Vibrant and Dusty- A Book Review of Bhaunri: A Novel and Daura: Excerpts from the Confidential Report on the Collector of a district in Rajasthan by Pallavi Narayan

The covers of Bhaunri and Daura, with the silhouette of a tribal girl on the former and a tree with roots and flowering branches on the latter, are inviting. The earthy colours of claret and mustard on both bring to mind the rolling deserts of Rajasthan, which is where the narratives are based. Indeed, the descriptions of rural living are minute and bring the reader right into the homes of the characters in Bhaunri, and into the tehsildar’s bungalow in Daura. While the novels are not intertwined, they speak to each other, taking the reader through the timeless vistas of Rajasthan and then plunging into a roiling mass of emotions.

     Flashes of iridescent colour, the swish of lehengas, the sweat of day-to-day living, the thirst that the desert induces in the subconscious take due precedence in the rendering of the characters. The portrayal of the landscapes is bound into quiet, controlled prose. Mystical experiences are brought alive by a lone flute amongst the dunes swaying with camels in its sway; a smattering of kohl that transforms beckoning eyes into that of a jadugarni, a female magician. Seemingly everyday occurrences are granted significance in the wee hours between day and night. The fineness of the prose is undercut by the intensity that the female protagonists bring to the novels.

Front cover

Title: Kiswah

Author: Isa Kamari

Publisher: Kitaab

Year of publication: 2019

Price: S$18

Pages: 201

Links: Singapore Writer’s Festival

About:

It is a story of a honeymooning couple in Delhi, Agra, Kashmir, Kathmandu and finally Mecca. The story unveils the true nature of Ilham, the husband whom Nazreen thought was a pious and morally upright person. As it turned out he was overwhelmed by his sexual desire and abuses her. Nazreen maintained her calm and integrity and tries to seek solace in their final destination, Mecca.

As they were performed the Umrah, Nazreen was kidnapped by a taxi driver. Ilham was shocked and at a loss. Disappointed he left Mecca, blaming God for his misfortune. He vowed not to return to the Holy Land.

In Singapore, Ilham continued with his hedonistic ways and kept a Chinese mistress whom he met at a massage parlour. Susan had an ailing mother who dreamt that her sickness would only be cured if she visited Mecca. Incidentally, Ilham was coaxed by Nazreen’s friend to return to Islam and amend his ways. He decided to marry Susan who presented him with a condition: they must visit Mecca with her mother.

Ilham was in a dilemma. Would he return to Mecca? Finally, he did, but not without deep introspection. A mysterious event ensued. He met his destiny in front of the Kaabah.

Kiswah attempts to probe the relationship between sexuality and spirituality, by letting both confront one another to find peace.

 

Dara Shukoh

Title: Dara Shukoh: The Man Who Would Be King

Author: Avik Chanda

Publisher: Harper Collins India

Publication Date:  2019

Pages: 368

Price: Rs 699 

Links: Amazon

About:

Dara Shukoh – the emperor Shah Jahan’s favourite son, and heir-apparent to the Mughal throne prior to being defeated by Aurangzeb – has sometimes been portrayed as an effete prince, incompetent in military and administrative matters. But his tolerance towards other faiths, and the myths and anecdotes surrounding him, continue to fuel the popular imagination. Even today, over 350 years after his death, the debate rages on: if this ‘good’ Mughal had ascended the throne instead of his pugnacious younger brother, how would that have changed the course of Indian history?

Dara Shukoh: The Man Who Would Be King brings to life the story of this enigmatic Mughal prince. Rich in historical detail and psychological insight, it recreates a bygone age, and presents an empathetic and engaging portrait of the crown prince who was, in many ways, clearly ahead of his times. Eminent journalist Arun Shourie says, “The Book we need — about the man we need.”

 

jakarta

Title: Jakarta Jive Bali Blues

Author: Jeremy Allan

Publisher: Yellow Dot 

Year of publication: 2019

Pages: 350

Price: Rp.192,500

Links: https://afterhoursbooks.myshopify.com/products/jakarta-jive-bali-blues

About:

A true-to-life look by an insightful writer, Jakarta Jive / Bali Blues is a collected edition of two books chronicling a pair of seminal events in modern Indonesian history: the end of the Suharto government in 1998 and the terrorist attack in Bali in 2002, from the point of view of the people most profoundly affected: the Indonesians themselves.

By Nilesh Mondal

sauptikMythology remains a vast source of interesting and sometimes intimidating stories that writers have constantly been trying to draw from. Whether it is the subtle parallels drawn from mythology, or the more direct approach of retelling or reimagining epics and adapting them into more contemporary narratives, both have been tried by many writers to varying degree of success. However, Amruta Patil’s second attempt to combine the tales of Mahabharata and the knowledge from Puranas, after the highly successful Adi Parva: Churning of the Ocean, is neither of the two. It is one which deals with Indian mythology head on; narrating the epic we’ve known and loved always with glorious precision and straight-forwardness.

This is why Sauptik: Blood and Flowers sets a precedent for a very different kind of mythological retelling, one that is both devastatingly thought-provoking and disarmingly honest, one which depends entirely on the epics themselves to impart readers with lessons on life and justice, and the art of war.

From the very beginning, we know this isn’t going to be the usual run-of-the-mill bit of story-telling, since Sauptik is first and foremost, a graphic novel. I’d leave the analytical scrutiny of Amruta Patil’s artwork to those more experienced in those fields. To me, the usual reader, the artwork serves both as a reminder of a bygone era of paintings done by artisans in a king’s court, done on fabric and papyrus and other media, and a sense of aesthetics that is a complete departure from the prevalent genres of digital manipulation of art. In her art, done as a mixture of techniques ranging from watercolour to acrylic paints to charcoal to collages, battles and scenarios come alive in their entire magnificence. She also drops the conventional rectangular structure used in most comic books, instead experimenting with various alternatives, sometimes splaying the art over the entirety of the pages, sometimes having multiple scenes unfold on the same page, etc. The use of motifs and symbols of importance as depicted in the epic and Puranas are layered and repetitive. All in all, it is a visually stimulating collection of artwork rich in colours and details, which keeps the reader riveted throughout the entire book.

vineetha_mokkilVineetha Mokkil is a fiction writer based in New Delhi, India. Her short stories have been published in Santa Fe Writers Project Journal and Why We Don’t Talk, an anthology of contemporary Indian short fiction (Rupa and Co, New Delhi, August 2010) and in the Asia Writes Project. Poems translated by her have appeared in Indian Love Poems (Knopf/Everyman’s Library, 2005). A Happy Place (HarperCollins India, 2014) is her first collection of short stories (read the Kitaab review of this book here).

Here is an interview with the author:

A Happy Place and Other Stories is your debut collection of short stories. How did you conceive of this collection? Did you have a theme in mind?

These stories were written at different points of time and not specifically with a collection in mind. I would send out a story at a time to literary journals and magazines once I finished work on them. Some got published. Every time I got an acceptance letter, it felt like a small victory. It made me work harder on my writing. It made me consider the possibility of a collection. I am grateful to all the good souls out there who devote their time to bringing out small publications which value quality writing and edgy themes. They do it for the love of literature, not to rake in revenue. I owe a great deal to them as a writer.

The stories in “A Happy Place” are not interlinked in the strict sense of the term. But the backdrop of all of them (except for one which is set in Kashmir) is Delhi. The city is as much a character as the people whose lives the stories trace. The larger theme that binds all the stories together is the complexity of urban life and our search for an ideal “happy” place.