9789351950929 Prologue

There were no stars in the sky. There was no moon. Just the wet cold seeping through thick cloth and bone, and the fog slowly smothering the night.

Every once in a while, a truck would grope forward over the broken road. Sometimes a long-distance bus would rumble by, but no sooner would its headlights pass than the fog would flow back denser than ever before.

Milte hain dil yahaan, milke bichadne ko

Kishore Kumar’s voice floated from the direction of the ramshackle bamboo structure that lay fifty yards to the side of the road, perceptible through the fog only because of a Hasag lantern that was hung to its front, illuminating a sign that read ‘Exide Batteries’. fte small shop, one of the few that still operated on this side of the highway, sold batteries, torches, kerosene, hot tea, pakoras and, if you knew what to say and how much to pay, desi hooch. It was closed now, the coal ashed, and the front covered with tarpaulin.

But it was not empty.

On a charpoy, at the front of the shop, sat two men, one hunched slightly forward and the other leaning back and looking up at the sky, holding in his right hand a small transistor radio.

‘Why don’t you turn the radio off? Or at least change the channel. I hate Kishore Kumar.’

‘It’s my radio. It plays what I want it to.’

fte first man pulled his monkey cap closer to his skull and clenched tightly the two thick shawls draped over his body.

‘Tell me why you like Kishore Kumar again,’ he said, tapping the ground rapidly with his feet in a desperate attempt to stay warm. ‘Because he has a great voice.’ In sharp contrast to his companion, the man with the transistor had on, as his  shield against the numbing cold, only a flimsy grey sweater.

‘Because he has a great voice? That’s it? I mean that’s all you can say about the great Kishore Kumar? A ten-year-old would give that answer! Tell me the reasons why you like him, explain it to me.’

The man with the transistor said nothing.

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By Neeti Singh

love-of-pork

For the Love of Pork, 2016, by Goirick Brahmachari comes through as a collection of brilliant and ambitious verse that is intensely contemporary, thickly layered and imagistic, and reads like beat poetry as it interrogates on one hand the presence and forms of borders in daily life; and celebrates on the other hand the excesses of modern living with its new-found freedoms that thrill in the flouting of social taboos. Brahmachari, who belongs to a younger line of Indian poets writing in English, draws profusely from his readings and understanding of literature, history, cultural theory, culture and politics. His writing explores the matrix of socio-political and existential issues, as it negotiates at the same time, the paradox of acceptance and irreverence in the lives of the middle class. In terms of poetic style and content, Brahmachari’s is a strong and impressive voice, equipped with both the conviction and the courage that a poet needs to explore new pathways in poetic craft, experience, and creative expression.

Goirick Brahmachari, who is an economics research consultant settled in Delhi, hails from Silchar, Assam. This fact is amply reflected in For the Love of Pork, his first book of poems, which is a collection of forty-five poems that map the poet’s years at home, the pain of borders in the hilly terrain of Assam, and that strange sense of being away from home – free, footloose and available to cosmopolitan lifestyle issues far away in dynamic Delhi. As happens with most cities, the Silchar of his growing up years has decayed and is reduced now, to –

Stinking gutters

of hypocrisy and mediocrity.

Broken roads, of hope once,

of disgust now, ignored

through years of slumber

and laziness, and an age

of rage-less youth.

Your universities

do not speak. (18)

The Seduction of Delhi by Abhay K., Bloomsbury India, 2014. Pg 92, Rs. 299. 

Reviewed by K. K. Srivastava

Seduction of DelhiDavid Mason’s acute observation in The Hudson Review that “The poetry industry fuels itself on shallow rewards, lines on a resume, praise in a workshop, none of which has anything to do with the solitary effort to write real poems” reflects poorly on the state of poets and the kind of stuff being oozed out in the name of poetry. But there are honourable exceptions like the two poetry collections I read recently—Vita Nova by Louise Gluck and The Seduction of Delhi by Abhay K. The latter is a collection of forty-seven poems. Abhay K. is an Indian Foreign Service Officer and a winner of the SAARC Literary Award. He is the author of two memoirs and five poetry collections. In a unique way in itself, the poet presents his thoughts and emotions in measures exquisite. The well-known Italian artist Tarshito has created the artwork for this book.

Abhay K. has indeed adopted a novel method of narration of his poetic thoughts—instead of expressing his musings about his subjects in the first person, the poet allows his subjects to tell their stories themselves to the listeners. That is the reason George Szirtes, winner, T.S.Eliot Prize for Poetry, perceives Abhay K’s poems as poems where “transformations are gentle and humane: the history is deep and lightly worn. This is the beautiful way to be introduced to a great city”.

By Elen Turner

Necropolis by Avtar Singh, New Delhi: Harper Collins, 2014. 268 pages.

necropolisAvtar Singh’s Necropolis is very different from a lot of English-language fiction currently emerging from India, a major strength of the novel. Part detective fiction, part literary, and incorporating much history and vampire imagery, Necropolis straddles various literary worlds.

Taking it as a mystery/crime thriller, it would be best not to give away too much of the plot in this review, as it is this that pulls the reader along. It opens with a murder—one in a string of murders—suspected to have been carried out by Delhi’s youth gangs. DCP Dayal and officers Kapoor and Smita Dhingra are on the case, and the novel follows their search for the killers. Further crimes occur, parallel or connected to the opening murder, including the killing of an African immigrant, the rape of a woman from the north-east of India and the kidnapping of a young boy from a wealthy family.

the-way-things-wereA new book by writer Aatish Taseer has Sanskrit as the central metaphor and touches several issues like Ayodhya, 1984 riots and the Emergency.

The Way Things Were is a family saga set in Delhi amid the commotion of the last 40 years of Indian history.

Skanda’s father Toby, the Maharaja of Kalasuryaketu who is a master of Sanskrit, has died, estranged from Toby’s mother and from the India he loved. Skanda is tasked with fulfilling Toby’s final wish and returning his ashes to his birthplace.

Nakul Krishna in The Caravan

I bankrupted myself while writing Maximum City: Suketu Mehta Count on Urdu to have a word for it: shahr-i-ashob, lament for a city. Here is Mirza Muhammad Rafi Sauda, a poet from the eighteenth century:

How can I describe the desolation of Delhi? There is no house from which the jackal’s cry cannot be heard. … In the once-beautiful gardens where the nightingale sang his love songs to the rose, the grass grows waist-high around the fallen pillars and ruined arches. … Jahanabad, you never deserved this terrible fate, you who were once vibrant with life and hope, like the heart of a young lover.

We are answerable for having let our religious identities drive us to killing each other. Khushwant Singh has shown us some of our handiwork in Delhi, says Amitabh Bagchi in The Outlook

khushwantsinghjiKhushwant Singh’s monumental work, Delhi: A novel, is, in the sense of the passage above, a novel about ghosts: of those who lie buried in beautiful stone mausoleums, of those who were thrown into unmarked graves, of those who were burnt on the ghats of the Yamuna and of those who became carrion for the city’s vultures. It is a novel about all the blood that has been shed in the triangular region of the North Indian plain demarcated by the ridge in the West and the South and the river in the East. It is a lament for an endless sequence of murders of brother by brother and for betrayals of lovers and fathers. It is a celebration of the seasons and the trees and the flowers, and of the life led in this city by the river through the generations. It is an old man’s admonition to the young, a free spirit’s “up yours” to blinkered puritans, and a writer’s querulous and occasionally exuberant attempt to speak truth not just to the powers of the time when the book was written, but to power across time.