By Dhruva Bhat

I had never been to a Starbucks before. Their green-and-white signs punctuating every street were an exciting reminder that I was in the U.S. for the first time; they hadn’t quite launched in Chennai before I left. (Five years later, they haven’t quite landed in Chennai either, still struggling to break into the market. Coffee is a Tamil ritual—dark decoction made in a tall filter, mixed with boiling milk and a mound of sugar, served steaming in a steel tumbler in a larger saucer, consumed at home, in restaurants, on the side of the street, under a banyan tree. For those who enjoy that sort of thing, a grande latte is a pale imitation that costs about ten times as much). I had heard of Starbucks, of course— seen the insides of their stores in TV shows and scrolled past selfies on social media of friends traveling abroad with their Starbucks cups. I had just never been to one.

I didn’t want to do anything so crass, so nouveau middle-class as to take a photo with a Starbucks cup; I didn’t even want to make time for a trip to a Starbucks, to put it on my list of things to see and do in Atlanta. That behaviour reminded me too much of the families in India who would dress up in garishly sequinned saris and crisp khakis to spend the day at a mall, who would totter at the bottom of an escalator gripping the handrails being too nervous to get on, who would talk too loudly and eat too messily and visit all the shops but buy nothing. I didn’t want my American cousins to give me the look my friends and I gave those people when we went to the mall; I had traveled internationally before, I knew that America was just one of a hundred and ninety other countries in the world, I was going to Harvard for God’s sake—I just also really wanted to go to a Starbucks.

When I saw one in the middle of the CNN Center plaza, I decided I would get coffee there. I could justify it; I was jet-lagged and tired. We had been walking around Atlanta, it was a hot day, and I needed something to cool me down. More specifically, I wanted a cold coffee: the kind I had had so many times in Chennai, milky, creamy and saccharine sweet, more a caffeinated milkshake than actual coffee. And so I headed over to the Starbucks, asking my father if he wanted anything. He said no. I had guessed he’d say no— he had probably converted the price of coffee from dollars to rupees and immediately decided against it. I knew you weren’t meant to convert currencies in your head when buying things because that would paralyse you; moreover, that was something middle-aged Indian men who were in the U.S. to visit their sons did before exclaiming: “Can you believe coffee costs so much in this country!”

By Manisha Lakhe

three-days-of-catharsis-front-coverThere is only one thing wrong with the book Three Days of Catharsis by Atrayee Bhattacharya — there is no editing at all. By the author or by the publisher. Everything else collapses around this one fault.

It’s 2017, and there’s no point whining about a life lived between different cities across the world: Singapore, Kolkata and Chennai. The obsession that Indian authors have about balancing culture and upbringing across borders should be celebrated. Instead, this book is a 241-page-long whine about how “no one understands me” and how difficult it is being a TamBong (a Tamilian and a Bengali) who lives abroad. If only the protagonist/author (it is autobiographical) had cared to read multi-cultural authors like Jhumpa Lahiri (one passing mention) and Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni instead of Chetan Bhagat (his Two States is mentioned as a mirror to her own life)! Had someone, like a reliable editor, asked the author to put this book away as the first draft of an idea, it would have helped.

Alas, everything that happens in the book is banal. Let’s list the events:

Kutu goes to IIM Kolkata to submit her admission papers. Gets into an argument with the office clerk and the admin officer Gurunathan about what her mother tongue is. If such an innocuous question becomes an existential debate that lasts for 12 pages for the protagonist, then you’d want the argument to have more logic than just froth. How does she expect an office clerk and the admissions officer to know all about every student? Gurunathan explains that it is his job to make students feel at home. He tells her in Tamil, because her name is “Krishnan”, not because he wishes to insult her “Bengali” part.

She then misunderstands her grandmother’s concern about being out and about alone, and asks the grandma if she’s becoming a burden.

Neutrality is the most vulgar political position, especially when the most bigoted partisans are calling the shots and you want to play along, and even host them, writes S Anand in this open letter to Prakriti Foundation, Chennai

“Since I have known you personally, and since you have supported Navayana’s work earlier, I thought I should keep an open mind and talk to you. Did you really see merit in this book? And that’s why I called you. I just wanted to ask you why you were doing this.  I am sure you had thought this through, but I still wanted to hear you out. Your defence shocked me more. You said, this was just a “marketing tactic” and you said you were doing this so that more people come to your Amdavadi Snack House in Chennai, and eat your dhoklas and theplas. “If Modi’s poetry will bring them in, so be it.” I could not believe this. I felt angry and even betrayed.

The body of queer literature in the country is a slow-growing one, with new anthologies, novels, poetry, biographies, graphic works and academic treatises building it up every year. It’s a body nourished, naturally, by a growing readership for such literature. And wherebooks and readers exist, there’s bound to be a book club.

In Chennai, such a club goes by the name Orinam’s Quilt, a reference to Ismat Chugtai’s 1941 short story ‘Lihaaf’ (The Quilt), as well as a portmanteau of the term Queer Literature.