Book Review by Kajoli Banerjee Krishnan

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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.

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Title: My Son’s Father: An autobiography

Author: Dom Moraes

Publisher: Speaking Tiger, 2020

 

 

 

 

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Almost I can recall where I was born,

The hot verandahs where the chauffeurs drowse,

Backyard dominion of the ragged thorn

And nameless servants in my father’s house…

—‘A Letter’ from Poems (1960)

 

Missing my father is my first real memory of him. The summer before he went to war he had been a loved, distant figure, sitting at evening on the verandah of our flat with a sequence of young English officers on their way to the Burma front (the poet Alun Lewis, who died there, was one of them), all inhaling the rich flesh of cigars, sipping beer, talking: not my world that summer. My world was in the oval park outside our flat in Bombay, a park eyelashed with palm trees, above which, like a school of enormous airborne white whales, barrage balloons floated. Above these the glaring sun pulsed like an eye: vultures soared up towards it on tremendous, idle wings. Down on my knees in the rough scurfy park grass, a vigilant nanny nearby, I stared at the texture of the earth, the texture of a stone, the texture of a fallen leaf, all eroded to red dust by the sun. A spy, I hovered above ants busy in the red dust; grasshoppers stilting up into the air; briefly settled, hairy flies. Vivid colours stained my eye. Behind our flat was the Arabian Sea, an ache and blur of blue at noon, purpling to shadow towards nightfall: then the sun spun down through a clash of colours like a thrown orange, and was sucked into it: sank, and the sea was black shot silk, stippled and lisping, and it was time for bed.

At morning the sea was a very pale, indolent colour, ridged with wavy lines like Greek statuary. When I woke, I went into my parents’ room. They lay in twin teak beds: above them, on a wooden stand, loomed a three-foot plaster Christ, fingers clapped to where a raw heart swelled from its chest, for my mother was religious. Sometimes on Sundays she took me to church, though my father never came. He was not religious, my mother explained mysteriously to me, because he had been educated in England.

Anyway, there they lay, my gods, tranquil and powerful, in charge of the day ahead, my father reading the newspapers, my mother varnishing her nails. I ran to my mother first, since except in moments of stress I was gruff and shy with my father. Even so early in the day, she smelt of flowers. I buried my head between her small breasts, and was happy. Over us that summer Christ cocked an apparently benevolent eye.

The day unfolded like a year: breakfast, served silently by the bearer: scraping up cornflakes as I listened to my parents talk: shopping in the car with my mother (waiting, impatient, for her to emerge from the Army & Navy Stores, while the chauffeur strove to amuse me with funny faces): then the park with my nanny: the weeks, months, years, of one burning afternoon, breathing the turning world, vigilant: nightfall, my father on the verandah, the English officers drinking beer: bedtime, when I thought the chirping of crickets was the noise the stars made. It seemed to go on forever, before my father went to war.

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 Ronald Tuhin D’Rozario

 

I have never been intrigued about the world of ornithology nor by the phonetics of a Horbola ( a Bengali word covering the sounds of birds, animals and other things of everyday life) but can identify the sounds – call, hum or chirp — of certain birds that have a strong attachment to my childhood memories. Humans have this unfailing dependency on instincts which make them to try to classify everything that their senses gather. Just as I have dissected the DNA of light depending on their changing textures during different times of the day into thin, thick, bright, warm  and dull, I feel an urge to relate each call of these birds to various ragas signifying a different hour of the day. My usage of the word, ‘to relate’ now creates a ‘relationship’ between me and the birds as — ‘relatives’ converting their calls into a recital around the sphere of my consciousness. Crows, pigeons, sparrows, parrots and bulbuls are some of the birds whose sounds have grown with me like my age.

As I write, my thoughts intensify into an introspection of my life with these birds. Apart from their sound heralding the advent of a season, a wakeup call at dawn or just making  me aware of their presence in my vicinity, I realise that during various stages of my life, there have been some birds whom I have caged for my amusement and there have been some I have consumed on my plate.

Quite strangely now in all these years, for the first time, a deep sense of guilt gnaws at me. In order to justify my belief in my own guilt, I begin to accept the punishment given by avians. When a bird has spoilt my shirt with its dropping or stooped low enough to slap my head with a wing during their flight, I accept it as an expression of disgust over certain habits of mine.

Book Review by Rakhi Dalal

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Title: My Mother’s Lover and Other Stories

 Author: Sumana Roy

Publisher: Bloomsbury India, 2019

Sumana Roy’s book How I Became a Tree, published in 2017, was shortlisted for the Sahitya Academy Award (Non-fiction) for the year 2019. Her novel Missing was published in 2018 and poetry collection Out of Syllabus in March 2019. My Mother’s Lover and Other Stories, a collection of fourteen stories, is her fourth published work.

The blurb of the book describes this collection as stories about people suffering from curious ailments. Interestingly, the book starts with this quote by Roland Barthes:

‘I have a disease; I see language.’

This makes it seem as if the author at the start of the collection confides to the reader her own ailment. Perhaps her observations and thoughts translate into words compulsively and take the form of language. Perhaps it is the inevitable metamorphosis of images, definite and indefinite, into words in her mind, which eventually shapes into stories, essays and poems. Through these stories, she seems to contemplate ordinary people’s peculiar ailments, which do not draw much consideration in the conundrum of conventional continuance.

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Institute National Des Langues et Civilisations Orientales INALCO, (Paris) has included acclaimed Urdu novel Rohzin in its academic study from the recent semester. Rohzin is the fourth novel by Rahman Abbas and the one for which he was awarded the Sahitya Akademi Award for 2018.

It was published in 2016 at the Jashn-e-RekhtaDelhi and has been widely debated in India, Pakistan, The Middle East, Canada, Switzerland and Germany.

