Reviewed by Namrata Pathak

A Bombay in my Beats

Title: A Bombay in My Beat
Author: Mrinalini Harchandrai
Publisher: Bombaykala Books
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As I place a finger on my pulse, I realise that it cannot be isolated from the throb and rhythm of Bombay – Mrinalini Harchandrai

If we talk about a place that bounces up like a sweet cadence or a place conceived in scintillating music; if we talk about a sonorous treat to the ears, sounds dancing to life, leaping up in each page or a musicality that conjures up a place – Bombay. If we talk about a traveller’s languishing trails, the detour and the fleeting destinations, the hazy sights from the windows of trains, the slanting glasses in skyscrapers and beads of rain drops trickling by or a song sung in monsoon that is both sharp and intimate, delectable and whimsical, contemplative and jocular, then Mrinalini Harchandrai’s collection of poems is a feast for your senses. You cannot help wondering why the poet resorted to ‘Bombay’, a term that is obsolete now instead of the recent ‘Mumbai’. You cannot help but wonder whether it is an act that tells us a little more on ‘looking back’ or taking a ‘backward glance’ – are we ushered into a world of retracted footsteps, bittersweet memories of the poet or a past that is resuscitated in the present? Above all, it is a Bombay in her beat; the word ‘beat’ remarkable in its duality – Harchandrai points to a rhythmic presence, a city that thrives in each throb of her heart and also a city that is steeped in music. The word transports us to a world of experimentation by the Beat generation poets, especially Ginsberg and Snyder, best known for defying the norms of conventional literature, pivotal in seeking an elevated consciousness (through meditation, Eastern religion and hallucinogenic drugs) and are chiefly credited for battling against myriad manifestations of social conformity. The ‘inflected locution’ of the Beat generation poets is a serious inclination in Harchandrai’s collection, not to mention the heavy leanings on the jazz poetry of Langston Hughes. This not only stretches the exploratory potential of Harchandrai, but also creates a spectrum of emotional variance and experiential realities. If the poet wants to do what Hughes aspires to accomplish – ‘I tried to write poems like the songs they sang on Seventh Street,’ then it is indeed necessary to mention that she sets forth a gargantuan challenge for herself, something as real as translating the blues emanating from a nightclub in Harlem and Washington D.C into a suite of poems mimicking the raw splendour of life and also its sheer hopelessness, something as fragile as replicating the improvisatory nature of jazz – a stance that requires a whole amount of self conscious  regulatory principles. As we delve deep into A Bombay in My Beat, we detect Jazz poetry as one of the vital sources of inspiration. In Mrinalini Harchandrai’s words, ‘with a hat-tip to Langston Hughes,’ the poems seek refuge in ‘individual music’, a fact that is well detected even in the treatment of diverse worldviews and perspectives.

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Reviewed by Nabina Das

(This review was first published in India Book Review. Re-published here with the author’s permission.)

Rohzin

 

Title: Rohzin
Author: Rahman Abbas
Publisher: Arshia Publications & Mumba Books India
Pages: 354

 

A book of eight chapters, Rohzin or The Melancholy of the Soul, by Rahman Abbas is a veritable feast for the mind. In Urdu ‘rohzin” is a word that the author coins to signify the souls of people hurt by witnessing the betrayal of their parents with their partners. What ensues is a story of love, lust, belonging, rejection and identity spread lush across the city of Bombay. The core setting, as described in the novel, is a space in the throes of monsoon, perhaps the most defining of seasons in this city by the Arabian Sea.

Rohzin, the author’s fourth novel, has been translated into English by Sabika Abbas Naqvi, and is soon to be published. Its German translation by linguist Almuth Degener has been published in January 2018 by Draupadi Verlag and Literaturhaus (Zurich, Switzerland) has organized its release function on 23 February 2018.

One might recall that Marquez — who is quoted at the novel’s outset — has said in his “The Art of Fiction No. 69” interview with The Paris Review:

‘It always amuses me that the biggest praise for my work comes for the imagination, while the truth is that there’s not a single line in all my work that does not have a basis in reality. The problem is that Caribbean reality resembles the wildest imagination.’

Speaking of imagination and reality readily transmigrating into each other’s realms, Rahman Abbas’ craft could perhaps be called Marquez-esque, but that would be too easy a deliberation. Even then, the vision of Konkan that he evokes is of ‘wildest imagination’. This is juxtaposed with scenes of reality and fantasy jostling together in the deep urban underbelly of Bombay.

Naipaul had concluded, or had been told, that the mafia in the city was made up of Muslims and Muslims alone… Mr Naipaul kept thinking I had brought him to meet a Muslim gang’: Extracted from Ajit Pillai’s book, Off the Record

NaipaulFacilitating a meeting for a celebrated writer like V.S. Naipaul with members of the Bombay mafia is not exactly a journalistic assignment. Some may consider it a welcome spin-off that comes with covering crime. Others would think of it as an evening wasted with a VIP friend or acquaintance of the editor. With so much interest in Bombay’s dark underbelly in the 80s, it was not unusual for writers and foreign journalists to drop anchor in the city and look for low-life correspondents to take them on a tour of the red-light district, introduce them to massage parlour owners, pushers, drug addicts and the underworld.

Oindrila Mukherjee reviews City Adrift: A Short Biography of Bombay by Naresh Fernandes (Aleph Books, 2013)

Bombay’s aptitude for aggregation can also be tasted in the snacks sold on its footpaths: Chinese bhel, Schezwan idlis and cheese dosas are made with ingredients (blended together with a large dollop of enterprise) that share the skillet only in this city.”

CITY_ADRIFTIf there is a single city in India that has most accurately served the function of the proverbial melting pot then it has to be Bombay. In addition to “snacks and slang,” as Fernandes points out in his book, the city has historically proved to be an amalgamation of people from different cultures, religions, occupations, and classes. Bombay has always attracted immigrants in search of a better life and, in the past, acted as a symbol of tolerance and cosmopolitanism, not least as portrayed in the fabled cinema it produces. However, throughout much of this book the author laments the recent decline in these values, a decline that corresponds with growing signs of “progress.” He attributes much of the growing divisions between not only the rich and poor but also between religious communities, to the rise of the Shiv Sena and “ad hoc urbanism.”

City of DeviThat was what math professor Manil Suri concluded after looking over his charts and notes in the midst of writing his new novel, The City of Devi. But then he realized that, with all logical possibilities exhausted, he was free, writes Manil Suri in The Daily Beast.

In September, 2009, while on a four-week writing retreat at the Ucross Colony in Clearmont, Wyoming, I came to a startling realization. The novel, The City of Devi, that I’d started nine years ago was hopeless—I needed to abandon it. No matter how I proceeded, I would not be able to tie up its myriad strands. I even had a mathematical proof of this fact!

Jeet Thayil-NarcopolisAuthor Jeet Thayil says he wrote Narcopolis as a way of reclaiming Bombay’s history

Bombay. Mumbai. Bambai. City of secret yearnings, nascent dreams, timorous memory. Steeped in glamour and restless energy. Swathed in timeless magic and fairy lights. Beneath it all, her heart of darkness. Bollywood and brothels, paucity and opulence, despair and sanguinity, grime and purity—everything is allowed to exist, everyone is allowed to be and therein lies her beauty. Like a woman of the night who paints her face, sheds her skin and shrouds her soul as she flits from lover to lover, Bombay belongs to everyone because she is owned by no one at all.