Manjul Bajaj’s debut novel is a strong, passionate story well told. The author offers insights into the culture, history and psyche of the Jat people of northern India’s heartland. Set in a Jat hamlet near Delhi in 1909, this is a tale of proud, upright men and women who will die to uphold the honor of family, community and country. The subtle feminist approach works well with full blooded women juxtaposed against well fleshed out and likeable male characters. The novel begins as a smoldering love story, with the threat of deadly social taboos simmering in the backdrop. The author interweaves social practices which sadly continue even today in pockets of rural India, such as the terrible practice of honor killings.
K. R. Usha’s latest novel takes a fresh, deeply sensitive and insightful look at life in Bangalore, India’s fastest growing city. Shortlisted for the for the Commonwealth Writer’s Prize and winner of the Vodaphone Crossword prize for her previous novel, A GIRL AND A RIVER, this consummate storyteller takes readers into the heart of a city zooming beyond the technological stratosphere while teetering on the brink of chaos.
The Routledge Concise History of Southeast Asian Writing in English
By Rajeev S. Patke and Philip Holden
Routledge, 272 pp
It can be argued that Southeast Asian Writing in English has not achieved as much attention as African Writing in English or Indian Writing in English, even though English as a language reached most parts of the world wave after wave as a result of colonialism in the 19th and 20th centuries. Hong Kong, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and Manila have been major outposts under British and American colonialism, but the output in English from these big Asian cities has not made much impact on the global literary landscape, the same way that writings from India or Africa have. Where is Southeast Asia’s answer to Midnight Children or a House for Mr. Biswas or Things Fall Apart?
In Other Rooms, Other Wonders
By Daniyal Mueenuddin
Bloomsbury, 237 pages
My first brush with Pakistani writer Daniyal Mueenuddin’s material was in the pages of the New Yorker. I don’t remember the exact year but I had noticed the title of the story (Nawabdin Electrician) and the author’s name—not a very common feature in the noted American weekly. I was not going to miss it.
I remember reading the story and not being very impressed by it. I think I read it off the web, maybe after downloading the story and printing it out. I must have read it on the go—I admit that’s not a very good way of reading stories but that’s how I read books. We all live hurried lives. Anyway, I had decided that it was not a good story and after reading it, I had forgotten about it.
by Zafar Anjum
Between the Assassinations
by Aravind Adiga
When I finished reading the last story from Aravind Adiga’s Between the Assassinations, I was briefly filled with sadness. This was the book I was reading for the past several weeks. I had been dipping in and out of Kittur, sharing the anger and sorrows, hopes and joys of its various inhabitants. Adiga’s imaginary town and its curious inhabitants had kept me enthralled for days on end. I read the book whenever time (and my daughter) allowed me to enter its world: on the way to office, during lunch break, watching over my daughter in the playground or before going to bed.
by Fakrul Alam
Bangladesh in the Mirror: An Outsider Perspective on a Struggling Democracy. A. T. Rafiqur Rahman. Dhaka: The University Press Limited, 2006 (Tk 550.00); 383 pp. ISBN 984 05 1771 6
Bangladesh has just gone through one of the most traumatic phases of its history. For most of 2006 and the first ten days of 2007, normal life in the country was completely disrupted as the ruling coalition, consisting of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and the Jamaat-i-Islam, confronted a coalition of opposition parties led by the Awami League, mainly over the way in which the next elections were to be held. Bangladesh, it must be remembered, had switched to a form of democracy in 1996 where the ruling party would hand over power to a “caretaker government” for a period not exceeding three months so that free and fair elections could be ensured. The system had worked well that year and had eventually brought the Awami League into power at the expense of the BNP. In 2001, too, there was a reasonably smooth transition because of the caretaker system. This time it was the Awami League which had to hand over power
by Fakrul Alam
Edward W. Said, Freud and the Non-European. With an Introduction by Christopher Bollas and a response by Jacqueline Rose. Verso: published in association with the Freud Museum. London, 2003
——-. On Late Style. London: Bloomsbury, 2006
In the long, and characteristically eloquent, interview Edward W. Said gave a few weeks before he died on September 25, 2003 —an interview now available on videotape—the Palestinian-American critic talks about the difficulty he was having in reading, writing, talking, and even coping with the simplest demands of everyday life; the twelve-year struggle with leukemia had apparently drained the sixty-seven year old intellectual of all energy. And yet what strikes anyone watching the video is his alertneness and the effortlessness and compulsiveness with which he wants to tell posterity about his life and his works. Undoubtedly, Said was losing out in his battle with cancer, but obviously too here was a man determined not to go gently into the night and bent on explaining what he had been up to in a lifetime devoted to Palestine, art and culture, as well as the profession of English and comparative literature.
by Fakrul Alam
SHEIKH MUJIB: TRIUMPH AND TRAGEDY
By S. A. Karim. The University Press Limited, 2005. pp. 407, Tk. 500.00 ISBN 984 05 1737 6
This, surprisingly, is the first biography in English of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the founder of Bangladesh, even though more 30 years have passed since he was assassinated in a bloody military coup on August 15, 1975. Known to most Bangladeshis as Bangabandhu, or friend of Bengal, a title bestowed on him by acclamation in a mammoth public meeting in Dhaka on 22 February, 1969, he was truly a man of the people, someone who had made the cause of his countrymen and women his own through endless trials and tribulations. And yet he had been assassinated in the country he had championed ceaselessly soon after it became independent. Also, he had disillusioned quite a few people in record time in governing it. How did he win the hearts of his people as “the father of the nation” and secure a place in their history as Gandhi did in India or Jinnah did in Pakistan? What caused him to slide in their esteem? But also, what was he like as a human being as well as a leader? And now that three decades have passed since his death, is it possible to arrive at a real estimate of the man and his achievements?
by Fakrul Alam
An ordinary person’s guide to empire. Arundhati Roy. New Delhi: Penguin Books, 2005.
It must have been in 1997—around the time when Arundhati Roy was shortlisted for the Booker Prize for her first and only novel The God of Small Things — that I saw her on BBC’s “Hardtalk”. The man who was hosting the show then, he with the walrus smile, beamed a question at Roy that he no doubt felt had to be answered: “And so what is your next novel going to be about?” I remember Roy, at first glance waif-like but really self-assured and full of charm that she exudes without trying, smiling and shooting back his question at him: “But what makes you think I will write another novel? I may never write fiction again. If I write anything, it will be on something that I feel strongly about. And that may be anything other than fiction.”
by Fakrul Alam
India in Mind. Edited by Pankaj Mishra. London: Picador India, 2005
Pankaj Mishra’s anthology, Imagining India offers us twenty-five remarkable ways of looking at India, and, inevitably, imagining it. The viewers, alphabetically arranged in Mishra’s capacious collection, range from the whimsical and endearing Englishman J. R. Ackerley to the equally idiosyncratic and engaging but more famous American Gore Vidal. Chronologically, the entries span over a century; the earliest is Mark Twain’s characteristically sharp account of his visit to Bombay at the end of the 19th century to Pico Iyer’s 2003 elegant fictional ruminations on the much-traveled tourist triangle of Delhi, Jaipur, and Agra (although the extract from Vidal’s novel has him conjuring an encounter with Gautama Buddha in fifth century India). Most entries describe India in the twentieth century, encompassing turn of the century Raj, the waning days of empire, the period of transition when Indians finally took over their country, and the closing years of the last millennium when intermittently “eternal”, occasionally exquisite or esoteric, and often exasperating India still claimed the itinerant, alienated or exilic writer’s attention.