Many scholars and literary critics consider Rohzin to be the most beautifully and creatively written novel in the recent times in Urdu language. Critic and former President of Sahitya Akademi (New Delhi), Professor Gopi Chand Narang, said that Rohzin is an important turning point in the history of Urdu fiction. Sahitya Akademi Award-winning literary critic, Nizam Siddiqui, has said that no novel as major as Rohzin has appeared in the second decade of the 21st century in Urdu.

Book Review by Namrata

(Book sourced by Kitaab Bangladesh Editor-at-Large, Farah Ghuznavi)

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Title: In Search of Heer 

Author: Manjul Bajaj

Publisher: Tranquebar Press, 2019

Manjul Bajaj’s In Search of Heer is a retelling of the historical tale of Heer Syal and Deedho Ranjha, the star-crossed lovers from Punjab. In her poignant narration, Bajaj manages to highlight some unknown aspects of the centuries old epic love story and leaves a reader content after reading what is otherwise, a sad story.

Before becoming a writer, Manjul Bajaj worked in the field of environment and rural development. Both her previous works, Come, Before Evening Falls and Another Man’s Wife were shortlisted for Hindu Literary Prize. She has also written two books for children.

We are in the year 2020 and yet the sheer number of cases of honour killing, especially in South Asian countries is horrifying. While the debate of who is to be blamed for this remains, the end result barely has altered since centuries. Taking the case of Heer Syal from the epic love story of Heer-Ranjha — she was supposedly killed by her own brothers for having fallen in love with Ranjha after both of them had decided to elope due to opposition from their families. Unbeknownst to them, death followed them to the end. Eventually they were united in death. Sadly, if you were to look at any of the honour killing cases since time immemorial, the story doesn’t differ at all. The fate of the lovers from different backgrounds remains the same to date. Centuries later today, when we are redefining love in various ways, one wonders how long will it take for such killings to stop.

Book Review by Namrata

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Title: The Doctor and Mrs. A.: Ethics and Counter-Ethics in an Indian Dream Analysis

Author: Sarah Pinto

Publisher: Women Unlimited

Year of Publication: 2019

 

How does one remember the future?”

Thus, begins The Doctor and Mrs. A by Sarah Pinto. Based on ethics and counter ethics in an Indian dream analysis, this book is an inspired example of thinking beyond the known.

Just before independence, somewhere in early forties, a young Punjabi woman identified only as Mrs. A decided to be a part of an experiment by a psychiatrist, Dev Satya Nanda, for his new method of dream analysis. Unbeknownst to him, she was in an unhappy marriage with a strong urge for freedom from all the bondage. Through this experiment they discovered hidden layers of her personality which included different reflections on sexuality, trauma, ambitions and marriage. Pinto revisits this conversation and explores it in the context of late colonial Indian society. Juxtaposing the past with the present, she delivers a thought-provoking analysis on gender and power.

The author, Sarah Pinto is a Professor of anthropology at Tufts University and has also authored a few books on women and inequality in contemporary India. She won the Eileen Basker Memorial Prize from the Society of Medical Anthropology for her work Daughters of Parvati: Women and Madness in Contemporary India published in 2012.

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“When I stand before thee at the day’s end, thou shalt see my scars

and know that I had my wounds and also my healing.”

~ Rabindranath Tagore

We have all experienced pain of some kind — heartbreak, illness, distress, abuse, violence, disaster, loss, grief. What kind of personal suffering have you endured and weathered? If one were to navigate such trauma, what are some of the coping mechanisms? How, then, will you render your personal experience into lyric and narrative, to transform the pain into something of profound beauty? Poetry has long been known to be one of the great traditional healing arts, alongside dance, music, painting, theatre. As a creative practice, poetry can become a remarkable way to enhance personal healing, wellness and change. It can be as mending as it is ameliorating, as renewing as it is restorative.

This anthology will be edited by Eric Tinsay Valles and Desmond Kon Zhicheng-Mingdé, scheduled for publication in 2021.

By Tan Kaiyi

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This is my 3,184th New Year—or so I’ve counted.

I might have forgotten a few years along the way with all those bloody calendar changes: the Chinese, the Mayan, Julian and the Gregorian. There are definitely miscalculations but once you go past your 3,000s, who really cares? It’s funny when I hear some young ones complaining about how old they are in their 30s or 40s—hell, even 70s. Why would you want to live so long?

There’s nothing new under the sun. Not that I would know.

From the rooftop, I look at the windows of the opposite block. Most of them are dim. I’m guessing the flats’ occupants are out for the last night of revelry of the old year. The ones that are lit contain groups of friends and families, choosing a quieter and homely transition. Some are alone. An old woman is sleeping in front of her TV, the soft glow of the screen accentuating the wrinkles on her face. I feel a tinge of envy when I see them.

Curious about what she is watching, I attune my hearing to her flat. From the strains of modern Mandarin, Indian and Malay pop melodies, I come to understand that the TV is tuned to a countdown show.

Two floors down, I see a lady at her dining table. She drinks a glass of wine by herself. I scan her flat for heartbeats and I locate her son’s in his own room. I try to read her mind, capturing her scattered thought streams. From the pieces I put together, she married young to a Korean man she met at a conference. They bumped into each other in an elevator which malfunctioned halfway. They struck up a conversation while they waited for the repairman to get their lives going again. However, years into the marriage, they found their fiery temperaments too incompatible and they decided to live apart. He would fly back to Singapore, or she would fly to him in Korea, on occasions to keep the marriage alive. This arrangement allowed them to maintain their bond, and the semblance of a family for their son, who rarely speaks to her. Right now, she wonders what would happen if she had taken another elevator instead. She feels that it would have been the better path.